Although shops give a key focus, recreation and leisure activities need to be planned to make town centres vital hubs for the communities that live, work and play there.
Deputy communities minister Johann Lamont said:
'Thriving town centres are at the heart of our communities and it is essential that they continue to provide a good range of shops, leisure and other services.
'That is why we have published this newly revised policy which stresses the importance of town centres in driving forward the economy and providing a suitable, attractive and accessible location for a wide range of activities.
'This policy review is associated with our wider modernisation of the planning system, designed to ensure that it operates efficiently, and actively involves people in shaping the plans for their areas.
The guidance - Scottish Planning Policy 8 - replaces previous guidance from 1998. It gives a national policy framework with some discretion for councils to adapt to local circumstances.
The key policy principles of SPP8 are to:
Identify and promote town centres as part of a network of centres
Focus development in existing town centres
Maintain, improve and develop existing centres
Ensure that they provide a safe and attractive environment
Ensure that they are accessible to all sectors of the community
Require local authorities to regularly review and monitor their policies
Scottish Planning Policy 8: Town Centres and Retailing (SPP8) replaces NPPG8, which was published in 1998.
It has been finalised following extensive consultation on a draft last year.