Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership, Professor Leigh Sparks, reviews progress in support for towns and city districts over the previous year, and some of the policy trends and challenges that will be key for 2020. 

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Dear Friends of STP,

On behalf of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, I’d like to offer you my best wishes for the coming festive season and to take an opportunity to reflect on what has been another busy and important year for our towns and cities.

Here at STP we have continued to pursue our core mission of raising the profile of towns, coordinating activity around the Town Centre Action Plan, sharing information and best practice to promote better-decision-making in and for towns, and supporting all those who work to improve Scotland’s places. While there is too much to mention here, highlights of our activities include: our Annual Parliamentary Reception, Towns Tea Party & AGM, a successful MSP Town Connector Programme, and our annual Scotland’s Towns Week and Scotland’s Towns Conference. We also ran two national competitions together with partners, with Kirkwall winning Scotland’s Most Beautiful High Street and a design for Kirkintilloch winning the FutureTown Design Competition. Alongside our programme, Scotland’s Towns Partnership has also provided strategic support to a range of policy developments, including examining the challenge of distressed shopping centres, and involvement in pilots for sustainable towns, digital towns, and town centre living.

At the same time, we’ve seen positive developments for Improvement Districts in Scotland, since STP took over  responsibility for them via Scotland’s Improvement Districts in Autumn 2018. Our six-month review noted a number of achievements, while recently we’ve also seen the establishment of the country’s second tourism-based BID, Go Tweed Valley, highlighting the flexibility of the improvement district model for a variety of sectors and geographies and not only town centres. In the coming year we look forward to continuing to support the country’s existing improvement districts and raising awareness of the benefits of the BID model more widely.  

These past 12 months have also been an important time for policy support to towns. We’ve seen the implementation of £50m additional funding under the Town Centre Boost Fund, with STP issuing guidance to local authorities on how to maximise the benefits of this. Scotland’s policy approach to towns has been recognised internationally, with fact-finding delegations arriving from Japan, Sweden, Portugal, Catalunya, England, and Wales, and the Welsh Government launching an Understanding Welsh Places town data tool inspired by our own Understanding Scottish Places (usp.scot). At the same time, the economic, social and political context in which our policies operate is fast changing. I recently published a reflection on what new themes have emerged since the National Review of Town Centres was conducted six years ago, and identified ‘carbon neutral’, ‘ inclusive local economies’ and ‘culture’ as all requiring increasing consideration.

Things never stand still, and preparations are well underway here at STP for another busy year of support for towns, working with Scottish Government, Local Authorities, and our wide range of partners and members across many sectors and places. New developments include the launch of an updated and digitised Town Centre Toolkit, and a range of enhanced events and activities for 2020 – details of these will be provided through our newsletters in the New Year.

As always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact our team, and if you’d like to get more involved, to explore partnership and membership with STP.

Best wishes and season’s greetings from all of us here at Scotland’s Towns Partnership.

Leigh Sparks

Chair, Scotland’s Towns Partnership

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