Focus on cities puts Scottish towns at risk of ‘time bomb’
New Start magazine
Deprivation is being ignored in small towns north of the border because the Scottish Executive is too focused on developing cities, local authority officials have warned.
The South of Scotland Alliance, involving Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders councils, said a ‘policy vacuum’ on small towns was reinforcing their ‘isolation from political support and resource allocation’.
It said the executive had focused on the development of its largest urban centres through its £90m building better cities policy, which made only a passing reference to towns.
Focusing on 262 urban centres with populations of between 2,000 and 20,000, the alliance said towns were suffering from poor health, high levels of drug and alcohol abuse, and high unemployment.
Underinvestment in buildings had created a ‘time bomb of physical decay’, while tourism could be damaged by the loss of historic structures, it warned.
It estimated that around £300m would be needed to stop the decline of private sector buildings in towns in the Scottish Borders Council area.
‘National agencies such as Scottish Enterprise and Communities Scotland do not give priority to small towns, their potential is largely overlooked, and their problems remain largely unaddressed,’ the alliance said.
The Scottish index of multiple deprivation ‘seriously underestimates’ the level of disadvantage in small towns by omitting factors such as population, wages, access to economic opportunities and services, it adds.
The alliance warned there was no structure in place to learn from regeneration initiatives of the past and called for a 10-15-year regeneration masterplan for small towns.
A special fund should be created to help small towns develop. It added: ‘To ensure effective resourcing and policy development by the Scottish Executive, there is a need for clarity about who has the lead responsibility for small towns.’
A Scottish Executive spokesperson said: ‘Towns are part of our on-going consideration of the regeneration of Scotland’s communities. We support them through housing investment, the community regeneration fund and initiatives such as business improvement districts.’
Small towns report, www.scotborders.gov.uk