Stirling professor to chair expert group seeking to revitalise town centres in the aftermath of COVID-19

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A University of Stirling retail expert will chair a new group set up by the Scottish Government to revitalise and renew Scotland’s town centres in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Professor Leigh Sparks, Professor of Retail Studies and a Deputy Principal at the University, will lead a group of experts in town planning, public health, transport and business to build on the progress of the Scottish Government’s 2013 Town Centre Action Plan.

Announcing the group, the Scottish Government’s Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “Town centres are crucial to our economic recovery and renewal as we emerge from lockdown and it’s important we do all we can to support them. COVID-19 has changed the way we all live, work and shop, and we must develop safe spaces that meet the diverse economic, social and environmental needs of city, country, village and island populations.

“By nurturing connections between local producers and retailers and their communities we enhance the wellbeing of our communities.

“Our town centre-first approach has been held up as an example throughout the UK and globally. Now we have the opportunity to develop healthier, vibrant, and greener town centres that support communities to thrive.”

Professor Leigh Sparks

Professor Leigh Sparks is leading the new group, set up by the Scottish Government.

Professor Sparks, who is also Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, will be joined on the group by members from Scotland’s council umbrella body, COSLA, the Royal Town Planning Institute, South of Scotland Enterprise, the Carnegie Trust, the Federation of Small Businesses, Public Health Scotland, Sustrans, Inclusion Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Professor Sparks said: “Our town centres need to be successful places which are socially and economically inclusive.

“The National Review of Town Centres in 2013 and the Town Centre Action Plan which followed have provided a pathway for towns in recent years.

“COVID-19 provides a challenge to our towns and town centres, but also an opportunity to rethink and re-energise our efforts to make towns fit for all in Scotland.

“I am delighted therefore to have been asked to lead this new group at this critical and important time.” 

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