Small Towns Initiative

BEFS has identified small towns as a critical, but too often neglected component of Scotland’s built environment.  They are important to Scotland’s identity, its tourism and to the local economies and residents they serve.  However, such places also seem to be facing major challenges in terms of retaining their services, as well as their character. In light of this the BEFS 2012 Annual Congress explored the theme of Small Town Scotland with a report from Architecture & Design Scotland.

As part of BEFS' Small Towns Initiative, BEFS Chairman, Professor Cliff Hague visited small towns throughout Scotland. BEFS labelled the visits a ‘Small Towns Health Check’ and devised a 'Folk-Work-Place' checklist approach to share ideas and focus discussion. The checklist includes a number of questions under several categories and details of the checklist and reports on the towns visited can be found on the Case Studies page.

The Initiative is a workstream of the BEFS Architecture and Place Group.

Small Towns Initiative Findings

On Wednesday the 4th September 2013 we launched a report on the findings of the Small Towns Initiative at an event in Helensburgh.

The main findings are:

      • The historic environment is a vital part of small towns’ character, but is under threat.
      • Conservation projects focused on the historic environment are playing an important part in small town regeneration.
      • The town centres are struggling – innovative uses are needed.
      • Property ownership and rateable values are part of the problem in town centres.
      • Small towns are important to Scotland’s economy – there is local innovation and global connections.
      • Public services are key providers of professional job opportunities, especially for women, and are important for community sustainability.
      • Education opportunities are crucial to attracting families and retaining young people.
      • Community / cultural activities and a safe, attractive environment can be an important part of a development strategy.
      • Scotland’s small towns need better branding and visibility on the internet.
      • Joined up action by the public sector needs to be supported by local residents and businesses.
Key recommendations are:
      • More research is needed on the economic significance of Scotland’s small towns to underpin a small towns policy sitting alongside urban policy and rural policy.
      • The Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme and the Town Centre Regeneration programme have helped to provide investment to conserve and enhance the centres of small towns. Such investment will continue to be needed, but the CARS programme should include powers for compulsory purchase.
      • Means should be explored to enable temporary use by not-for-profit organisations of commercial premises that have been vacant for 6 months. 
      • Small towns need an integrated, place-based approach. Community planning partnerships can be a vehicle for this if they are focused on place rather than services.
      • Schools have a key part to play in sustaining small towns. They are important in attracting and retaining families, sources of employment and spending and part of a town’s identity. Their full potential for developing entrepreneurship, building links with local businesses and involving young people in the future of their town should be explored and exploited.
      • Use innovative local firms to spread innovation locally and through sub-regional networks and clusters.
      • Work together, learn from each other.
      • Use and adapt the BEFS small town health check to promote interest and build partnerships in your town.

The full report is available for download.