Latest blog from STP Chair, Leigh Sparks on last week's Scotland's Towns Conference.

For most in Scotland, November 9th will probably be recalled as the day President Trump became a reality.  The irony that that day was the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall will not be lost on some either.  But for many of those interested in Scotland’s Towns, the 9th November was their annual conference, this year in the splendid Galleries and Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy and on the theme of ‘unlocking the potential of Scotland’s Towns’.

Readers need to be aware of my role as Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, the ‘go-to body’ for Scotland’s Towns and the organisers of the conference; though in reality I had little to do with the actual organising, leaving that to the well-oiled team.

Chaired by Lesley Riddoch (@LesleyRiddoch), we kicked off with local and national welcomes from Fife Council (Lesley Laird (@LesleyLaird)) and STP (myself).  My comments trod well worn ground for readers of this blog, but can be downloaded here.  They could be read in tandem with our newly published Town and Country Planning Trading Places column which expands on the themes.

The main act for the first session was the Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart MSP (@KevinStewartMSP) , who after a brief set of remarks allowed himself to be grilled by ‘bad cop’ Lesley Riddoch.  It is hard to say who won the tussle, but if nothing else, the key role of towns was reinforced.

The second session comprised Steve Millington from Manchester Metropolitan University and the Institute of Place Management and Andy Milne from SURF.  Steve focused on change and footfall in high streets drawing on a range of research.  Andy in a strong presentation focused on the need for creative collaborations across Scotland’s towns and in horizontal and vertical dimensions.  He saw too many gaps in the landscape of support for comfort.

Four workshops bracketed lunch on themes of digital towns, town centre living, creative places and proactive planning and place-making; themes recognisable from the National Review.  Case studies and examples provided detailed illustrations of how potential is being unlocked across Scotland.

The final session comprised Jarmo Suominen and Kelvin Campbell.  They approached the topic of urban transformation in very different but complementary and engaging ways.  Jarmo drew on his international and Finnish experiences to critique public service delivery and to showcase his work on liveable places.  The message was about using what is there already and to stop building walls (real or virtual) and clusters but instead to open up and join up sites of practice, whether schools, offices or whatever.

Kelvin Campbell (@massivesmall) – a radical incrementalist – in a brilliant and enthused closing talk focused on the need to begin to do things and to start in small ways.  Placing people at the heart of places he focused on what we can do and how planners and planning has failed us.  In a broad-ranging presentation, he argued for building a new engaged and enabled way of joining bottom-up (of which we need more) and top-down (of which we need less).  Echoing Andy Milne’s earlier speech he gave us a blueprint for unlocking the potential we have in Scotland’s towns.

Full reports and details of the conference will be provided in due course on STP’s website.    There were a number of active tweeters on the day (for which many thanks) and you can follow what they thought via the hashtag #stc16.

Source: Leigh Sparks, STP Chair

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