Photo Credit: paisleyorguk via Compfight cc

Key Learnings from the 2022 Scotland Town Partnership Conference



On Wednesday the 16th of November, LGIU Scotland headed over to Kilmarnock to attend Scotland’s Town Partnership (STP) 2022 conference.

STP is the national collective which champions towns and places. Encapsulating the importance of towns, a recent report from COSLA and the Scottish Government defines towns as “places which provide social, economic, cultural, creative, environmental, entrepreneurial and other opportunities locally.”

Staged in partnership with East Ayrshire Council, the conference’s theme was A New Future for Scotland’s Towns and showcased the ideas, innovations and actions needed to secure a greener, stronger, more sustainable future for the nation’s towns.

Being the first in-person conference in three years, the sold-out conference follows the challenges and opportunities for communities discussed in a series of roadshows throughout Scotland. Examining the Response from Scottish Government and COSLA to the New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres report, that response – Scotland’s Town Centre Action Plan Review (TCAP2) – was published earlier this year.

With an array of sessions on offer and running concurrently, this briefing covers the following sessions;

  • Climate and Net Zero
  • Streets and Spaces
  • Town Centre Living

Bus Tour

Source: Scotland Towns.Org

East Ayrshire’s “rock n roll provost”, Councillor Jim Todd, welcomed visitors to the major event by hopping aboard an open-top bus to lead a tour of Kilmarnock.

Highlights included the transformation of the former Diageo site in Kilmarnock, the creation of CentreStage and other cultural initiatives were examples of what can be achieved through leadership, collaboration and determination.

Introductory speakers

Welcoming the attendees, broadcaster Rona Dougall outlined the programme for the day.

First up was Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, MSP Tom Arthur. Reflecting upon the pandemic and how the importance of community shone through, the Minister set out a vision for a new way to live and work, one where we can utilise town centre assets and empower communities programmes with local circular economies and positive climate action. Reinforcing the need to put town centres first, the Minister began his speech by referring to town centre support regeneration in Galashiels town centre.

In particular, the Minister focused on National Planning Framework 4 (Draft). A much-talked topic of the day, National Planning Framework (NPF) is a long-term plan for Scotland that sets out where development and infrastructure are needed.

For more on Scottish planning, read the LGIU’s latest housing & planning round up November 2022. 

Encapsulating the importance of planning for town centres, the Minister outlined how the new planning framework will put climate and nature first in the planning system. Stating the goals of NPF4 as addressing long-standing inequalities, making strides towards net zero and thinking differently about places, the Minister stressed the collaborative approaches included within NPF4.

Encompassing sustainable housing, 20-minute neighbourhoods, car dependency and biodiversity, the Minister outlined the importance of getting town centres right,

“Our towns are important to us all – for our communities, economy and the environment. Effective regeneration is led by local people collaborating – they are best placed to identify appropriate solutions for their neighbourhoods and communities.”

To understand the international policy landscape on concepts that underline NPF4, check out this LGIU Briefing Bundle on the 20 minute neighbourhood. 

East Ayrshire Council Leader Douglas Reid introduced the venue’s significance and spoke of the Centre Stage’s rejuvenation following what was at the time, the largest community transfer in 2017. The centre is now an important cultural centre in Kilmarnock, and “Hosting today’s conference is a great boost for us here in East Ayrshire and a testament to all the hard work which we and our partners have put into meeting the challenges of a changing town centre landscape.”

Finally, echoing this sentiment, Fiona McKenzie from Centre Stage reaffirmed the importance of a music-first approach and making a safe and welcoming place. Founded in 2006, CentreStage operates with an ethos that anyone, regardless of age, background or experience can gain life changing social benefits through active participation in the arts. Evidence of Centre Stage’s success, it is now host to 30 charities and opens 7 days a week. Importantly, Centre Stage shows that cultural centres can operate outside of Edinburgh, and that town centres can harness cultural enthusiasm and work to address social inequalities.

Session 1: Climate and Net Zero Session

Laura Hainey, Senior Architect/Principal Design Officer and Co-Lead, Climate Action Towns at Architecture + Design Scotland

Laura spoke of their work in seven towns: Annan, Alness, Blackburn, Campbeltown, Holytown, Invergordon and Stevenston. Architecture Scotland’s role was to form strategic partnerships and to map the town as a climate-carbon place. Working with local people and organisations in small towns across Scotland, Laura told us how place-based action communities takes place in small towns, with action guided by the eight principles of a carbon conscious place. Highlighting the need for a data-driven approach, you can find a summary that outlines their key findings and lessons learned from year one of the Climate Action Towns project here.

Cheryl Robb, Partnerships Manager at Zero Waste Scotland

Making use of audience participation, Cheryl Robb sparked interesting discussions over our carbon footprint. Highlighting that a car is parked for 92% of its life, a household drill is used on average for 13 minutes and only 66% of food purchased is used, waste was unsurprisingly the overriding theme of Cheryl’s presentation. In relation to Scottish Towns, Cheryl highlighted the need to embed circular economy principles with collaboration and adaptations to local communities. Examples included tool libraries and Retina, a Swedish shopping mall and the world’s first recycling mall. 

Climate Town Case study – Neil Barnes, Voluntary Trustee, Linlithgow Community Development Trust

The final speaker, Neil Barnes, told us about Linlithgow’s community energy enterprise project to make solar work for the benefit of the whole town. Lilith-go-solar involves

  • putting solar panels on various locations throughout the town,
  • selling the energy generated to the local community, and
  • using the surplus revenue created to help community initiatives.

Phase 1 pilot successfully raised £17k in Community Bonds to install a Solar PV panel system at Linlithgow Rugby Club and showed the appetite and support for green energy within the town. The success of this pilot led to Phase 2. A grant from Scottish Power Energy Networks Green Economy Fund and another successful Community Bond Offer allowed for the installation of additional panels at the Rugby Club, plus panels at Linlithgow Golf Club and Linlithgow Sports Club. With a 15% saving on grid electricity prices and local people given priority to become ethical local investors, this will allow LCDT to reinvest back into the community to support local projects.

A short Q&A discussion ended the session, with questions centring around how we can expand and share learning from case studies and improve partnerships in Scotland.

(Publication continues below)


Housing and planning round-up November 2022

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Working at home or in the office? The growth of hybrid working in local government

This briefing hears from Falkirk Council and East Lothian and looks at home and hybrid working, exploring how it has evolved over the past two years and includes examples from local authorities who have risen to the challenge. Read the full briefing here.


Session 2: Streets and Spaces

Hosted by Phil Prentice, the Chief Officer of STP, Phil set the scene for town centre regeneration by telling us that there is no excuse for inaction anymore. Even small changes to green up a place, or a new lick of paint, are recognised as helping the psychology of everyone involved. More widely, we all face huge challenges and real change is needed to re-imagine Scottish towns to support an ageing population, reduce car dependency, host festivals and events, enhance the local community and develop tourism,

Ewan Imrie, Architect, Collective Architecture

Ewan presented the strategies of town regeneration in Paisley. The case for town centre in Paisley is strong. With the most A-listed architect outside of Edinburgh, town regeneration in Paisley needed to incorporate the rich heritage of the abbey, townhall, and the resulting work by Renfrewshire council’s regeneration created a lot of learning.

Town regeneration in Paisley required redeveloping a town and high street with key assets (historical buildings) in a post pandemic-retail scenario. A key strategy in Paisley involved Renfrewshire Council bravely moving two civic buildings into the high street, a library and a museum store.

Paisley library and culture hub, opens early summer 2023. A difficult site, this former tenement and retail space, created challenges in creating a welcoming, safe sanctuary with warmth and access. Included in the designs, a series of public rooms mirroring a facade of folding paper, means a lively foyer, IT facilities, community hires and reading rooms caters for the entire community. You can the plans for Paisley’s cultural hub here.

To find out more about Renfrewshire Council, read to this LGIU conversation with Alan Russell, the Council’s Chief Executive. 

Derek Dunsire, Group Manager, Liveable Neighbourhoods, Glasgow City Council 

Over the space of 2 years, Derek and his team looked at the entire city of Glasgow and envisioned how commercial activity could be centred around the 20-minute neighbourhood concept.

Emboldened by NPF-4’s identification of Liveable Places and 20 Minute Neighbourhoods as the key development opportunity, a Liveable Neighbourhoods Plan (LNP) will complement the City Council’s Active Travel Strategy to create a modal change for Glasgow in how people and goods move around the city, in the design of our streets and public spaces, and in encouraging Active Travel as people’s first choice for transport.

Whilst Glasgow City Council cannot establish commercial centres required for 20 Minute Neighbourhoods, the Council’s role as an enabler was recognised as important in creating a Liveable Neighbourhood.

Understanding Glasgow as villages and towns which amalgamate into the City of Glasgow, Derek spoke of the need and value of engagement with Glasgow’s numerous communities. Whilst the project’s beginning coincided with the pandemic, obstructing in-person engagement, the use of digital engagement and equality impact assessments identified communities that are digitally excluded or whose voices are the last ones heard.

The example of Carntyne Square was referenced. With no civic spaces or high street and a redundant roundabout for the old tram, the opportunity for development entailed reducing road capacity and creating space for the community to take over.

Other concepts used as examples were incremental projects, such as Lorne street’s civic space, a green active travel bridge on Whitevale.

Whilst the overall goal is to inspire people to make a “modal shift” in how they get around – ditching cars for public transport and active travel, Derek’s presentation ended by celebrating the success of Glasgow’s Liveable Neighbourhoods. Utilising publicly available mobile phone data, billions of data points were created and used to look at movements across Glasgow. Across the 26 liveable areas, 65% of journey’s started and finished in these journey areas. Derek argued this showed the pilot is working, and the key message for other Council’s here today is to focus on local communities and everyday journeys. Read more about Derek’s work at Glasgow City Council here.

Julie Twaddell, the Trustee for Dementia Friendly Prestwick, was awarded the 2021 Scotland Loves Local Streets and Spaces Award. 

Julie was recognised in 2021 for work done to make the seafront in Prestwick more inclusive and accessible, using dementia-friendly principles to secure new brightly coloured benches, new signage, public art, and a road crossing which are enjoyed by the whole community. Julie spoke of the need for street and spaces planning to prioritise accessibility for excluded groups and for capacity building at the grassroots level to ensure they are part of the conversation.

With 25% of people risking exclusion without this push for redesign, Dementia Friendly Prestwick is a passion project for Julie. Special recognition was made to those in South Ayrshire Council who supported Julie in accessing initial funding. Working with South Ayrshire Council and Ayrshire Roads, funding for signage increased the accessibility along parts of the path. With this funding, weekly health walks were organised along the promenade giving “complete joy” to 25 people every week.

Julie’s key message was that design principles that worked for those with dementia would benefit a wider section of the population. For example, traffic calming measures opened up new conversations about accessibility, strongly coloured benches acted as guides for people walking and motivated those who needed that extra push. Kids could use these accessible designed benches as goalposts, showing that getting the design right works for all sections of the community. Setting sights on a national strategy, Julie spoke of plans for a social club based on the Dutch model of dementia care.

 Session 3: Town Centre Living Community

Mhairi Donaghy, Associate Director, Scottish Futures Trust

Mhairi introduced the Scottish Futures Trust contribution to working group on town centre living. The independent report ‘A New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres’ was delivered by the Town Centre Action Plan Review Group and published in February 2021. Reviewing 110 projects in Scotland, STF looked at the makeup and development of these projects to identify constraints and barriers in town centres. The general typology was that only half of projects are completed over 5-6 years, and that overall, we are nowhere near the level of development needed for Scottish Towns.

Analysing the push/pull factors, consultation with local government officers and review of policy context shows that there are supportive policy messages (Town Centre first, 20 Minute Neighbourhoods), and that national policy level is supporting local delivery.

However, we aren’t at the level we need to be at. The constraints can be summarised through 7 broad interconnected areas; structural, legal, people, funding, knowledge, policy environment. Within these 7 categories a number of things also obstruct delivery, for example, within communities and individuals , there is a lack of skill, experiences, perceptions and time constraints.

Overall, knowledge transfers between town centres are possible. From Falkirk town centre to Campbelltown, successfully delivered projects illustrate the positive outcomes and the differences to be made in people’s lives. To find out more, read COSLA and the Scottish Government’s response to “A New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres”.

George Hunter, Chief Economic and Regeneration Officer at Renfrewshire council.

George’s presentation outlined lessons from Renfrewshire Council’s Vision for Paisley town centre 2030. Paisley was chosen by Scotland Towns Partnership and Scottish Government to be a pilot case for a piece of work reimagining how a town centre could be redesigned to better meet future needs.

Involving a £100 million investment, regeneration included the town hall, library, arts centre. George spoke of how Paisley faces a multitude of challenges: a drop in the population, an increasingly older-aged population, hybrid working, climate change net zero, austerity.

In essence, changing needs are driving changing places. By planning for a future in 2045, the goal is to attract developers for difficult properties and have tough conversations in which we prioritise investment, economic development and regeneration. For example, a starting point is a recognition that there is no silver bullet for transport.

For town centre planning, one option is dusting off older concepts. For example, a 20-minute neighbourhood proves challenging in a context where large shopping centres exist on the fringes of towns.

Moreover, acknowledging that 30% of the population will be working from home by mid- 2045, an opportunity for the town centre is more residential housing. Whilst the town centre will always hold an employment base, and there remains a need for spaces for hot working and conferences, town centre residential housing offers a solution to the trend where older people are looking to downsize and younger people are looking into the market. The big role of Council is social investment. In Renfrewshire, we are looking at this £100 million and asking how do we get this cash into our town centre?

For me, a lot of it is power and money. In every town centre, there is always a group of privately owned properties where it is hard to get owners to the table. However, powers and money would allow a way to incentivise them to work with us.

David Grove, Lead Officer, Town Centre Development, Fife Council and 2021 Scotland Loves Local Town Centre Living Award Finalist

David reviewed Fife council’s initiatives for regeneration. One angle was to focus on Council assets, the ‘low-hanging fruit”. Asking what we can do to utilise assets, David highlighted the example of Lochgelly townhouse. Located next to the council depot, converting this asset into socially rented housing opened up the option to build 16 new social rented units.

Onto a more holistic approach, Fife’s Head of Housing, John Mills formalised an approach to town scales. In line with current policy, Fife identified 5 sites and secured 2 year funding worth £300 000 to carry out technical due diligence, with the target being to get 1 site to the pre-application discussion stage.

In the Q&A session, a South Ayrshire Council official gave the example of a derelict property stuck in a conservation area and proved difficult to navigate. They asked David how he delivered residential units in a heritage area. David’s reply illustrates the long and drawn nature of town centre planning. Since 2009, a dangerous building in Fife was subsumed under Council ownership, and since plans began in 2012, 2 Heads of Service have come and gone. Nonetheless, it offers an important vision for vacant properties and shows how partnerships can deliver 10 socially rented properties and 12-13 affordable market properties.

Mhairi ended the session with a critical point; affordable housing on the outskirts of a town will not offer a solution if it costs £10.50 to get the bus. Instead, we need to look at affordable living, and this is where the town centre comes into play.

Scotland Loves Local 2022 Awards

The Scotland Loves Local Awards 2022 – presented by Scotland’s Towns Partnership at the annual Scotland’s Towns Conference on 16th November – celebrated the remarkable dedication and innovation which makes life in our communities better, stronger and more sustainable.

  • Climate and Net Zero Town– The Furniture Project Stranraer. The Furniture Project is also a vehicle for wider work supporting vulnerable people, providing skills, qualifications and jobs for young people, as well as operating a community cafe – which delivered 42,000 meals at the peak of Covid-19 – and projects such as winter warmth clothing, free school uniforms and Christmas hampers in partnership with Dumfries and Galloway Council’s anti-poverty team and social service teams.
  • Creative Town– Montrose Playhouse. The team behind the creation of a community cinema in Montrose’s derelict former swimming pool has been honoured for its creativity, commitment and blockbuster success. Montrose Playhouse was presented with the Creative Town Award at the 2022 Scotland Loves Local Awards after judges heard about the vision and determination that brought the £3.5m transformation to life.
  • Digital Town– Scottish Tech Army. SOLE (Supporting Our Local Community) was named winner of the Digital Towns category, sponsored by Commsworld and Miconex. Judges heard how the place-based app and website had provided a platform for local businesses to trade online, reaching thousands of people. Led by social enterprise Scottish Tech Army, with support from the UK Community Renewal Fund and East Lothian Council, the app has been rolled out in six partnership communities –  Dunbar and East Linton, Fa’side, Haddington, Musselburgh, North Berwick and Preston/Seton/Gosford.
  • Streets and Spaces– Argyll and Bute Council. Argyll and Bute Council was presented with the accolade after judges heard how the project, which also saw the play park refurbished as well as enhanced walking and cycling facilities created, has delivered significant environmental improvements to the key town centre area.
  • Enterprising Communities– The Guild Dumfries. Judges in the enterprise category – sponsored by South of Scotland Enterprise – heard how the organisation has created “a new and vibrant retail space, selling high quality, original local products” in Dumfries.
  • Town Centre Living- Clackmannanshire Council and Kingdom Business Association. The transformation of Alloa’s former Co-op site into 60 high-quality flats has been rewarded for its re-energising impact on town centre rejuvenation. Clackmannanshire Council, working in partnership with Kingdom Housing Association, recognised that residential development has an important part to play in supporting the regeneration of Alloa town centre and diversifying it as a living space.
  • High Street Hero– Marion Gilliland. Marion Gilliland has run her family gift shop – Presents and Correct – in Cumnock, East Ayrshire, for more than 30 years, becoming a powerful force for good in her community. Not only has she made her store a safe place for all, but she has helped secure tens of thousands of pounds of improvements for other businesses, goes above and beyond to meet customers’ needs, champions charitable causes and supports seriously ill friends – all while dealing with her own health challenges.

The LGIU Scotland congratulates all the winners of the Scotland Loves Local 2022 awards and we can’t wait to see the shortlist for next year.

Concluding reflections

The first in-person Scottish Town conference in three years brought with it a real buzz throughout the sold-out venue. The interest and passion from the attendees shows that there is a real appetite for change and ambition from those working with Scottish Towns, and it is exciting to see how future projects will unfold. Finally, LGIU Scotland would like to thank the STP team and East Ayrshire Council for their warm reception and hospitality.