Skip to main content

Town Centres as a solution: IPM and Regional Studies Association event focuses on “a distinctive approach”

“We won't succeed by doing the same things that we have for the last 50+ years only a little less badly. If we don't change course more radically it will be too late.”

The words of Prof Leigh Sparks MA, PhD, CF, FRSE, Professor of Retail Studies, Deputy Principal at the University of Stirling, Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership and IPM Senior Fellow, in the first of two presentations for a joint IPM - Regional Studies Association (RSA) ‘International Hour’ webinar, that shared valuable insights into place management, leadership and partnership working.

Phil Prentice, Consultant to Scotland’s Towns Partnership, National Programme Director of Scotland’s Improvement Districts and also an IPM Senior Fellow, discussed ‘Scotland’s expansive approach to Improvement Districts - City, Town, Island, Food and 

Drink, Tourism, Community, Business Parks, Digital - and how they benefit places in different ways’, as well as ‘how a place-based approach and the Place Based Investment Programme is creating more holistic solutions and innovative partnerships.’

“place is complex; it needs everyone at the table.”

In his presentation, Leigh Sparks outlined Scotland's enabling policies for town centres, highlighted their transformative effects and emphasised the importance of policies that empower communities to revitalise their local areas: “From the Fraser Review, through Town Centre Action Plan 1, the development of the Town Centre First and the Place Principle, Scotland has sought a coherent and consistent approach. In 2021 the Sparks Review of progress - A New Future for Scotland's Town Centres - advocated a strengthening of approach and a more radical reconsideration of the medium-term ways forward. Much of this was accepted in the Scottish Government / COSLA Town Centre Action Plan 2.”

He went on to outline progress and identified successes and barriers thus far, concluding that: Systemic, structural change is needed to really make a difference across our range of places. Things are working in some places despite the system – just think what we could achieve if the system helped us?”

Phil Prentice began by talking about what ‘home’ means and the importance of place, saying: “place is critical in terms of health, wellbeing, environment and much more”, before going on to talk about the practical aspects of implementing place-based policies and the challenges involved in delivering Scotland’s distinctive ‘holistic approach’.

COVID and climate change have,” he said, “changed everything”; one impact being the strongest level of interest in Improvement District he’s seen because “they actually know who can give out help and who needs it, and connect the dots between the two.” This, he said, means there are more potential Improvement Districts in the pipeline, and those going to ballot are securing another term with bigger majorities.

Phil went on to explain the Place Principle which ‘promotes the need for communities, public organisations and businesses to work collaboratively with the assets and services in a place to achieve better outcomes.’: “We need to recognise,” he said, “that place is complex; it needs everyone at the table.”

The event was chaired by IPM Chair, Cathy Parker MBE SFIPM IPM, professor of Retail at Manchester Metropolitan University and Research Lead for the High Streets Task Force. Cathy hosted the Q&A session which included questions (and “answers”) on the impact of politics in place (“show town centres as a solution to problems”); the search for a cross party approach (“try to take the politics out”); the importance of involving communities (“you have to listen or you get it wrong”); the role of leadership and where it will come from (“making the people who are doing this stuff on the ground shine”); and the part organisations like IPM and RSA can play (“our industry needs to scale up and move at pace”).

Summing up the event, Regional Studies Association Deputy Chief Executive, Daniela Carl, said: “RSA is a global community of policymakers, researchers and practitioners focussing on regional development, policy and research. Part of our work is to share latest research and policy developments via our webinar series that are free and open to all to join. It’s been a pleasure working with the IPM on this ‘International Hour’ webinar presenting a Scottish perspective on place management.”

Cathy Parker said: “We’re very keen to work more with the RSA and hope this will be just the first example of a strengthening relationship between us going forward.”


Webinar recording

Non-members of RSA can access a recording of ‘the RSA International Hour Scotland, A Scottish Perspective on Place – A Webinar in Collaboration with the Institute of Place Management, 4th October 2023’ here:


About the author


Formed in 2006, the Institute of Place Management is the international professional body that supports people committed to developing, managing and making places better.

Back to top