Small towns of tomorrow programme: players, tools and methods

September 2020

Agence nationale de la cohésion des territoires (ANCT)

The aim of the programme is to give elected representatives of towns and their inter-communal bodies with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants that perform central functions and are showing signs of fragility, the means to put their regeneration projects into practice so that they can once again become dynamic towns that are good places to live and respectful of the environment. This programme is a tool for regional recovery. It aims to respond to the emergence of new social and economic issues, and to help achieve the objectives of ecological, demographic, digital and development transition.

To download : 20200930_pvd_guideprogramme.pdf (2.5 MiB)

1. A national programme for territorial cohesion

Small towns are essential to territorial cohesion Small towns perform essential central functions, in terms of services for their residents and their catchment areas, and in this sense they are genuine areas of balance. They are an essential link in the chain of services provided to the public: their ability to innovate and reinvent the way they operate was particularly evident during the Covid-19 health crisis. They play a major role in keeping pace with changes in society, supporting the recovery plan and meeting the aspirations of many of our fellow citizens. Their respective trajectories, far from being homogeneous, nonetheless indicate that many small centralities are experiencing a weakening, characteristic of a demographic, economic and influence decline. This decline is often the result of a combination of factors and processes that are particularly evident in a number of areas:

These effects are induced or reinforced by the development of individual housing and business parks in urban extensions, to the detriment of maintaining the structuring functions of town centres, i.e. housing, commerce, services and conviviality. So, given the vulnerability of rural areas, strengthening the role of small town centres is a vital way of improving the quality of life and ensuring the continuity of the territorial network.

A programme to support local projects, in line with actions already undertaken by the State and local authorities

With the national Small Towns of Tomorrow programme and within the framework of the Rural Agenda, the government intends to combat these processes of decline and strengthen the centrality functions of small towns, in order to consolidate their eminent role in the service of territorial rebalancing and ecological, demographic and solidarity-based transitions. Petites Villes de Demain, which supports existing local dynamics, is an extension and complement to the actions already undertaken by the State and local authorities over a number of years. In line with national support programmes (experimentation with town centres, the national programme for the requalification of run-down old districts (PNRQAD), the Action Cœur de Ville programmes, Territoires d’Industrie, the Ecological Transition Contracts scheme) and with the Sustainable Town Plan announced in February 2002, the Small Towns of Tomorrow programme embodies an ambitious regional development policy. It is also consistent with the ecological transition contracts 1, in that it aims to integrate the challenges of ecological transition and solidarity.

A tailor-made programme for 1,000 municipalities and inter-municipalities, adapted to local conditions

Through a range of support resources, the programme aims to give local elected representatives the keys to designing and implementing their local development plans. Petites Villes de Demain is a « tailor-made » service offering that recognises the uniqueness of each area, adapts the resources available to each project and focuses on citizen involvement and innovation. Petites Villes de Demain is also an integrating programme, with the aim of complementing the support schemes for small town centres run by local authorities. To this end, the aim is to provide them with a consolidated and coordinated range of services, tools and funding, resulting from a link between the national scheme and local initiatives. The programme is designed to be enhanced in voluntary areas, in partnership with the Regional and Departmental Councils, and also to facilitate access to other aid by drawing up an integrated development project. All in all, Small Towns of Tomorrow acts simultaneously as a national programme for territorial cohesion, as a lever for consolidating local initiatives and as a vehicle for promoting innovation and citizen involvement while respecting the imperatives of the ecological transition 2.

A 6-year programme to support structuring town centres

The programme is designed to support 1,000 municipalities and inter-municipalities over six years (2020-2026). This calibration is the result of work carried out by the ANCT and INRAE 3, which identified, on a national scale, municipalities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants that perform central functions in their catchment area and show signs of vulnerability (see ANCT/CESAER-INRAE study), the quantitative approach of which was consolidated by contributions from the Prefects following the instruction dated 16 October 2020.

2. Involving all the players in regional development

Partnerships on a national scale

Petites Villes de Demain (Small Towns of Tomorrow) is an innovative partnership programme. Signed on 19 September 2019, the letter of commitment is the founding act of the partnerships established between the State and 13 major players in regional development. The partnership-based, co-constructed nature of the Petites Villes de Demain approach is one of the key unifying principles set out at the Congrès des Petites Villes de France, held in Uzès.

At national level, the programme brings together :


Ministry for Territorial Cohesion and Relations with Local and Regional Authorities, Ministry for Ecological Transition, Ministry for Culture, Ministry for Overseas France, Ministry for the Economy, Finance and Recovery, Ministry for Health and Solidarity, Ministry for Agriculture and Food, Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Ministry for Housing

State agencies

Agence nationale de la cohésion des territoires, Banque des territoires, Agence de l’habitat, Cerema, ADEME

Partners in action

APVF, AMF, CCI France, CMA France, Assemblée permanente des chambres d’agriculture (APCA), Petites cités de caractère de France (PCC), Sites et cités remarquables de France (SCRF), Fédération des PNR (FPNRF), FNCAUE, Fédération nationale des Agences d’urbanisme (FNAU), Ecole de Chaillot, Fondation du Patrimoine, AFPA, PUCA réseau POPSU, Association nationale des établissements publics fonciers (ANEPFL), Association nationale des architectes des bâtiments de France (ANABF), CNER - fédération des agences de développement économique, Initiative France, Mutualité sociale agricole (MSA), AVISE, agence d’ingénierie associative pour le développement de l’économie sociale et solidaire, Mission opérationnelle transfrontalière (MOT), MACEO, association pour un développement territorial durable, Association « L’outil en main », France ville durable (FVD), Association Centre-ville en mouvement (CVM).

As part of the programme, partnership agreements will be signed between the government and a number of « network leaders »:

Action Logement’s involvement is part of its existing range of services, which are accessible under ordinary law. As part of the programme’s continuous improvement, other partnerships will be established. Several are currently being formalised.

Partnerships at local level

At local level, the programme is designed to involve willing local authorities, first and foremost the Regions and Departments, some of which are already involved in schemes and initiatives to support small town centres. The PVD scheme also allows and encourages the mobilisation of local institutional players linked to national networks (consular chambers, public land establishments, town planning agencies, etc.) and all public or private organisations working to promote the vitality of their area.

3. A three-pillar programme to develop and implement a comprehensive regeneration project

The programme’s range of services brings together the tools and expertise provided by all the national, regional and departmental partners, in support of local projects devised and led by local and regional authorities. It is organised around 3 pillars:

Engineering support to give local authorities the resources they need to define and implement their territorial projects, in particular by strengthening their teams (for example with a subsidy of up to 75% for a project manager), and by providing external expertise.

Funding for targeted thematic measures based on the area project and the actions to be implemented.

Access to a network, thanks to the Small Towns of Tomorrow Club, to encourage innovation, the exchange of experience and the sharing of good practice between programme stakeholders.

These tools and expertise should enable the emergence of « Small Towns of Tomorrow » projects that fully embrace the dynamics of ecological transition, citizen involvement and innovation. Where the winning town belongs to an EPCI that already has an ecological transition contract (CTE), you will ensure that this is incorporated into the framework agreement and that it is enriched by new actions that will further the ecological transition process in the area. Generally speaking, ADEME’s support will be sought via the EPCI or PETR (or even energy or waste syndicates), which are included in the framework agreement, and which concentrate the competencies in terms of ecological transition, with a concern for a global approach to the territory.

Within this framework, the programme organises the mobilisation of public and private funding, access to dedicated innovative solutions and operational support, through the involvement of specialist service providers.

4. The method: a partnership programme to bring together national and local resources dedicated to revitalising small towns

Petites Villes de Demain offers a range of services from its partners. The national range of services is supplemented at local level depending on the involvement of local partners, in particular the Regional Council, Departmental Council, EPF, CAUE, Town Planning Agency, etc:

Projects must be consistent with the rurality contracts, of which the theme of « revitalising town centres » will be one of the components. For the Small Towns of Tomorrow, it can also mobilise solutions from national support programmes, such as the Fabriques de Territoire, France Services, Microfolies, Connected Campuses, etc. When the winning town belongs to an EPCI already benefiting from an ecological transition contract (CTE), it is integrated into the framework agreement and is enhanced by new actions to further the region’s ecological transition dynamic.

This range of services is set to be expanded at national and local level over the coming months. The completion of an integrated project will facilitate access to assistance not specific to the programme, whether provided by the State, its operators, local authorities or other partners.

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  • 2 The projects supported must have a low carbon footprint, respect biodiversity and consume little land.

  • 3 Given their specific characteristics, the French overseas departments and territories could not be taken into account in this study.