SHOPS must remain a key element of the high street experience and bold ideas imagining how empty retail space could be used must form part of the vision for the future, according to a leading architect involved in a pilot designed to change the face of Paisley town centre.

Alan Anthony, managing director of Threesixty Architecture, a panel member at The Future of Our High Streets, yesterday’s virtual event organised by The Herald in partnership with law firm CMS, said that the focus should be nurturing vibrant high streets where people live and get together.

“We don’t want to go back to the days of the 1980s and 90s – we should be creating hubs in our towns that everyone can benefit from,” he said.The Vision for Paisley Town Centre 2030 would see the heart of the town completely transformed over the next decade, he added. It looks at repurposing the town centre by creating residential areas, and “attractors” including a new community-owned cinema and market-style food hall. Plans for the cinema building also include community space and a digital skills academy.

Phil Prentice, chief officer at Scotland’s Towns Partnership, the organisation promotes the diversity of towns and recently launched Loves Local, a national campaign encouraging Scots to think local first and support town centres and high streets, described Scotland as a “nation of towns and high streets”.

“We have to move beyond the hear and now to the post-Covid environment,” he said, welcoming the Scottish Government’s £275 million cash injection to support towns – unveiled in its Programme for Government – earlier this month. He referred to the “20-minute neighbourhood”, which revolves around the concept that people in any part of a town or city should be able to find shops, green space, public services, leisure facilities – and ideally work – within 20 minutes’ walk of an affordable home.

Pointing to Kirkcaldy as an example of a town undergoing a positive renaissance, Dr Jackie Mulligan of called for an end to the “online versus physical” retail debate and “landlord versus tenant”. “We need to nurture small businesses because they have a long life ahead of them,” she said. “They form part of our future and that is what we must focus on.”

Earlier, keynote speaker Vivienne King of Revo said: “Our high streets deserve our support and respect – and consumers need meaningful reason to visit them. There is no cookie-cutter approach but I think we can learn from Paisley but it does not need to be that particular blueprint.

“We must invest properly in talking to local communities and listen to their needs.”
A Scottish Government review of how to revitalise and renew Scotland’s town centres in the aftermath of Covid-19, led by Leigh Sparks, Professor of Retail Studies at the University of Stirling, is expected to report in November.