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The importance of town centres needs to be recognised

Siobhian Brown MSP has led her first meeting as convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Towns and Town Centres Cross-Party Group

The importance of town centres must be recognised – and everyone can play their part in embracing change to create a vibrant future for them.

That’s the view of the politician appointed as convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Towns and Town Centres.

Speaking after chairing her first meeting today (Wednesday, December 8), Ayr MSP Siobhian Brown highlighted the challenges which need to be addressed and opportunities which can be embraced as part of the mission to reinvigorate Scotland’s communities.

She said: “The importance of town centres needs to be recognised. For many they are where they earn their living. These people, in turn, contribute to the very economy they are helping to grow, many times and directly into the town centre – even if it’s just their morning coffee from the local shop.

“We must also remember that there are people living in and around our towns who don’t have access to their own cars and that the town centre is their lifeline.”

Ms Brown added: “It’s important that we move forward with ideas to regenerate our town centres and make them vibrant places to be in whatever form that takes.”

An estimated 70 per cent of Scotland’s population lives in the nation’s towns – with the increasing importance of localism to the economy and environment highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic and renewed appreciation of the people, places and businesses in communities across the country.

The Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Towns and Town Centres is administered by Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP), the go-to body for towns, promoting their virtues, vibrance and sharing best-practice around their evolution and regeneration.

The CPG’s role is to analyse policy as ideas and innovations are developed – making communities stronger, smarter, cleaner, healthier and greener.

On what she believes is the number one challenge facing Scotland’s towns, Ms Brown said: “Spending habits have changed over the years. We now have online shopping, retail parks and big shopping centres with excellent transport links.

“The face of the high street has changed and we’ve lost big chains and independent businesses.

“We need, however, to embrace this change and look at ways to make our town centres attractive places for shopping, leisure and hospitality.

“In that respect I believe the biggest challenge we face is changing our mindset. We need to move away from the notion of what the good old days were like and discuss ways in which we can drive forward a new and vibrant future for these places.”

Highlighting her hopes for her time as convener of the CPG, Ms Brown added: “We want to listen to the views of the businesses in towns and the customers who go there, whether it be for retail, hospitality, or leisure.

“We want everyone to work together to bring in a new era of  bright, vibrant, sustainable town centres.”

The new convener has been welcomed to her new role by STP Chief Officer Phil Prentice, who is also programme director of Scotland’s Improvement Districts.

He said: “I am delighted that we have the opportunity to work alongside Ms Brown at a time when the work to reinvigorate our towns and town centres has never been more important. I know this is something she believes strongly in, as do the other CPG members. This is an important forum for helping shape our work.

“Scotland is a nation of towns and these towns have a vital role to play in tackling the challenges facing our economy and environment. By embracing localism and the innovation we are seeing across the country, these communities will be at the heart of a stronger, more sustainable future.”

Scotland’s Towns Partnership also spearheads the Scotland Loves Local campaign, with the support of the Scottish Government – urging people across the country to choose local to help their communities respond to and rebuild from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Brown’s appointment as convener of the CPG marks an on-going connection for the Ayr constituency with the role, with the SNP MSP’s predecessor, Conservative John Scott, having held the position in the last parliamentary session.