Cross Party Group for Towns and Town Centres

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 will discuss ways in which Scotland’s towns can work towards sustainable economic growth through greater vibrancy and vitality.

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About Scotland's Towns
Town Centre Action Plan Policy Review 2020

In February 2021 the Town Centre Action Plan Expert Review Group set out its findings in the report A New Future for Scotland’s Town CentresThis provided a vision and recommendations for how town centres can contribute to fairer, greener and healthier communities. 

You can read the full report, its recommendations and evidence at

The review was set up in June 2020 by the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell MSP. It was led by Professor Leigh Sparks, Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership and Deputy Principal and Professor of Retail Studies at the University Stirling.

Other members of the review group included COSLA, the Royal Town Planning Institute, South of Scotland Enterprise, the Carnegie Trust, the Federation of Small Businesses, Public Health Scotland, Sustrans, Inclusion Scotland, the Development Trusts Association Scotland and the Scottish Government. The review undertook a wide consultation exercise with the general public and other stakeholders in town centres. 


The Scottish Government Town Centre First Principle

The Town Centre First Principle encourages the public sector to continue to invest in town centres and help communities thrive.

The principle, jointly developed by Scottish Government and COSLA, is about adopting an approach to decisions that considers the vibrancy of town centres as a starting point.  It asks that the health of town centres features  in decision making processes.  The principle is about open, measured and transparent decision making that takes account of medium to longer term impacts on town centres.  The principle recognises that town centre locations are not always suitable, but requests that the rationale for locating elsewhere is evidenced and transparent.

The principle is not a duty and will not be prescriptive; but will instead take account of local needs and circumstances.

The Scottish Government Town Centre Action Plan, the response to the National Review of Town Centres report published on 4 July 2013, highlighted that the principle would be developed, and consideration would be given to how it would operate  in practice. The Scottish Government and COSLA agreed the following wording and are encouraging public bodies to sign-up to this principle:

Town centres are a key element of the economic, social and environmental fabric of Scotland’s towns; often at the core of community and economic life, offering spaces in which to live, meet and interact, do business, and access facilities and services. We must take collective responsibility to help town centres thrive sustainably, reinvent their function, and meet the needs of residents, businesses, and visitors for the 21st century.

The principle requests that:

Government, local authorities, the wider public sector, businesses and communities put the health of town centres at the heart of proportionate and best value decision making, seeking to deliver the best local outcomes regarding investment and de-investment decisions, alignment of policies, targeting of available resources to priority town centre sites, and encouraging vibrancy, equality and diversity.

You can read more about the Scottish Government's Town Centre First Principle on the website.

The Scottish Government Town Centre Action Plan - The 6 Key Areas

Town Centre Living

The idea of encouraging more people to live in town centres is one which the Scottish Government will endorse. Whilst many local authorities are already promoting town centre living, we will test the opportunities and barriers to this through our Town Centre Housing Fund. The Scottish Government also understands that town centre living requires a need for safer and more people-friendly environments.

Vibrant Local Economies

The Scottish Government agree it is crucial that town centres, and by association their businesses and entrepreneurs, are supported to adapt, prove resilient to further challenge and are equipped to identify and increase investment opportunities. Through the Government Economic Strategy Scottish Government are committed to supporting sustainable economic growth and promoting job creation across Scotland, including in our town centres. They work closely with enterprise agencies, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to deliver that growth. Across Scotland, the enterprise agencies offer support to businesses in town centres. They do so directly through their account management support and supporting the leadership development of town centre businesses as well as through their investment in key enabling projects, by providing information on town centre premises and advantages of that location and by their membership of community planning partnerships.

Enterprising Communities

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting community-led regeneration by supporting local people to take responsibility for the economic, social and environmental action that will make a difference within their communities. There is already a vibrant and diverse range of community-led and enterprising activity within our town centres. The Creative Place Awards showcase achievements and ambitions in using creative activities, both for the benefit of local communities, and to attract visitors. We want to celebrate the value of creativity to the wellbeing of communities, and to reward the hard work and imagination that lies behind the creative activities and programmes to promote the identity of the place. The Scottish Government agrees that enterprising communities and individuals can be key players in dealing with the problems of vacant and empty properties and meeting local demand for new activities, events and services on offer over the course of the year.


Accessible Public Services

The Scottish Government recognise the value of place-based decision-making happening alongside a fuller and transparent assessment of the wider impacts. This requires going beyond cost benefit analysis of short term savings and looking to the potential medium to longer term economic and social impacts of proposals on town centres. This principle applies equally to the practices of the Scottish Government, as well as those in the national agencies and wider public sector. Sustainable transport options are key in terms of ensuring access to our town centres.

Digital Towns

The Scottish Government wants to position Scotland at the forefront of the digital revolution. They can see the potential opportunities that this offers to town centres and their businesses, aligning these two agendas to help further cement Scotland's place as a world class digital nation by 2020.

Pro-active Planning

The Scottish Government fully embraces the review recommendation for a simple, encouraging and pro-active planning policy in support of town centres. This approach fits with Scottish Government’s wider programme of modernisation around Scotland's planning system. The recent consultation on the draft Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) proposed a town centre health check to help inform development plans and planning applications. The purpose of the health check is to assess the strengths, weaknesses and resilience of a town centre and its vitality and viability. Their intention is to ensure that planning policy is efficient, inclusive, fit for purpose and sustainable to enable action for our town centres.

World Towns Summit and World Towns Framework

In June 2016 international town and urban leaders came together for the first World Towns Leadership Summit in Edinburgh, Scotland. A key output of the Summit was the final shaping of the World Towns Framework: A Public-Private-Social Vision for Urban Centres.

The purpose of the Framework is to: articulate the narrative of towns, neighbourhoods and city districts in responding to contemporary urban challenges; shape a new urban agenda for these urban places; assert the need for new alliances and approaches essential for a strong competitive economy combined with a fairer, more equal society. This work has been continued and developed at subsequent World Towns Leadership Summits in Malmö, Sweden (2017), Berlin, Germany (2018), and Tokyo, Japan (2019).

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