Scottish town centers need schools and libraries to boost recovery

Building schools in city centers and increasing cultural attractions and public services will be key to their recovery, according to a national task force.

The Scottish government said it would “seek to urge and encourage” local authorities to locate more museums, libraries and health services in urban centers to support a plan to attract more residential development.

One of Buchanan Galleries’ proposals is to replace the shopping center with a public building, “at its heart”.

A report from the inner city recovery task force says a key priority will be to look at the amenities needed to encourage more people to live in inner cities, which will have a positive impact on retail and other businesses.

Local authorities will be encouraged to increase “opportunities to generate revenue”, but the report does not provide further details.

Councils have already been given the power to introduce a workplace parking charge – with funds raised to be spent on local transport strategies.

Concerns have been raised that councils can charge businesses as much as they want per parking space under the scheme and it will also be up to local authorities to decide the threshold of spaces for vehicles to a business before the tax comes into effect.

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The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said there was “a lot of delay” to the report, including the increase in city center life, but said it was concerned that the collection powers of revenues only increase the financial pressure on store owners. Professional rates for merchants, hospitality and leisure establishments have now been restored.

The report, which covered all seven Scottish towns, warns that vacant accommodation is undermining attempts to attract visitors, residents and tourists to town centres.

More than a quarter of retail sales are now done online, up from just 3% in 2007.

While city center footfall is roughly back to pre-pandemic levels in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, weekday and nighttime footfall remains below pre-lockdown levels in Glasgow and Edinburgh .

As of March 2022, Scotland’s two largest cities had seen only a limited return of workers and the report says the hybrid model is likely to be a permanent change.

Councils will be encouraged to offer retailers incentives to trade from a downtown retail unit rather than an out of town location.

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The report suggests greater use of “pop-up” stores and the removal of the 28-day restriction.

Other options that councils could consider are “creative spaces” or co-working spaces in vacant units that allow people to use machines that may be too expensive for home use.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Although we have not yet fully digested the report and discussed its findings with members, it looks like the retail sector could learn a lot from it – the recognition that city centers must remain economic hubs, the impact that continuing hybrid working will have, and plans for more city center living and a campaign to bring visitors back to our city centres.

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“Let’s hope the visitor campaign rolls out quickly to attract commuters, shoppers and tourists, as their return is key to bringing back the footfall and energy our city centers desperately need.”

“Having said that, we feel the report should have put more emphasis on reducing the cost of doing business in our city centres.”

‘We are also wary of the suggestion that councils should have more opportunities to raise revenue and what that might mean in practice, especially if it leads to higher business taxes.’

Professor John McKendrick, Director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Unit at Glasgow Caledonian University added: “It is transforming city centers into what they already tend to be and aspire to be. .

“If we are to increase residential mix in city centers we will need more of these day-to-day facilities and there has already been growth over time in the supply of supermarkets in Glasgow city centre.”

The report also says local authorities who are “dependent on parking revenue” could be offered more support as part of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of city centres.

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