Professor Leigh Sparks, Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, highlights how the Town Centre Action Plan and recent changes to thinking around towns is renewing optimism and a community-centric approach.
Yes, I was a geographer, and I am fully aware that the Forth Road Bridge does not go through East Kilbride! Most recently of course the Forth Road Bridge has not been connecting anything or anywhere. Without belittling the impact of the closure, it is a valid question as to whether there were any positive effects to this closure? And it is positivity that is the theme of this otherwise potentially disjointed blog post.
I recently came across a YouTube link to a 1954 video of East Kilbride – The Town of Tomorrow. This video tells the story of the development of East Kilbride from 1948 to 1954. It is of course of its time, complete with planner (male) with pipe, gesticulating at a hand-drawn map of the proposed new town. What shines through is the sense of ambition and positivity; there’s even a 1940s mention of ‘can-do’ philosophy.
East Kilbride came from the Clyde Regional Plan and was intended to be a reaction to unplanned sprawl, to reduce the distance travelled to work and to focus new town development and industrial estates, all surrounded by green belt. This green belt was meant to supply local food and veg for the new development, retailed to housewives through its new planned shopping centre.
The video presents a positive view of opportunities and ambition and is the first of four such films by the East Kilbride Development Corporation:
all digitised (c2012?) from the South Lanarkshire Council Archive. All are available on YouTube.
Some 60+ years later the Scottish Government has recently published its review of theTown Centre Action Plan (TCAP) Two Years On. Obviously, I have a vested interest given my membership of the Fraser Review and being Chair of the Board of Scotland’s Towns Partnership and IDS Scotland (the BIDS Company for Scotland). However, the report does showcase the energy around towns in Scotland today and the determination for putting right the issues that have arisen in the last 60 years. Showcasing the TCAP Fraser themes and the wide range of demonstration projects underway, the report suggests we are turning a corner through focusing on community led rethinking about towns and places.
Somewhere along the way of course we lost the optimism and positivity of the New Town movement and East Kilbride. Perhaps they were flawed concepts from the outset, but we seemed to abandon the town ‘baby’ with the New Town ‘bathwater’ and give up on towns as a whole. Only now are we realising and trying to rectify the social and economic damage we thus created.
This community centric view of towns is based on a notion of pride in place and that people are, and want to be, positive about their towns and local economy. And this is the theme of the third element of this blog, the recent Carnegie UK Trust report on Fife and the Forth Road Bridge Closure (Breaking the Link). Fife, of course, is a ‘Kingdom of Towns’ though it looks to the Edinburgh City Region for much economic activity.
The Carnegie UK Trust report points to the disruption and changed behaviour due to the Forth Road Bridge closure. As the infographic at the top of this post shows, travel patterns and modes of travel to work altered quite significantly. Shopping activities though became more locally focused. Combined with a strong sense of place and satisfaction with most neighbourhoods in Fife the report points to the potential within Fife, and its towns, for innovative and positive local development. A Carnegie UK Trust blog provides further commentary on the report and issues.
So whether it is East Kilbride or the Kingdom of Towns, we can and should be positive and proactive about place and work from the community upwards to deliver our positive ambitions, as embodied in the Town Centre Action Plan. Much more on this, and the partners and tools that can help can be found at Scotland’s Towns Partnership.