Scotland’s largest cities united on the route to economic recovery

Calls for cross-party support for implementing recommendations from Scotland’s Urban AGE II SCOTLAND’S three principal cities are collaborating on a new report looking at the role they have to play in driving the country’s economic recovery and the policy direction,…

News29th Apr 2021

By Lyn Calder

Scotland’s largest cities united on the route to economic recovery

Calls for cross-party support for implementing recommendations from Scotland’s Urban AGE II

SCOTLAND’S three principal cities are collaborating on a new report looking at the role they have to play in driving the country’s economic recovery and the policy direction, conditions and support from government at all levels that is needed to enable them to succeed.

With just a week to go before the nation heads to the polls in the Scottish Parliamentary election, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh Chambers of Commerce are calling on politicians of all persuasions to commit to placing the AGE city regions at the heart of the economic recovery plan, backed up by clear actions and investment.

This is in light of a recent Scottish Government report entitled Tackling Scotland’s population challenges which contained recommendations including “developing a more sustainable population pattern, with fewer people concentrated around cities”.

The Chambers and Glasgow School of Art are working with Brodies LLP and Anderson Anderson & Brown LLP (AAB) on Scotland’s Urban AGE II, the follow up to a report first published in 2018 that examined what was going well, what was not and recommended a series of strategic ideas, interventions and actions aimed at enabling the three cities to become leading players on the global stage concluding that “the available evidence shows that the AGE cities are the key drivers of the Scottish economy” and that “if they are performing well, the spin-off benefits top other towns, cities and rural areas are clear”.

The new report, due to publish in Autumn 2021, will consider what has changed in light of COVID-19 and the accelerating net zero carbon agenda regarding the ability of our principal cities to deliver on their ambitions.

From employment to culture, housing to transport and much more, the research is intended to inform and spark discussion around how the private and public sectors, along with empowered local communities, can work together to create a new, sustainable urban agenda that benefits the whole country, helping to create vibrant places that people choose to live, work, visit and spend their leisure time.

Outcomes will include a range of scenarios and ideas developed in partnership with Scotland’s business communities indicatively outlining the support that Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh will require to enable recovery and the direction of travel they must take towards successfully delivering an improved future for their people. And we are asking that our new Government agrees to engage fully with the findings – backed by clear actions and investment – to ensure the AGE city regions will be at the heart of our nation’s recovery.

The project will be led by Professor Brian Evans, Head of Urbanism at the Glasgow School of Art and director of the Glasgow Urban Laboratory. He is Glasgow’s City Urbanist and an advisor to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, on the future of cities and the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

What the project partners say:

Professor Brian Evans said: “The team is delighted to have the opportunity to re-visit Scotland’s Urban AGE in the light of the current challenges faced by Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is now widely recognised that COVID-19 and climate change will have a profound effect on our lives for years to come. By the end of 2021, and to paraphrase Churchill, we will not be at the end of understanding their effects, but we might be at the beginning of understanding what we need to do. We already know that COVID-19 has accelerated societal change, and this will only gather pace as societies finally gear-up to deal with the climate emergency. We know that the young and the less fortunate have been hardest hit and that the development dynamics of cities, their neighbourhoods and surrounding towns are in flux as a consequence of working patterns, online retailing and mobility demands. We have yet to properly understand the cultural consequences. The challenges of our zeitgeist are immense, as are the opportunities they present if we confront them imaginatively, constructively and collectively. To do so without severe collateral consequences will require patience and a calm approach”.

“Cities centres have been hit hard by the restrictions put in place by governments to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a real risk that decisions being taken now and any related changes of policy direction could see the places that should be the beating heart of our communities become urban deserts of the future. They are finely balanced eco-systems of retail, culture, hospitality, residential and offices with people at their heart. If any of these are out of balance, then the others are likely to fail. Scotland’s Urban AGE II aims to ensure this scenario is avoided.” said Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce.

“The role of Scotland’s largest cities in attracting investment and creating jobs has been a success story which the first Urban AGE report explored in depth.   The pandemic has thrown up some fundamental challenges to our cities and especially to our city centres.  Urban Age II will help us carefully consider the evidence and avoid adopting impulsive assumptions about the way ahead”- Stuart Patrick CBE, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce

Liz McAreavey, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, added: “Our Scottish Parliament election manifesto, makes it plain that we need to see the economy and its sustained recovery at the heart of policy, combined with new, closer partnership working. We’ve also stressed the need for plans and measures from government to support the recovery of our cities and city centres, which are vital to the economic, cultural, social wellbeing of Scotland. City centres have suffered disproportionately through the pandemic and we need to ensure that they are fully supported through the recovery. 84% of net additional jobs in Scotland over the next 5 years will be generated by the AGE cities”.

Elaine Farquharson-Black, partner and co-head of planning at Brodies, said: “We believe that the findings of Scotland’s Urban Age II will be important for our clients as it builds on the themes of the initial 2018 study but also addresses the fundamental aspects of economic recovery, taking into account the impact of COVID-19. What remains clear, is that our three main cities have much to offer in terms of creating vibrant places for people to live, work and visit, and the success of these cities benefits the country far beyond Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh’s regional boundaries. It will, however, take collaborative effort, investment and commitment to realise this potential.”

Lyn Calder, Managing Partner – Edinburgh at AAB added “As businesses once again re-open their doors we must continue to engage with and listen to them as they respond to ongoing changes and navigate the post-pandemic landscape. This research will provide a hugely important opportunity to do just that with the business communities across our three largest cities, and across all sectors. Although the focus of the research is on Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, the findings and proposals will ultimately impact the future of the entire Scottish economy. We are delighted to be part of such a meaningful initiative which will hopefully play a part in delivering major change.”

Statement to Universities UK by Glasgow School of Art:

The influential Scotland’s Urban AGE report (2018) which pointed the way forward for the cities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh will be revisited in the context of COVID-19 which has had a profound on our lives, our economy and on our cities.

The experience economy on which our city centres have thrived (retail, hospitality, culture and the office) has been hit hard. There is speculation that ‘work-from-home’ will change employment patterns permanently, that high street retail may never recover, that extensive amounts office floorspace in city centres may become surplus to requirements. At the same time, the suburbs are predicted to thrive.

Scotland’s Urban AGE II will address the consequences of COVID-19 and the race to zero-carbon on the future of Scotland’s principal cities and consider the implications of ideas such as the 15-20 minute neighbourhood and the hybrid office.

Led by Professor Brian Evans, Director of the Glasgow Urban Lab (at GSA), this major project brings together the GSA; Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh Chambers of Commerce; and the private sector. It will reflect on the findings of Scotland’s Urban AGE, survey the current position and suggest scenarios for Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh that might mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

Scotland’s Urban AGE (1): Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh in the century of the city
Scotland’s Urban AGE (2): The impact of COVID-19 and the climate emergency on the society, economy and environment of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

By Lyn Calder

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