Candidate: St Andrews
Location: Scotland, UK
Category: The Great Town Award
The governance of St Andrews is rapidly improving, following many years in which decision-making was perceived to be taking place remotely from local people. All of the public agencies, institutions such as the University, civic and community groups have signed up to the collective “St Andrews World Class Vision” which envisions an even better managed, integrated town which meets the needs of its main user groups (residents, students and visitors) at its heart.
After decades of underinvestment in the public realm, the period since 2004 has seen major investments in infrastructure, streetscape and design. The emphasis is on the use of top-quality materials and craftsmanship, reflecting the town’s international profile. A robust and thorough community and business consultation process, although somewhat prolonged, has been developed before any public realm works are implemented and a suite of Design Guidelines have been adopted as Supplementary Planning Guidance for new works and alterations to streetscape and buildings including shop fronts.
There remains a widely-held local view that St Andrews is overlooked for public investment, with resources being diverted to other parts of Fife which have more pressing socio-economic needs. However, recent political changes (May 2007) have resulted in greater decentralisation of decision-making and there are more positive signs about decisions now being taken closer to the grass roots. There has been extensive consultation in the preparation of the new St Andrews and East Fife Local Plan, through “drop in” sessions, street surveys, public meetings and written feedback opportunities, and this has led to a commendation at the Scottish awards for quality in planning.
St Andrews boasts a distinctive and memorable sense of place with great cultural resonance. It is the ‘golf capital of the world’, the location of an ancient university, and an outstanding historic town. The centre of St Andrews has one of the most intensive concentrations of category ‘A’ and category ‘B’ Listed Buildings in Scotland, including landmarks such as the Cathedral, the Castle and the University Quadrangles. The town centre is designated a Conservation Area with Outstanding Status, while the Victorian expansion to the west forms a second conservation area.
The economy, society and culture of the town, as with many of St Andrew contemporaries in Scotland, is expressed in the built form – the pattern of medieval landholdings (riggs) still determines the urban grain, the cottages of the fishing community, and the grander Georgian merchant streets. Culture is expressed today in the activities of the University, the presence of a successful theatre (the Byre), the staging of street events like the annual Lammas Fair (continued since mediaeval times) and the many golfing tournaments that attract worldwide interest.
There is an active community in St Andrews and groups such as the St Andrews Preservation Trust, the East Enders Residents Group, and the Merchants Association, have come together under the banner of St Andrews World Class to work to promote the interests of the town. There is a strong sense of civic pride, expressed by groups such as St Andrews in Bloom who carry out a “blousey” programme of floral enhancement, and the St Andrews Preservation Trust that studiously follows new development proposed for the town as well as contributing actively to conservation projects.
Because of the strength of the existing built form, opportunities for new spaces/ buildings are limited but they are generally of high quality, taking reference from local context including detailing and materials. Some are vernacular but there are good examples of contemporary architecture where appropriate to setting such as the Byre Theatre, a glass Seafood Restaurant pavilion on the seafront and the new Arts Faculty building. The University is actively pursuing a sustainable agenda in its development programme.
St Andrews has a reputation as an attractive, safe and enticing place for visitors and residents alike. The town attracts nearly 1 million visitors each year because of its outstanding historic character, its fine beaches and for golf. Visitors come from all over the world and also locally for day trips. The University plays a key role in the life of the town, with one in every three people on the street a student. It is also sought after as a place to live, with a large residential community still living in the town centre.
The town appeals to people of all ages because of the range of attractions it offers. However, the high price of properties makes it difficult for low-income families, although many visit the town because of its superb beaches, and may stay in the peripheral caravan parks. The demographic of the town is therefore somewhat polarised between students attending the university and the retired or elderly. Fife Council’s affordable housing policy is trying to address this issue for new development.
In the town centre the streets are vibrant due to the combination of uses (retail, commercial and residential) and the pedestrian-friendly environment, with active street frontages arising from traditional building forms: doors and windows onto the street. Active street frontages and the high number of residents still living in the town centre encourage self-surveillance. The active participation of the University in the life of the town assists in promoting civilised and responsible behavior from the student body that makes up such a high proportion of the population.
The Lade Braes is a linear park, running from the edge of town to the centre and well used for informal and formal recreation. The Botanic Gardens and large gardens and semi-public spaces around the Castle and Cathedral are a haven for wildlife and the location for significant trees. The Old Course golf course and the West and East Sands provide tremendous recreation opportunities on either side of the town centre.
St Andrews is an economic success story, with full employment, a growing R&D sector and strong inward investment. Wealth and employment created in the town percolates throughout a wide hinterland. However, there is as yet no mechanism to enable businesses to contribute to the maintenance and improvement of the urban fabric – business rates are paid at a Fife (regional) level and cannot be ring-fenced for local use.
Little business encouragement is needed – new businesses clamour to invest in the town and the only constraint is a shortage of suitable premises. The business start-up success rate is well above any sets of average figures. The St Andrews World Class Initiative brings together employers, public agencies and training providers to proactively deliver skills and training for employees, recruitment and retention programmes for employers, training needs analyses, travel to work assistance and family support, etc.
Until recently, underinvestment in the public realm threatened to jeopardise the success of major private sector investments being made in the town. Private investment happened in spite of, not because of, urban policy. However, there have been more optimistic signs in recent years, including new policies that will emerge through the St Andrews and East Fife Local Plan and the St Andrews Design Guidelines that encourage good contemporary design solutions where appropriate.
For a town of just 16,000 people, St Andrews is a remarkably complex urban centre, but yet its different user groups co-exist remarkably harmoniously, with few of the tensions that might be expected in smaller towns. Environmental sustainability has not been a priority, but now, led by the progressive University, impressive achievements are being made.
St Andrews succeeds in managing to maintain a delicate balance between the needs of its different users – students (who comprise almost 30% of the population in term time), the 1 million visitors a year, and year-round residents (who, thanks to the students and visitors, benefit from a much wider range of amenities, shops, restaurants etc than they would otherwise enjoy). The social and cultural life of the town, which would otherwise be rather placid, is kept vibrant by students in winter and tourists in summer.
St Andrews’ sense of place has a strong relationship with the local topography and geology. The principal streets are aligned along the promontory; the town is flanked by beaches to east and west, and by cliffs to the north. The coastal setting, as a backdrop to the historic skyline, is one of the town’s key assets.
St Andrews has adapted to meet changing needs over the centuries, from those of the medieval pilgrims, to the modern day tourists and golfers, with the continuing presence of the ancient university. The stone from the early religious buildings and town walls was recycled into the domestic architecture of Georgian and Victorian houses. Today, imaginative uses are being found for redundant buildings and spaces.
The University – which accounts for an estimated 35% of the town’s GDP – is acknowledged as the leading British University in terms of sustainable practices of all types, including energy saving, best practice in new build, reducing travel, and ethical investments. Fife Council is a leader in recycling. St Andrews is a designated “Fair Trade” town. However, less positively, visitors and locals have a high degree of car dependence and there has been low participation in green business schemes.
Congestion has been an issue for St Andrews in recent years, but the Transportation Service has been active in making improvements to bus services, connections to the rail network and promoting traffic management including parking, pavements surfacing, and cycle provision. There is a good balance of cultural, commercial, retail, and leisure provision to serve residents, visitors, the business community and students.
The approach roads form a radial pattern around the core which is laid out to a rough grid pattern, making navigation and orientation easy. Wide pavements and small squares support street activity and social interaction, for example pavement cafes and events like the Lammas Fair.
The town is well served by buses, with a park and ride service operating in the Summer. The nearest railway station at Leuchars (10 mins drive) is on the East Coast mainline network and has a regular shuttle service to the newly rebuilt St Andrews Bus Station. There is good provision of cycle routes on- and off-road and footpath links; pedestrians are given priority.
Civic, cultural, commercial, retail and leisure facilities are easily accessible in or close to the town centre. There are also a high number of residential properties in the town centre, and the university retains a strong presence here, which adds to its vibrancy. Residential neighbourhoods form an arc of 20th century development south of the town centre.
Photo by Craig James (via Flickr)