a new slant on promoting enterprise

community-based business promotion?

I’m currently working on an “integrated urban development plan” for Kilmarnock, part of a team led by Kevin Murray Associates and including WMUD, Hamilton-Baillie Associates, The Burrell Company and SLIMS Consulting. The study has been commissioned by Make it Kilmarnock, the advisory board charged with delivering economic recovery for the town, set up in the wake of Diageo‘s decision in 2008 to close the historic Johnnie Walker whisky bottling plant.

But I digress: this post wasn’t meant to be an advert for the client and their consultants. What I want to touch on is a thorny issue that crops up in many studies like this.

Like many briefs we work on, the focus is to create a vision for the town’s future physical development. To do this effectively – not just in Kilmarnock, but anywhere – needs, I believe, a holistic approach. Physical interventions like new buildings, public spaces and connections are an essential part of that. But they are not in themselves enough to secure a better quality of life and sustainable economic growth in a town. Complementary social, economic and environmental initiatives are also an essential part of the mix.

This is where the thorny issue lies: linking physical changes with social, economic and environmental initiatives. Government and the professions haven’t been particularly good at that over the years, despite efforts to achieve more co-ordinated government (such as through Community Planning and Single Outcome Agreements in Scotland) and attempts to break down barriers between professions (such as the Academy of Urbanism and the Royal Society of Arts).

how do we fix this town centre?

But despite these valiant efforts, government and the professions in the UK are still a long way from properly integrating land-use planning with economic, social and environmental initiatives. Which is a little strange given that, in Scotland at least, the purpose of all governmental activity (such as planning) is meant to be sustainable economic growth.

So, in the spirit of learning and sharing from others, here are some interesting ideas which really could help planning to make a greater contribution to economic growth:

Idea Shop East, London | temporary use of disused shop unit as a place for entrepreneurs to share ideas and make connections – for social enterprises as well as private enterprises (and why not for the public sector too?). Check out the short video via the link, you’ll see what I mean. There are lessons here for Business Gateway and local authorities with struggling town centres – and plenty of other ideas for positive uses of empty buildings at the government-sponsored Meanwhile Space.

Retail Rocks, Aberdeen | another idea for helping small businesses, this time focussed on resuscitating the town centre retail sector – which, let’s face it, is struggling in the face of rising personal mobility and increasing out-of-town/internet shopping choice. The combination of a media-savvy approach and direct assistance from the public sector to small businesses is appealing, and is being trialled in Kilmarnock too.

Community projects as enterprise initiatives, in the Highlands and Islands | HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise) should be commended for their approach of supporting community projects, a model which is long overdue for adoption elsewhere in Scotland. Check out these examples (2mb PDF) from the recent SURF annual awards, many of which are in the Highlands and Islands and have been supported by HIE. The rest of the UK has a lot to learn from these – all based around the principle that social enterprise is an important part of building quality of life.

What we need is for the professions (including planning, but others too) and government (local and national) to take more notice of initiatives like these – so they aren’t just isolated examples of best practice which we all applaud and then forget, but are enabled and nurtured through local planning and economic policy from Shetland to Stranraer.

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