Stirling sets its sights high

Proposals for the future include a new city park at the foot of Stirling Castle.
Proposals for the future include a new city park at the foot of Stirling Castle.

The city is on the brink of an exciting 25 year strategy aimed at repositioning its thriving economy

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By Nicole McTaggart

Stirling is another step closer to launching a major 25-year programme of development and regeneration that would re-energise the area’s economy for generations to come. When the proposals were first announced last year, Johanna Boyd, leader of Stirling Council, said the aim was to “reposition Stirling as an economic and cultural powerhouse”. Stirling already benefits from the national and international connectivity of a central location between Glasgow and Edinburgh, together with lower land and property costs, and access to a skilled workforce.

Johanna Boyd points to connectivity, world-class research and and a highly skilled workforce.
Johanna Boyd points to connectivity, world-class research and and a highly skilled workforce.

The local economy is buoyed by four main sectors of food and drink, tourism, financial services and digital technology, along with the internationally- renowned University of Stirling. High-performing sub sectors such as aquaculture, dairy, sport science, big data, digital technology, and a world-leading dementia centre, along with a tourism industry that brings four million visitors a year, already help to underpin Stirling’s ambitions. However, seven key proposals would build on these strengths, and they form the basis of a multi-million pound City Deal bid, a process of long-term strategic approaches that, if the bid is successful, will unlock phased funding packages from both Scottish and UK governments.

The proposals feature a new city park at the foot of Stirling Castle, a dedicated digital district, regeneration of the old town’s Mercat Cross, growth of space for offices at the side of the River Forth, a new civic quarter at the harbour, revitalising the river area with bridges, walkways, and a barrage to control water levels, and improvements to the surrounding rural area. “We’re already starting from a very strong base,” says Boyd.

“The attractors here are good physical and digital connectivity, world-class research and a highly-skilled workforce, and we also have a good quality of life to offer. “The City Deal subjects are authentic to this, and are deliverable. There’s been a great deal of work done on focusing on our local industry sectors and sub sectors, marrying those strengths up with different solutions that can deliver impact, and combined with existing business help to make Stirling’s potential attractive.”

The council leader believes another key strength of their proposals is the collaborative approach that has shaped them. “It’s absolutely central,” Boyd adds. “I know from talking to other city leaders what we’re doing is quite unique. Through partnerships and collaboration, we’ve built this from the ground up. The City Commission, which I chair, includes business and community- elected representatives, and planning partners. We’ve created what we see is ultimately a programme for change.”

Over the next ten years those behind the projects aim to achieve a permanent GVA uplift for the Stirling and Clackmannanshire region, create thousands of additional jobs, increase sustainable tourism, ensure growth is sustainable for both the city and rural areas and close the health inequalities gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged in the area. It is also hoped that these projects will ultimately close the attainment gap between children and young people and increase the number of foreign direct investment projects, both new and existing.

To allow people to show their support for the investment, the Commission has created ‘The Stirling Pledge’, which so far has received support from over 1,000 people working, living and studying in Stirling – from local business owners and international university students to Olympians and world-renowned authors (my.stirling.gov.uk/stirlingpledge).

Neil Benny, Stirling Council’s deputy leader, also stresses the area’s existing strengths have been integral to the quality of their City Deal bid, and the belief it can deliver financially.

“The level of ambition is huge,” says Benny, chair of the council’s finance and economy committee. “However, the key point about these proposals is they are fully-costed business cases, with the figures stacking up in terms of impact on overall growth, with clear outcomes for job creation and sector strength. The potential for impact, not just here in the Stirling region, would encourage new investment, including increasing our ability to leverage investment from abroad. “The crucial point in the City Deal is about Stirling; it’s not about Stirling Council, and we are working together to secure long-term viability for the region. The City Commission is driving this agenda forward as much as we are – the university, the public sector, businesses, local people and organisations are all getting behind this.”

Boyd too underlines the importance of a “unique” collaborative approach, and city commissioner Martin Valenti, Climate Change and Business Engagement Manager of SEPA, believes this concept has not only been vital to building strong foundations for their proposals, but also in creating a community ethos going forward. “The Stirling City Commission brings representatives from various different sectors and industries in the area together as one advisory board,” says Valenti, who is also SEPA’s Head of Strategic Partnerships. “Our function is to ensure Stirling evolves as an exciting city of the future and a key global player by guiding choices in infrastructure investment, business development, connectivity and other high impact projects, to meet the city’s ambition to be an international location of choice.

“This is a very exciting time for Stirling. We are fortunate to have such a diverse and unique location. What we want now is to develop our sectors to evolve Stirling as a key business location both nationally and internationally.”

However, Stirling’s City Deal stakeholders insist realising the area’s potential will also have a major impact on the wider Scottish and UK economies, and that, given their location between Edinburgh and Glasgow, it would significantly strengthen the strategically important central belt.

Stewart Carruth says international ambition and development is at the heart of Stirling’s agenda.
Stewart Carruth says international ambition and development is at the heart of Stirling’s agenda.

“Stirling’s economic success places international ambition for people and place development at the heart of its agenda,” says Stewart Carruth, Stirling Council’s Chief Executive. “To make it a place of opportunity for all and a world class destination of choice we will focus on regeneration – growing and developing our key sectors, generating the talent pool required to attract and retain new and existing business in Stirling, investing in our infrastructure and tackling inequality and poverty.”

Carruth points to a benchmarking study that compared Stirling with other European cities, including Avignon, Cork, Durham, Linz, Roskilde and Trento, confirming tourism, urban regeneration, heritage, food and drink, the role of universities, and sport and recreation, were also key aspects in other city projects internationally.

“We want to achieve our vision for Stirling to be an economic and cultural powerhouse recognised internationally as a world class, well-connected location, in a collaborative way so that everyone living, working, studying, investing in and visiting Stirling can benefit from the high quality of life we have to offer,” he adds. “If our strengths here are brought to a focus, Stirling can make an impact that is both national and international, and that is what we will deliver through the City Deal programme.”

The degree of that impact, stresses Boyd, will also be measured in how they can improve the quality of life and wellbeing of their local citizens. “It’s two sides of the same coin,” adds Boyd, the Stirling Council leader. “We’re looking to grow the economy for both local and national benefit.

“However, the flip side is tackling equality and poverty. What we have done in our approach to the City Deal is unique, and not just in Scotland. “Are other UK cities focusing in this way on health inequalities? The answer is no. It’s exciting what we are creating, for Stirling and beyond. “If we make this step change we can be an exemplar of what investment in a city can bring.”