It’s great that our local newspaper is engaging in the debate about the future of Dundee city centre.
But I must admit to a little disappointment about a couple of aspects of Steve Finan’s otherwise excellent piece headlined Dundee city centre is changing but we don’t have to let it die.
The implication that councillors and officers of the council have somehow been sitting on their hands watching what has been happening to our city centre retail and leisure spaces for years and doing nothing to try to halt and then reverse what is so obviously a decline is very far from the truth.
Dundee city centre is by no means unique, and the reasons for the decline in retail spaces at the heart of shopping districts in every developed country in the world are by now well-known and well-rehearsed, and while the council can do nothing about the relentless growth of internet shopping, we have not been sitting idly by.
‘Planning must support the role of town centres’
Following on from guidance provided by the Scottish Government to planning departments across the country, Dundee City Council operates a “town centre first” policy when it comes to granting planning permission for retail developments.
The Scottish Government has for several years recognised that town centres are at the heart of their communities and can be hubs for a range of activities.
It is important that planning supports the role of town centres to thrive and meet the needs of their residents, businesses and visitors for the 21st Century.
We understand too that the city centre has a key role in the success of the city and the wider city region as a place to work, live and visit, and we know this because we’ve done our homework.
A considerable amount of research and consultation by the council identified that while there are major challenges, it is not all doom and gloom.
Among the strengths identified were Dundee’s role as a regional centre, the strong retail offer and the future growth in the city region’s population, driving future retail demand.
However, in common with the situation in other cities and towns, the main weaknesses included the slowness of retailer demand to materialise, the loss of some national retailers and the increasing vacancy rate.
None of which Dundee City Council has any control over, but we do have some things in our toolbox to try to influence these things, such as the town centre first policy.
It is there to protect and enhance the vitality, viability and vibrancy of the city centre, promoting it as the first-choice location for the development of new shopping provision and other significant uses which attract people to Dundee and build on its location and accessibility.
‘Ambitious 30-year plan’
I recognise that this policy is sometimes not the most popular and can be in the firing line from some people.
But it is one of the best ways the council has of trying to ensure that any retailer who wants to establish, expand or move does so within Dundee’s principal location for civic, retail and business activity.
Just last week, the council agreed the final draft of an ambitious 30-year plan to steer development and investment opportunities for the city centre, as well as putting it out for even more consultation.
The City Centre Strategic Investment Plan (CCSIP) sets out a vision for the city centre as an exciting, growing place to live, work and visit and public consultation is already under way, including face-to-face engagement with city centre-based businesses.
With nine key targets under the themes of living, working, visiting, connectivity and public realm, the strategy has already been the subject of previous widescale discussions.
By using our own creativity and resources, several positive initiatives have been implemented in the city centre recently, including the successful pedestrianisation of Union Street.
What the strategy seeks to do is build on schemes like that and come up with a variety of ways of breathing new life into the city centre, which are specific to us and will give us the edge when it comes to regenerating the heart of Dundee.
Work with stakeholders and businesses to support the recovery, including marketing of the city to visitors and hosting events and activities, is continuing.
Steve Finan’s opinion piece fired up the debate…we want the people of Dundee to get involved in city centre’s future.
As well as that, council officers are now looking at how some of the building and physical changes highlighted in the strategy could be done and have been tasked with looking for external funding to support delivering those projects going forward.
When it’s ultimately approved, and where appropriate, the finalised City Centre Strategic Investment Plan will also become a key consideration when the council is deciding on planning applications.
Thanks to Steve Finan’s opinion piece firing up the debate, we have been given the chance to let the people of the city and its hinterland know that we’re on it and encourage them to get involved in the future of Dundee city centre.
Thanks for your ideas Steve, some of ours are above and more of them are on our website.
What are the ideas from the people of Dundee?
Mark Flynn is convener of Dundee City Council’s city development committee