Plans for Ayr Town Centre, including the controversial Riverside pavilion, have been praised by a Scottish Government minister.

Tom Arthur MSP, minister for public finance, planning and community wealth, delivered the opening remarks at the Scotland’s Towns Conference, held at Centrestage in Kilmarnock on Wednesday.

And, as well as offering a glowing review of the conference’s host authority, he said that he was impressed by the recently revealed public realm plans for the town.

Delegates from across Scotland travelled to Ayrshire to hear about some of the positive new approaches being taken to improve town centres, focusing on the needs of communities.

The MSP spoke about the work taking place in both East and South Ayrshire, and praised the Riverside gap site in Ayr town centre.

That project has been criticised in some quarters, having been a compromise following on from the failure of South Ayrshire Council to deliver more ambitious plans for the site.

However, there was no mention of the most controversial aspect of the regeneration plans over the last few years, that of Ayr Leisure Centre.

He continued: “On a recent visit to Ayrshire, I witnessed the ambitious improvements to the travel infrastructure and public realm in Ayr town centre, as part of the town centre masterplan, seeing the progress made on the Riverside public events space and learning how it will be utilised by the community.”

Mr Arthur said that the Scottish Government’s ‘vision’ for town centres included a renewed focus on the ‘town centre first' principle, an approach which seeks to redress some of the economic impact that out of town retail and leisure facilities have had.

People should be ‘able to live well locally’, he added.

His speech also highlighted a recurring theme of the current approach to town centre regeneration, namely partnership and collaboration.

He said: “The response to the pandemic highlighted the important role of the community and third sector, working with business.

"Communities are increasingly looking at how they can utilise town centre assets to find solutions to the complex challenges ahead.”

Empowerment is a major element of this, he said, with communities taking on and developing these assets to both generate income and provide the right services at a local level.

He said: “Towns are important to us all. Despite the challenges of climate change, the pandemic and the economy, through collaboration, determination and respect we will still have a positive future."