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Urban regeneration

Camperdown Works, Dundee
Continued evolution is the essence of urban life. Conservation is a matter of ensuring that the qualities that define a place are maintained while change continues to happen.

In some places change needs to be promoted. Regeneration may be necessary where economic change has left a residual built environment that needs to be adapted to new purposes.

Inclusion of historic buildings in a regeneration project provides a catalyst for change, setting standards for creative and sustainable design. See links in left margin to sites that are or may become such catalysts.

Scotland is highly urbanised. Many towns owe their origin to burgh status granted by David I in the 12th century; and others to a wave of improvement and planned settlement in the 18th century. Massive transformation in the 19th century saw Scotland’s cities and industrial towns grow exponentially. Much of the built fabric of towns and villages dates from this period.

Densities within towns and cities are higher in Scotland than in England, thanks to the tenement and the high rise, and so even quite small Scottish settlements have recognisable urban form. What would be defined as a village in England often in Scotland has the character of a town.

Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification

  • Large urban areas with a population of over 125,000. This includes smaller towns adjacent to a large city such as Glasgow.
  • Other urban areas with a population of 10,000 to 125,000
  • Small towns with a population of 3,000 to 10,000
  • Rural areas with a population of less than 3,000
View the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification maps

Scottish Cities

Seven cities have a combined population of 1,545,000: a third of all Scots. The city regions of Scotland together account for two thirds of the population and are the  economic drivers. Cities also contain 68% of the most deprived postcode sectors in Scotland (overwhelmingly in Glasgow) and so it is here that most regeneration activity is directed.

Following the Cities Review, Historic Scotland funds city heritage trusts that offer conservation expertise and are vehicles for grants and other initiatives. See related external links.

Scottish Towns

A town may in Scotland be the principal urban unit in a dispersed area, and so investment in it has a multiplier effect on surrounding rural areas.

Towns are the focus for community activities; they contain a significant proportion of Scotland's listed buildings and more than half of the total number of conservation areas. They are an important element in Scotland's appeal to visitors and to potential inward investors.

Conservation areas

There are over 645 conservation areas in Scotland, all designated by local planning authorities. They are areas of special historic or architectural interest, the character of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. The overall layout may be just as important to that character as individual buildings. The majority are urban: parts of cities and towns plus a few villages and cultural landscapes.

Many conservation areas now have appraisals to explain the character that the local authority aims to preserve and also what can be enhanced. They are required to justify article 4 directions that remove certain permitted development rights. Examples can be found on the Edinburgh Council website, Aberdeen City Council website, Glasgow City Council website and Midlothian website. Some communities have developed Conservation Area Appraisals of their own.

There used to be classification as "Outstanding" by Historic Scotland of those conservation areas eligible for funding from Scottish Ministers. Following public consultation in 2004, and enactment of the Planning etc (Scotland) Act (2006), there is now no requirement that a conservation area first be classified outstanding. Historic Scotland will therefore no longer make these classifications but still should be informed when conservation areas are designated, varied or cancelled by local authorities. Please would local authorities send digital updates to

For more on managing conservation areas see the Scottish Government planning advice note 71 or the associated short guide to conservation areas published jointly by Historic Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Urban Regeneration

The Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum (SURF) is the independent regeneration and inclusion network for Scotland. SURF operates from two basic principles:

  • Successful and sustainable regeneration is only achievable when all aspects of physical, social, economic and cultural regeneration are addressed in a holistic approach.
  • The people who are the intended beneficiaries of any regeneration effort must be meaningfully involved in the process if it is to be successful in planning, implementation and maintenance.

Funding for Regeneration

Historic Scotland’s Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) was launched in 2006 to support area-based regeneration and conservation initiatives undertaken by local authorities. Since  its launch, £27m of HS funding has been awarded  for 46 schemes throughout Scotland from as far North as Stromness in the Orkney Islands to as far South as Whithorn in Dumfries and Galloway. For more information about the scheme and details of all the CARS funding awards, click on the following link: Historic Scotland - Looking after our heritage - Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme

The Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) has seen awards by Heritage Lottery Fund of £39 million to 40 Scottish conservation areas since 1997.

The Heritage Lottery Fund through its Strategic Framework 2013-2018 announced two new grant programs that aim to regenerate economically disadvantaged historic areas and buildings for the benefit of local residents, workers and visitors. The funding schemes are Townscape Heritage and Heritage Enterprise.

The Scottish Burgh Survey

A guide to the archaeological resource in towns, published by Historic Scotland, helps to influence decision-makers and to set the research agenda on questions that may be answered by archaeology where development occurs. Publications in the latest series are can be found on the Council for British Archaeology website.