Scotland's Towns Partnership has submitted its views to the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland. The document has also received endorsement from Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS), Planning Aid for Scotland (PAS), and Scotland’s Regeneration Forum (SURF). The submission can be read below. 

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Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) is Scotland’s national towns’ collective, representing and promoting the diversity of our towns and places, and supporting those organisations and groups that have an interest in or ownership of them.  Scotland is a nation of towns – they are the lifeblood of our society and economy, and home to 60% of our people.  Whether linked into a wider urban network, or acting as the hub for rural communities, towns are where most people access everyday activities and services.

STP is committed to ensuring that our towns thrive as sustainable places for people to live, learn, work and enjoy.  There is a need to take account of the role of towns now and in the future, identify the infrastructure that places need, and use investment to promote place sustainability through best use of available resources.  There is unprecedented change in the way that people live and work – the rise in single person households, population growth driven by migration, and digital/ virtual technology shaping not just how we work but also how we access health/ education and other services.

Alongside these changes there is a growing focus on the sustainability agenda, driven by environmental considerations but also an increasing awareness of social, economic and financial sustainability factors.  This momentum will shape how we live in the future – community activism, shop local, holiday at home, work-life balance, active travel, etc – and therefore what infrastructure is needed across Scotland to ensure that sustainable and equitable future for all.

Infrastructure covers a very broad collection of goods and services needed to ensure that places thrive, and where appropriate help them to grow in the face of an uncertain future.  STP believes that the Commission should adopt a broad view of infrastructure – not just physical assets but also the people, places and systems that we need.  Infrastructure has to provide the basics (utilities, food, housing, etc), enable delivery of public goods and services (transport, health, education, etc) and support those things that differentiate places (culture, retail, landscape, etc).

For STP, the Town Centres First and Place Principle are key drivers for the future, with key infrastructure themes of:

  • Sustainable connectivity – both digital and physical to ensure towns (people, goods, data, services, etc) are connected into their wider hinterland network and support an agile economy where people are linked to opportunities;
  • Innovative and sustainable housing supply meeting the needs of all – housing provision must be responsive to the needs of a rapidly changing population from start and end of life, demand within the private rented sector, buy-to-rent, build to rent, single person households, etc, but also building exemplar carbon neutral homes, developing new sustainable construction materials and methods and supporting the local supply chain;
  • Climate Change – our towns / centres are eco hubs and need to be considered as infrastructure to support sustainable energy and low carbon delivery – using towns to scale up energy innovation and resilience through smart system networks, micro generation and storage, solar/ wind/ hydro, carbon capture, circular economy, EV bike and car facilities, district heating, walkable, etc;
  • Land – using land reform and community empowerment to deliver new capacity for property, greenspaces, biodiversity, natural capacity, etc rather than leaving it banked with developers or vacant/ derelict; and
  • Inclusive economy – using the accessibility of our towns to improve people’s access to opportunity for employment, broadband, training, leisure, culture, public services, etc, but also to deliver stronger local housing markets, happier and healthier places and greener environments.

Budget constraints and continued growth in local activism create opportunities for more community-led delivery.  This does, however, require investment in social infrastructure to build new capacity.  While there will always be a need to deliver major physical infrastructure in our key urban centres, with twice as many people living in Scotland’s towns than our cities STP believes that this should be balanced with high quality physical/ social/ economic investment in the infrastructure of our towns to ensure an inclusive economy and access for all.

Economic outcomes and Value for Money alone can no longer be taken as the primary measures for decision making by the public sector.  There is an opportunity for the Commission to instil a broader approach to infrastructure investment decision-making that incorporates social and environmental values alongside economic and financial criteria.

With finite resources there needs to be a long-term view of the infrastructure that Scotland will need into the future, this needs a balanced spread of investment spatially, but also thematically, and a broader based value assessment of project proposals to ensure a happy, healthy and productive place for all of our people. Likewise, the processes and targeting for public investment in infrastructure should be geared to enhance financial equity: investing in and providing opportunities for disadvantaged places and people, as well as more geographically remote ones.

The current lack of national strategic oversight of infrastructure, utility and asset investment is in turn compounded locally. This then acts as a constraint on investment and also creates conflict with policy ambitions. The Environmental, Energy, Planning, Construction, Housing, Transport and Digital sectors need to be coordinated more effectively and efficiently.

Scotland's Towns Partnership, May 2019

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