Bill Pagan, Board member of BEFS and founding Board member of Cupar Development Trust, reflects on the impact of BEFS small towns review of 2014 and the formation of the Cupar Development Trust (CDT).
In 2014, a BEFS team, led by Professor Cliff Hague, then BEFS Chairman, visited six of Scotland's Small Towns. Their populations ranged from nearly 23,000 down to 5,000. The outcome of these visits was BEFS' "Small Towns In A Small Country" Report, which can be found at here.
Subsequently, the BEFS team visited Helensburgh to prepare a report on that town, on the day the main Report was launched there. Then in July 2014 the team visited Cupar, Fife, a town of around 10,000 people, and prepared an additional Report. This Report was well received in Cupar, both as an accurate summary of the issues facing the town and as a welcome indication of potential ways ahead.
Cupar Development Trust (CDT) has since been formed, with guidance from Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS). A Charrette for Cupar's town centre - "CuparCould" - will happen in the middle of March 2016, funding being in place thanks to the Scottish Government's Mainstreaming Fund, the Big Lottery Fund's "Awards For All", and Fife Council. The preliminary steps have already happened, and have produced enthusiastic responses from pupils of the town's schools, among others. Cupar Could is being delivered by PAS, with Julia Frost in the lead.
The arrival on the scene of CDT complements Cupar's CARS and THI schemes, running from April 2014 to March 2019, with funding of £1.5M. Major works under these schemes include work on the County Buildings, which occupy much of the south side of St Catherine Street, part of the main route through the town. (These buildings include the recently closed Sheriff Court, but the Court is not part of the scheme.); re-use of the old Burgh Chambers, a prominent domed building at Cupar Cross; and renovation of some of Cupar's historic Closes which follow the town's medieval layout. Building work on a scheme for Affordable Housing in part of the County Buildings is already nearly complete, and will provide a measurable increase in the number of Town Centre residents; the Burgh Chambers may be used for Tourism; the renovated Closes will improve pedestrian access in the Town Centre.
Cupar has in recent years suffered from its "missing tooth", a prominent gap site on Bonnygate, at the heart of the shopping area and on the other part of the main route through the town. The gap was caused by the demolition of a former landmark building which had become unsafe. The site is believed to be uneconomic for development on its own.
CDT have been working closely with Fife Council and the CARS scheme to identify possibilities for linking the gap site to other opportunities, in order to achieve something closer to economic viability, though it is likely that public funds will be required to make ends meet. It is common knowledge in the town that there is a proposal for developing the backlands behind the gap, which lead - through additional historic Closes not at present available for public use - to the third of Cupar's principal streets, Crossgate. Such a proposal will require the agreement of existing proprietors, and probably contributions by some of them. As well as innovative commercial and retail provision, any development will be likely to include Affordable Housing, so CDT and Kingdom Housing Association (KHA) jointly commissioned a thorough Report by Architects, Engineers and Quantity Surveyors. The Report, which is confidential for the time being but is expected to be available on the CDT website in due course, has rightly pointed out the financial realities of proposals of this kind in an area where the value of the completed development will not be of the highest. Fife Council is fully aware of the likely request for support, and has been involved in the discussions.
The creation of CDT, its link to Cupar's CARS and THI, and its foray into a possible partnership with KHA, Fife Council and relevant proprietors, are truly positive outcomes of the BEFS visit in July 2014. It is no breach of confidence to say that the BEFS Report, in full, is an Appendix to the Report. CDT complements and co-operates with longer established Cupar groups, which are already bringing a buzz to the town. There is continuing good press coverage, and an exhibition in the town's Corn Exchange will take place on 2 March.