I am pleased to be able to open for the Scottish Conservatives in today’s debate. It goes without saying that the Scottish Conservatives are committed to seeing deprived communities regenerated, in both rural and urban settings. And that is why we successfully persuaded the Scottish Government to adopt our policy of the town centre regeneration fund which has proved so popular across Scotland and which I will say more about later. We Conservatives would like to see more of this regeneration but Labour’s mismanagement of the economy will mean that funding for these sorts of projects will be very hard to find.
In that respect we believe that repairing the UK economy is a key and fundamental factor in regenerating our communities. Economic growth means not only that more individuals have jobs and thus a sustainable income but that individuals can more successfully set up small businesses and existing small businesses can thrive and become larger enterprises. It is about acorns becoming might oaks rather than the Sudden Oak Death disease which is now afflicting our economy UK wide. And it means government at both local and national level has adequate resources available to it to help put in the infrastructure and other support that helps towards regeneration. That must be planned for by a government with a long term vision. Improving the British economy is a number one priority for the next Conservative government and this is something that will help all communities in Scotland.
I am also proud of the record of previous Conservative governments in Scotland in making community regeneration a priority. The New Life for Urban Scotland which is referred to in our amendment today was launched in 1988 and meant four parts of Scotland were selected for the establishment of new urban regeneration partnerships: Castlemilk in Glasgow, Ferguslie Park in Paisley, Wester Hailes in Edinburgh and Whitfield in Dundee. The New Life projects are rightly now seen as landmarks in urban regeneration in Scotland and indeed were commended in October 1999 by Cambridge Policy Consultants who found the “pioneering approach” had levered in private sector investment and slowed the rate of de-population. And we would all agree that the retention of an area’s population- whether in an inner city or in a remote or island community- is critical to enhancing and facilitating the regeneration effort there. Under the New Life, resident satisfaction increased substantially, combined with the right to buy. It also provided value for money in comparison with other UK regeneration schemes such as the Single Regeneration Challenge Fund and the London Docklands Development Corporation.
Community involvement was at the heart of the New Life initiative and that is how it should be and so I agree with the reference in the government motion today about the role of community members in delivering regeneration. There is no point in imposing regeneration from on high or from central layers of government; rather local people need to have a stake in achieving improvements in their neighbourhoods, where possible helping to design the facilities they require and working in conjunction with a range of organisations including their local authorities, community councils, housing associations, charities and businesses.
A good example of a grassroots community regeneration campaign in my own region is the work of John McAslan and his team in Dunoon who are seeking to restore the Burgh Hall to its former glory so that it can once again be a key cultural destination for the whole community. This campaign- which I commend- has caught the imagination of local residents, engaging local members in local open days and public meetings and I wish it every success as it seeks to revive the building as a cultural centre – not just for the town, but for the wider region. Often of course such projects can act as a catalyst for wider redevelopment and regeneration. The regeneration of the Burgh Hall is a good example of effective use of limited funds. It now needs some revenue funding towards expanding its cultural amenities for the benefit of the community; a cultural coordinator is needed. Good culture plays a big part in regeneration and instils pride in population centres.
As I have mentioned funding for regeneration is a problem; but could it be that, especially in the Highlands & Islands, community funding from renewable energy projects such as windfarms and hyrdro electric schemes could be used by community councils for regeneration projects in their own areas?
Of course the Scottish Conservatives fought very hard for the government to adopt our £60 million town centre which has proved to be such a boost for local communities. Our town centres are at the heart of community life and it is right that government supports local communities, residents and businesses in their efforts to re-establish the sense of civic pride in our town centres which have in many instances been hit in recent years, not least through Labour’s recession. Dowdy and dilapidated town centres do not inspire confidence amongst investors whereas regenerated ones provide can provide a vital spark. I am delighted that communities in my region of the Highlands & Islands including Dunoon, Oban and Bowmore in Argyll & Bute, Stornoway in the Western Isles, and Forres, Elgin, Lossiemouth and Buckie in Moray, Lerwick on Shetland and Wick and Thurso in Caithness are all benefiting from the implementation of Scottish Conservative policy on regeneration. For instance in my local town of Oban, the gateway to so many beautiful Scottish islands, enterprising local people have started the Oban Bay Marine Company and now they will benefit from this Scottish Conservative policy which has rewarded them with £800,000 towards the creation of Short Stay Visitor Pontoons at Oban Bay. And Thurso is benefiting from and signage and access improvements. The interest in the fund from communities the length and breadth of Scotland and the innovative ideas and schemes that have been proposed and are going ahead has been incredibly encouraging- many Scots are clearly ready to play their part in regenerating their communities. They need the incentive and they need a recovery in our UK economy which unfortunately has been so damaged by the policies of the Labour government.
Presiding Officer, as I have said we welcome today’s debate and- as can be seen from our constructive and positive actions while in opposition in this Parliament- we are ready to work with others to increase the opportunities for local communities. Time prevents me from speaking in detail about housing policy but I want to reiterate our strong support for the housing association sector which has helped transform so many communities and we also believe very strongly that those councils which have not yet done so should pursue housing stock transfer which would remove housing debt and unlock investment which would be a massive boost to community regeneration.
I move the amendment in my name which recognises the good work that has taken place in the past and looks forward to further progress, not least through our town centre regeneration fund.
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