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Scottish government to launch new architecture policy

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The Scottish government at Holyrood has revealed plans to launch a revamped architecture policy in the new year

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop (pictured) announced the plans at a debate on the importance of architecture and place-making to the country’s economy earlier today.

Hyslop said the government would work with the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), the Royal Town Planning Institute in Scotland, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland to develop the policy.

The proposal would be the first SNP-drafted architecture policy. Scotland became the first UK country to a adopt a formal policy on architecture in 2001 and the most recent document was published when the Scottish Labour Party held power in 2007.

Hyslop said the architecture and design sector – which employs 11,000 people in Scotland – was ‘vital’ to the economy.

She went on to demand the UK government in Whitehall consider reducing the VAT on refurbishments from 20 per cent to 5 per cent.

There are strong social, cultural and economic arguments for adaptation and re-use of buildings.

Driving home the importance of retrofits and refurbishment to Scotland’s future, she said: ‘There are strong social, cultural and economic arguments for adaptation and re-use of buildings.

‘Retaining traditional buildings, neighbourhoods and landscapes can conserve valuable resources, contribute to healthy communities - help to define and protect our national identity - and retain our sense of place.

‘Areas that have developed incrementally over time often support a mixed business use much better than areas that have been comprehensively redeveloped within ‘single use zones.’

Hyslop reaffirmed the government’s support for the RIAS Doolan prize and emphasised its recognition of the value which designs adds to the built environment.

‘Whether new or old, well-designed places and buildings should be seen as an investment that adds value’, she said.  


Full speech: Fiona Hyslop on the importance of architecture and place-making to the economy of Scotland


Presiding Officer … Scotland has a proud heritage of architecture and place-making but also a productive present and a positive future.

The contribution of our architecture and design sector accounts for around 1.3 billion of the estimated 5.2 billion pounds per year that the creative industries generates towards the Scottish economy.

But that is only part of the picture.  Our architecture and design sector, obviously, also generates work in our construction sector.  And the value of construction output for Scotland last year was around 11 billion pounds. 

The construction industry is a significant employer. It is estimated that there are over 172 thousand people in its workforce in Scotland – added to which there are around 11 thousand in the architecture and design sector.

So we can immediately see the vital importance in economic and employment terms of architecture and place-making to the economy of Scotland.

Each period in Scotland’s history is marked by the way in which our buildings and places have responded to various challenges – whether those challenges were economic, social or cultural.  I was reminded of this on Friday when I visited the restoration project at Dunoon Burgh Halls.

As we shape the future of Scotland’s built environment in the 21st Century, the challenges at the forefront of our minds are climate change, the economy and the need to secure sustainable growth.

These are challenging times, and we need to apply the same commitment, vision and sense of purpose to create places of value that can stand comparison with our successful historic places.

To quote John Ruskin – ‘Our duty is to preserve what the past has had to say for itself, and to say for ourselves what shall be true for the future’

This debate provides an opportunity to consider why architecture and place-making are such a vital part of our cultural identity and - from a policy perspective – to set out the steps that this Government has taken to ensure we are managing and developing our built environment in a responsible and creative way.

In 2001, Scotland became the first country in the UK to adopt a formal policy on architecture and a renewed statement was published with broad cross-party support in 2007.  We are now building upon the policy statements published by the previous administration.

Presiding Officer, it is my intention to develop a new architecture policy statement to be published in the new year. 

In doing this, we will again engage with professional institutes such as the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, the Royal Town Planning Institute in Scotland, and The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland. 

We will also engage with many other bodies and agencies who have an interest in the quality of our built environment such as the Scottish Civic Trust and private sector organisations, like  Homes for Scotland.  Our new policy can also be informed by this debate.

Through our new agenda on ‘place-making’ - through design, planning, construction, architecture, regeneration and development -  we want to create places with which people can identify.

We want to create places that are successful in bringing together activities and services for people to fulfil their potential both in business and in society.

The story of Scotland’s places is, of course, a fascinating one – and the formation of many of our cities, towns and villages has been rooted in developments of trade and commerce.

The idea of planning new settlements in Scotland goes back as far as the 12th Century burghs of David I, when the notion of planning for development, commerce and governance took root. Over 30 Scottish burghs came into being as a result, such as Dumfries, Kinghorn and Montrose.

The architecture of Edinburgh’s New Town reflected the values of the Enlightenment – and the elegance of squares and crescents based on classical precedents were introduced to other Scottish cities. 

The growth of Glasgow in the 19th Century was fuelled by its place at the heart of the industrial revolution. Its Victorian built legacy is testimony to its economic prowess. 

In the 20th Century, the desire for social change introduced a modernising agenda and saw the creation of new towns and comprehensive redevelopment take place.

We also saw Scottish architects and planners take up the challenge of Sir Patrick Geddes to conserve and to celebrate our historic cities within the context of an emerging focus on regeneration and communities. 

As we can see from these very short historical perspectives, the making and remaking of places must respond to change in creative ways. And now we must also take account of issues of climate change and resource usage in the 21st century.

On a recent visit to Stirling to attend the Architecture and Design Scotland (A+DS) Skills Symposium, I was struck by the remarkable heritage and setting of the city – which lies at the heart of Scotland.

A key challenge for Stirling now is how it can create a future which takes the wonderful heritage at the heart of the city and build upon that to create a more vibrant and successful city centre.  

And so A+DS facilitated a three-day event of collaborative working between professionals, politicians and communities to express a vision of what is desired, and how to achieve it.

We need to see more of that collaborative working take place so that we can share our skills, vision and best practice ideas about architecture and place-making.

We cannot afford to be wasteful with our existing building stock or overlook opportunities within it.   We know that we have fewer resources available to us – so we need to be smarter about reusing existing buildings.

A careful combination of heritage and development often provides a catalyst for success when we aim to create thriving places that bring together business, housing, and recreation with opportunities to socialise in public places.

There are strong social, cultural and economic arguments for adaptation and re-use of buildings.

Retaining traditional buildings, neighbourhoods and landscapes can conserve valuable resources, contribute to healthy communities - help to define and protect our national identity - and retain our sense of place.

As the Historic Towns Forum has noted: ‘There is a strong relationship between the quality of the built environment - old and new - and an area’s ability to attract investment.’

Demolition is inherently expensive; construction waste – 120m Tonnes annually – is estimated to make up one third of all landfill waste in the UK.

Restoration is a sustainable option, tending to use fewer resources, but providing more employment. New construction is seen as around 50-50 labour and materials - restoration and renovation can be as much as 75 per cent labour.

So, for every pound spent you may get twice as much local employment, and use around half of the resources.

Adaptation also supports our targets for a low carbon economy, as Edinburgh Council’s successful pilot of slim‑section double glazing has proven.

Areas that have developed incrementally over time often support a mixed business use much better than areas that have been comprehensively redeveloped within ‘single use zones.

Refurbishment of older buildings and areas, especially those of heritage value, usually acts as a catalyst for the wider regeneration, such in the Merchant City in Glasgow and traditional manufacturing areas such as Clydebank.

Re-using and adapting older buildings also helps to foster traditional building skills. We want to establish a world-leading system of traditional skills training that meets the needs of a modern, innovative and competitive construction sector.

I launched the Scottish Government’s Traditional Building Skills Strategy earlier this year and announced a National Conservation Centre in Stirling as the focus for raising standards in the traditional building sector.

Yesterday I visited phase one of the project, at the new Forth Valley College Campus in Stirling where a new Historic Scotland stonemasonry training facility is being created.  This will open next Summer and will be the best in the UK.

Our investment in the National Conservation Centre, together with Historic Scotland’s commitment to recruit an additional 30 apprentices over the next three years, will help sustain and develop the traditional building skills needed to secure the future of Scotland’s traditional buildings, as well as supporting the wider economy.

The value of regeneration, renovation and reuse also has an economic impact for the construction, architecture and design sectors.

This Government believes that the 20 per cent VAT on works to existing dwellings acts as clear disincentive to reusing existing buildings - and that is why we are again calling on the UK Government to reduce VAT to 5 per cent for renovations, repairs and home improvements. 

A VAT cut would produce a stimulus to the construction sector which would support growth and make it more attractive for people and communities to invest in homes and neighbourhoods across the country.

Heritage and new design are often perceived to be in conflict – but I feel that one of the great strengths of Scottish architecture over recent years has been in its ability to respond well to existing settings.

We continue to support the RIAS Doolan Award and there have been a number of winning projects such as Dance Base in the Grassmarket, the Pier Arts Centre in Orkney and last year’s winner, the Shettleston Housing Association, that have demonstrated great care as well as innovation in fitting with their surroundings.

Our recent publication ‘New Design in Historic Settings’ highlights a number of case studies that promote an enlightened approach to this issue.

Whether new or old, well-designed places and buildings should be seen as an investment that adds value.

The importance of walkable, connected streets and neighbourhoods is at the heart of our policies on the built environment.

In our policy ‘Designing Streets’ – which we published last year - we encourage an approach that places great emphasis upon responding to context in innovative and sensitive ways.

We want to ensure that street design derives from an intelligent response to location rather than the rigorous application of standards regardless of circumstances.

We launched the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative (SSCI) 3 years ago with the aim of creating places that are ambitious and inspiring.  It promotes taking a long term view and is concerned with outcomes and delivery.

Through the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative (SSCI), and associated charrette programme we have been working across Scotland to support and promote new ideas on sustainable development.  This work is about turning policy into practice and engaging communities.

The Scottish Government has also been involved, from its inception, in the promotion - along with Highland Council and other partners - of Scotland’s first national Housing Expo in Inverness last year.

The Expo enabled the involvement of many of Scotland’s best architects in the design of innovative, sustainable housing - showcasing the quality of our new architecture and thinking on sustainable housing design to the world.

It attracted over 33,000 visitors from all parts of Scotland, the rest of the UK and abroad – including me! And it strongly stimulated public debate about design, sustainability and place-making.

Within our new economic strategy, we recognise that capital investment is key to economic recovery and we are prioritising our capital spend to maximise the impact on jobs and the economy.

Our focus on Infrastructure, development and place will harness the strength and quality of Scotland’s cities, towns and rural areas.

Through our policies on architecture, planning, heritage and street design, we aim to see a culture of new development emerge that respects, protects and enhances the unique natural and built heritage of our country - and that contributes to a more sustainable future.

The focus of today’s debate will be on the importance of architecture and place-making to the economy of Scotland.

However, I will close by stressing that three key factors in place-making – economic, social and environmental concerns - are inextricably linked.

Truly sustainable places are places that are successful economically because they provide a quality of environment and a quality of life that attracts business, residents and visitors.  

And so, Scotland’s economic success tomorrow is closely linked to the quality of places that we create today.



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