Herald View: It’s time to unleash Glasgow’s vast potential

As the Glasgow Herald noted at the time – in June 1983 – the Dear Green Place had seen remarkable changes in recent years, from the redevelopment of the East End to the landscaping of the riverfront, from the opening of the Burrell Collection to the plans for what would eventually become the SECC.

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Of course a lot has happened since then. The Broomielaw area is thriving thanks to the success of the International Financial Services District. Many new homes have been built in the area and Glasgow has one of the busiest entertainment venues in the world at the OVO Hydro. Across the Clyde, in Tradeston, the Buchanan Wharf development is home to Barclay’s impressive Northern European campus headquarters, an 18-storey, 324-apartment residential complex and now the new office headquarters of the Student Loans Company.

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As we said a few weeks ago, the Tradeston site has transformed from a post-industrial wasteland into a vibrant mix of offices, apartments and waterfront walks. In fact, there are signs that Glasgow’s focus is shifting away from the ‘Golden Z’ of Argyle, Buchanan and Sauchiehall Streets towards the waterfront.

Banksy’s decision to host his exhibition at GoMA is a fitting tribute to the city’s offbeat artistic side. The UGC Cycling Championships, ‘the greatest cycling event of all time’, starting August 3rd, is a huge boost for Glasgow. The 2014 Commonwealth Games continue to have a positive impact on the East End.

Over the years, however, there have been repeated arguments about the decline of the city center. This time, such complaints ring particularly true.

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The Herald’s deputy business editor, Scott Wright, summed it up this week when he lamented that Glasgow’s current state of health is as poor as it had been since the early 1980s. High streets that were once jewels of the crown are filthy and inhospitable, riddled with boarded up shops and pubs and intimidating beyond a certain time of night, he noted.

The fate of Sauchiehall Street has risen and fallen with metronomic regularity over the years, but for now its condition seems downright staggering to many, with ugly vacant lots and boarded-up housing units. Installing elegant street furniture can only cover up part of it.

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The quality of the retail offer on the street varies. Towards Charing Cross, the block that housed the former O2 ABC venue destroyed in the arts school fire in 2018 is horrid. It is hard to imagine that any other major European city would let such an eyesore smolder for so long. Can the heads of state and the private sector really not have found a workable solution after five years?

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It must be recognized that the city, like others elsewhere, is battling fires on multiple fronts: the ongoing fallout from the pandemic, the cost of living crisis, significant changes in work patterns, and the pressures the real estate market is facing. The hospitality sector, which has long been an important part of Glasgow’s history, needs more support, a shortage highlighted by the sobering closure of Brian Maule’s gourmet restaurant. How many more restaurants, shops and shops will follow?

First Bus’s decision to end its night bus services (delayed after an outcry from politicians, night workers and business owners) reflects the fact that central Glasgow is not as busy as it used to be, especially in the evenings. But wouldn’t it be better for the city if efforts focused on repatriating people? The city’s environmental zone (LEZ) makes sense from an ecological point of view, but will have an impact on pedestrian frequency in the city center.

Some interesting moves are in the pipeline, such as ambitious plans to rebuild the St Enoch Center and replace the Buchanan Galleries with a mixed-use building. A long-term vision for the Golden Z will be unveiled on August 14th. And the Glasgow City Region has been chosen as the investment area to invest £80m over five years.

As welcome as such developments are, it will be years before they take full effect and we can assess whether they make up for the seeming neglect of downtown. The key point is that a vibrant Glasgow, as has long been recognized, is important to Scotland. The Herald intends to examine all aspects of Glasgow’s stalled regeneration, including how similar English cities are responding to the many challenges. We will speak to experts and political decision-makers, while as always looking positively at the city’s future and offering constructive criticism.

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Glasgow is at a crossroads. What should it pay attention to? Should the concept of an elected mayor be explored? dr Michael Kelly, the Lord Provost behind Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign, proposes the creation of a Greater Glasgow Authority with an elected, publicly funded leader with investment and planning powers “to restore the damage done in recent years”.

Should there be a Minister for Glasgow? Would a tourist tax be a sensible gesture to increase income? Should the communities bordering the city be asked for ideas for the Glasgow of the future? The city has a relatively young and educated population and many strengths. It’s time to seize the moment and give Glasgow the imaginative, determined and results-oriented leadership it needs.

Grace Reader

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