The official Perth City Plan, which sets out a vision for future growth over the next 20 years, looks to Europe for inspiration.
The Perth City Development Board, a public-private group which drew up the now-adopted masterplan, believes the Fair City can model itself on Umea and Kalstad in Sweden and Freiburg in Germany, which – like Perth – have had to adapt to soaring populations.
Another closer-to-home example quoted in the study is Exeter in the south-west corner of England.
According to the board, the Devon capital has coped with a rapid population surge to transform from “an historic county town to a dynamic small city with a thriving economy and an outstanding university.”
However, in 2005 the city topped a poll to find Britain’s blandest high street. The New Economics Foundation said at the time the main shopping area was dominated by chain stores, with just one independent shop out of 50.
Since then, the Cathedral City underwent a £230million make-over with the launch of the Princesshay Shopping Centre. The Perth development board said the expansion “broke the mould for modern retail development”.
Exeter’s former city centre manager John Harvey said the area had been changed radically over the last 15 years. “We’ve created an outstanding city centre, real success story,” he said. “It’s now really important to shout about that success story.”
A new £30million shopping complex, with cinema, gym and student accommodation, is planned for Thimblerow, off Perth’s High Street. Developers say the development could be a base for big-name chains and is expected to bring more than 300,000 more shoppers into the city each year.
David Littlejohn, head of planning and development at Perth and Kinross Council, said all the cities highlighted in the City plan had benefitted from having universities, which attracted more young people.
He said: “There doesn’t seem to be any city of that scale that we’ve been looking at which doesn’t have a university and we have a great opportunity now with UHI’s largest campus being here in Perth.”
Mr Littlejohn said: “We see the expansion of Perth as a huge opportunity, not least because it generates more footfall for the city centre. If you want to fill your shops and restaurants, one way you can do that is obviously having more people living in the Perth.
“What these cities in Europe have achieved is creating a very strong sense of place and I think there’s a big opportunity for Perth to learn from that and in many ways do it better.”