Anyone familiar with the growth, and the subsequent challenges facing the UK’s 32 new towns, knows the problem. How do they coordinate long overdue renewal programmes, in town centres and surrounding housing estates, when commercial ownership is divided between multifarious owners and countless social homes have long since been sold off?

It was never meant to be this way. Why, for instance, force the sale of prime town centre land and real estate, bought by the state through the old new town development corporations, and thereby undermine the foundations of these bold enterprises? Answer: blinkered ideology, pure and simple. But that’s history.

If this story is well versed in the first post-war new town,  Stevenage – celebrating its 70th birthday this year -  it has equal resonance in the five new towns north of the border, as we discovered at a TCPA roundtable in Edinburgh on Nov 18.

The Association – honest brokers, if you like -  managed to achieve a first: namely bringing the five together to discover common problems and chart a way forward. But first a plea from the gathering: stop labelling us ‘new towns’ and instead call us ‘mature towns’. Makes sense to me!

“We inherited high expectations,” lamented one speaker. “But we did not inherit town centres.” She told a familiar tale: a feeling in the council that “we’ve had the money” – so resources had to go elsewhere to more deprived areas. Others nodded in agreement.

The roundtable marked the first in a series of events – in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland – in a ‘lessons for tomorrow’ project coordinated by our tireless new towns and garden cities advocate, Katy Lock. The events are all part of our sustained campaigning programme to update the New Towns Act.

Scotland, you might think, with (almost) full self-government, might have the edge – and the extra resources -  over England when it comes to planning the renewal of its new towns. You would be wrong.

Our participants, senior officials and planners drawn from the councils which embrace the new towns – namely South Lanarkshire (East Kilbride), North Lanarkshire (Cumbernauld), West Lothian (Livingston), North Ayrshire (Irvine) and Fife (Glenrothes) – matched enthusiasm for the renewal challenge with obvious frustration that the towns themselves did not have that higher priority inside local authority areas where political leaders often have other concerns.

Therein lies a problem. In England, for instance, new towns often (but not always) take the name of a local authority whose boundaries can be fairly co-terminus with the former development corporation area – indeed Warrington, Milton Keynes, and others, are all-purpose unitary authorities while much of the area covered by Stevenage (a district council) embraces the new town area.

Not so in – whisper if softly - centralist Scotland where councils, starved of resources, are emerging from a nine year council tax freeze effectively imposed by the SNP government. Whether it values a new town heritage is an open question.

Nevertheless, given resources relatively  more limited than English counterparts, planners  and local economic development officers responsible for the Scottish new towns have high ambitions. In Cumbernauld, for instance,  high rise flats – enduring image of the town – are earmarked for demolition; Irvine has a new master plan for its centre to update ageing amenities; Glenrothes is trying to improve its housing stock (“crumbling,” volunteered an official) using compulsory purchase orders on blocks of  flats;   Livingston, once the heart of a late, lamented ‘silicon glen’ would like  its town centre to become more of a hub (“it closes at 6pm,” railed another official).

As the man from Cumbernauld, sharing concerns of others, said: “The new town is now an old town and we’re trying to renew it.”

For its part, the TCPA gained a valuable insight into the challenges and opportunities facing the ‘Scottish Five’,  and – yes – will return to share the knowledge of Katy, the team, and their valuable resources.