I offer my congratulations to Bob Doris on bringing the debate to the Scottish Parliament. Regeneration is a hot topic at present, and the Local Government and Regeneration Committee has heard a great deal of evidence on where regeneration has not had the desired effect. However, as I said in a recent committee debate on the subject, there are places, such as Royston, where regeneration has had a lasting effect. It is right that we draw attention to those successes, celebrate them and, when necessary, share the valuable lessons that have been learned.
I was particularly pleased to see the emphasis in Bob Doris’s motion on the importance of local businesses, whose exclusion has been a recurring theme in some areas. It is sad that, so often, regeneration projects have failed because they have focused on attracting new businesses without having proper regard to and consideration for the local businesses that already operate in the area and without offering them the support or facilities required to help them grow. I understand that the loss of local businesses from the Royston area was one of the issues that motivated Royston’s residents to take the lead and work with local groups to reverse that trend.
The other important element to Royston’s strategy is that it is very much being led by local groups and the community. The importance of community engagement has cropped up again and again, so it is encouraging that the Royston community is at the centre of the regeneration strategy. That is also why the inspireROYSTON initiative and the community festivals are such positive developments. We could all learn from that approach.
Living in an area and being part of a community are two very separate things. For community councils throughout Scotland, the real challenge is often to encourage people in the area to become involved, have their say and get involved with the decisions that will affect them first and foremost. I think that we are getting better at that. I recently attended a community council meeting in Morningside, in Edinburgh, at which there was a discussion about holding a coffee morning in a local community cafe, the sole purpose of which was to let the community know who their community council is and what it can do for them. Like Royston’s festivals, such proactive steps will make the difference, bring people together and get them involved locally—particularly those who might otherwise be excluded and find it difficult to interact with and meet their neighbours. It is great to see that Royston is starting that at a young age, with initiatives such as the Toonspeak Young People’s Theatre.
With all regeneration projects, there needs to be a tangible sign of success. We must always be sure that they are achieving value for money, and there are indications that the regeneration of Royston will have a lasting and positive impact, not least through the apprenticeships that it has created. Moreover, those apprentices are going to find employment. It is important that such projects leave youngsters with a lasting skill that will open doors for them and increase their employability.