Ayr MSP Siobhian Brown is the new convener of the Cross-Party Groups on Towns and Town Centres in the Scottish Parliament. Following her first meeting in the chair, she kindly took some time out to answer a few questions about the importance of our local communities and the innovation needed to help drive a more vibrant, sustainable future.
What interested you in joining the CPG on Towns?
I want to help drive ideas forward on how we can regenerate our town centres. We are all aware of the challenges faced across Scotland and I’m keen to look at new ideas and innovations. I want to speak to businesses and the people who use our towns. My goal is to discuss and promote ideas which will help town centres work towards sustainable economic growth for years to come.
How important do you think towns are for the economic and social good of Scotland?
The importance of town centres needs to be recognised. For many they are the place where they earn their living. These people, in turn, contribute back to the very economy they are helping to grow - many times and directly into the town centre. Even if it’s just their morning coffee from the local shop. Also, take a town centre like Ayr in my constituency. It is rich in history, whether that be Oliver Cromwell’s time here or Scotland’s most famous son, Robert Burns. Towns like Ayr are important for visitors and tourism. Let’s not forget how important they are to those who live there. It gives us our sense of self and our cultural identity. We must also remember that there are those people living in and around the towns who don’t have access to their own cars and that town centre is their lifeline.
Do you think that the importance of place has grown - socially and economically - during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Like many, there is often a deep sense of nostalgia surrounding our town centres. We can all hark back to childhood shops we visited and events which took place there. I believe that creates a sense of place. That has been highlighted - and increased - during the Covid-19 pandemic. During lockdown, when travel restrictions were being enforced, we were urged to stay local and, as a result, drawn to our own town centres, whether we were walking or spending our money. While our town centres may not look like they once did, there’s still a fondness there - and some wonderful places to shop and eat. It’s important that we move forward with ideas to regenerate our town centres and make them vibrant places to be, in whatever form that takes.
What do you believe is the number one challenge facing Scotland's towns?
I am aware, like most people are, that spending habits have changed over the years. We now have online shopping, retail parks and big shopping centres which have excellent transport links. The face of the high street has changed. We’ve lost big chains and independent businesses. However, we need to embrace this change and look at ways to make our town centres attractive places for shopping, leisure and hospitality. In that respect, I believe the biggest challenge we face is changing our mindset. We need to move away from the notion of what the ‘good old days’ were like and discuss ways in which we can drive forward a new and vibrant future for these places.
What would you like to help achieve as part of your convenership of the CPG?
I believe we can work together and discuss ways in which Scotland’s towns can move towards economic growth and a continued regeneration. These high streets are hugely important to the economy. We want to listen to the views of the businesses and customers, whether it be for retail, hospitality, or leisure. We want everyone to work together to bring in a new era of bright, vibrant, sustainable town centres.
Recap: The Towns and Towns Centres CPG
The purpose of the CPG is to analyse policy prescriptions and develop ideas and innovations. This will help Scotland’s towns and town centres through the current economic climate to emerge stronger, smarter, cleaner, healthier and greener. The group discusses ways in which Scotland’s towns can work towards sustainable economic growth through greater vibrancy and vitality.
You can find out more about the work and membership of the CPG on the Scottish Parliament website.