Town centre living: more homes at the heart of great places report

An architectural drawing of a busy high street with people walking in between buildings and stalls.
Published: 15/03/2023

(March 2023) A new report looks at the benefits and barriers to town centre living, some examples of good practice and what we can do to make more of it happen in Scotland.

A report on town centre living has been published, led by Scottish Futures Trust, with input from the Scottish Land Commission and Architecture and Design Scotland. The work was steered by a wider group of organisations with interests in town centre regeneration and housing.

The report follows the release of the Scottish Government’s Town Centre Action Plan Review late last year which outlined moves to encourage more people to live in town centres.

Town centre living is a key policy aspiration for the Scottish Government, local authorities and a wide range of other public, private and third sector bodies. It builds upon strong foundations of strategic place planning and supports key principles around inclusion, wellbeing and sustainability.

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Sustainable town centres

The report presents the findings of a Short Life Working Group, formed in August 2022 to investigate the issues with, and opportunities for, the delivery of more town centre housing. 

It highlights the benefits of bringing more housing and people into our town centres to help support the creation of strong and sustainable places and key policy aims around:

  • active travel
  • affordable and independent living
  • walkable neighbourhoods
  • the wellbeing economy
  • net zero
  • the re-use of existing built assets

Town centre living can underpin the resilience of many of Scotland’s places, but it needs to be done in a way that delivers the right homes, in the right places, for the right reasons.

The most attractive towns – from a town centre living perspective – are those that offer good physical environments and green spaces in safe and attractive places with good transport and other services, and a mix of housing choices.

This approach supports the Scottish Government’s ambitions for 20-minute neighbourhoods, where people can meet their needs within a 20-minute walk from their house - enabling people to live better, healthier lives and supporting net zero ambitions, and aligns with many of the principles set out in our work on carbon conscious places.

Learning from town centre living projects in Scotland

The report includes a number of examples of successful town centre living projects that have, or are being, delivered across Scotland, and that have broad applicability and an approach that could, at least in part, be replicated elsewhere. 

Projects like Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries, which involved the redevelopment of a full town centre block to create a new mixed-use neighbourhood in existing and new buildings for residential (c. 60 flats), commercial and community spaces.  The development is being led by a community benefit society with funding from a cocktail of public/ private/ philanthropic investments. 

Abbey Quarter in Paisley where c. 150 new build homes are being delivered in a development that has preserved, reused and revitalised a prominent listed building at the heart of the town centre.

And recently completed housing at Primrose Street in Alloa, which involved the redevelopment of a long-term vacant site to enable delivery of new town centre living housing designed for elderly tenants who want a better option for independent living. There the town centre location was a key priority to maintain access for residents to services and public transport.

Streetview of Primrose Street Alloa housing. First two floors have a brick facade with the third covered in corrugated metal.
Streetview of Primrose Street Alloa development.

The report includes examples of successful town centre living projects in Scotland such as the award-winning Primrose Street development in Alloa, which meets the needs of an ageing population and provides positive impact on the surrounding area.

Town centre living projects like these can deliver substantial benefits to our towns and town centres, helping to create active and attractive places and delivering wellbeing. With less reliance on private car transport, for example, these wider benefits might include better physical and mental health for residents due to increased levels of walking.

Caring places

The report supports earlier work by our team and Scotland’s Towns Partnership on town centre living: a caring place, which explores how town centres can be adapted to support us as we get older. 

The caring place work suggests important issues to consider for our towns and town centres to address ageing in place - including care and housing provision, sustainability and transport to amenities, and accessibility - as part of a person-centred, whole-place approach in line with the Place Principle.

Building on this work, and our work on carbon conscious places, we provided support to Clackmannanshire Council working with Scottish Futures Trust and the Alva community on the Alva Pathfinder project.

The pilot project tested the role of collaboration in providing a ‘whole place’ brief and a catalyst for town centre regeneration, turning a housing initiative into a multi-faceted community project linked to a series of subtle stitching and repair projects across Alva town centre.

Whole-place approach

The report makes a number of recommendations for continuation of the work of the Town Centre Living Working Group. In the immediate term there is an opportunity to support project officers (from public and private sectors) to take a collaborative whole place approach to the development and delivery of town centre living to help build skills and expertise, and develop an evidence base for town centre living.

How we can help

Architecture and Design Scotland champion’s a whole place collaborative approach by working with local authorities, design teams, communities and key stakeholders. We provide design advice on projects across a variety of scales and typologies, including town centres and housing. If you would like to explore how we can help, please get in touch with us.

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