The health of town centres is now enshrined in local decision making by Aberdeenshire Council, in the interest of economic recovery and sustainable economic growth.
The Town Centre First Principle was launched jointly by the Scottish Government and Cosla in January 2015, following an independent review of town centres across Scotland.
Public organisations were invited to commit to the principle, taking a wider view of town centre development beyond the traditional development planning approach, in order to incorporate other decisions the public sector makes which can influence town centre viability.
The Town Centre First Principle states that town centres are a key element of the economic, social and environmental fabric of Scotland’s towns; often at the core of community and economic life, offering spaces in which to live, meet and interact, do business and access facilities and services.
It urges public bodies to “take collective responsibility to help town centres thrive sustainably, reinvent their function, and meet the needs of residents, businesses, and visitors for the 21st century”.
The council’s Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) approved the Town Centre First Principle as a policy for Aberdeenshire Council at a meeting in Aberdeen on Thursday.
Speaking after the meeting, ISC chairman David Aitchison said: “Essentially what this means is that we are putting town centres first in all the decisions that we’re making as a council.
“This means at Local Area Committees, central policy committees and at all other meetings of the council where decisions are taken, that the vibrancy, equality and diversity of our town centres will be key.“
ISC vice-chair, Graeme Clark, said: “In determining relevant planning applications, the council has always considered the viability of our local town centres, but this goes much wider than that.
“Beyond the planning service, all council departments will now have an eye on how their decisions can be made to ensure healthy and prosperous centres at the heart of local communities.”
The practical implication of adopting the principle as policy is that it allows consideration by officers of both positive and negative implications when making decisions that impact on town centres.
As well as planning policies, it will apply to policies relating to the provision of civic and community facilities, local authority assets, employment land, retail, economic development, residential, culture, transportation, leisure and tourism.
It will be incorporated into all relevant council strategies, operational plans and strategic area plans and will be embedded into all processes that involve making decisions, positive or negative, related to town centres.
It will allow officers in all services to identify the detrimental effects that things such as budget cuts, road closures and decisions around the removal of assets or services which increase or decrease footfall will potentially have on town centres.
A Town Centre Framework will now be developed which will include a town centre impact assessment along with relevant guidance for officers.