Glasgow City Centre North: examining strategic choices
The study was commissioned by Glasgow City Council and carried out by a consultant team led by Yellow Book (lead), Kevin Murray Associates, WMUD, Ryden and Meg Clark Associates. The original brief called for an economic study of the Glasgow City Centre North area. However, in our response to the brief we suggested that the scope should be expanded to include a multi-faceted baseline study, as well as various forms of value added content including scenario planning workshops, case studies and a final report which will explore the possible policy implications of the analysis.
Key decisions and choices
The issues and choices will be a key theme for the next stage of the study and we have set out some of the strategic choices that need to be addressed:
- should Glasgow City Centre North continue to be a location for industry in the city, or should the strategy encourage a shift to higher value uses such as offices and housing?
- is it desirable or practicable to try to provide “local jobs for local people” in the study area, or should we be encouraging a step change in the local economy?
- could all or part of the study area be reinvented as a new community, with a mix of housing by type and tenure, parks, transport and social infrastructure that will attract people to live in north Glasgow?
- are we trying to create a destination in the city or should we be aiming for an attractive, popular and sustainable city neighbourhood?
- to what degree should the strategy be shaped by economic goals, or should we also be pursuing social, environmental and cultural objectives?
- should the strategy be predicated on incremental change, albeit with a clear direction of travel, or should the partners aim for more rapid and radical change, for example, the transformational projects described above or the creation of a new university campus/innovation park?
These and other choices will be identified and discussed during the strategy formulation phase, but the process has already revealed a number of areas where urgent action is deemed to be essential. Progress on these themes can be seen as an essential pre-condition for sustainable regeneration and they include:
- Mobilising community and stakeholder support: Every effort should be made to align the public sector stakeholders and resources, and the success of the project will also turn on its ability to command the support of local communities. Change projects also mean thinking about the needs and expectations of people who are not in the study area at present, but who you are seeking to attract – to live, work or visit.
- Animating the canal corridor: The canal is the study area’s unique asset, and a key source of distinctiveness and competitive advantage, but an under-used waterway can become a liability and place that people avoid rather than an attraction. For this reason, any positive future scenario will be predicated on the presence of a lively and attractive waterfront, and activity on the water; there is a need for early action to animate the waterspace and encourage people to visit Glasgow’s little-known canal.
- Improving public transport: For a variety of historic reasons, the study area is poorly served by public transport. Radial routes pass through the area, north and south, but bus services do not penetrate into the heart of the area. This only serves to compound a sense of isolation, and local business recognise it as a weakness. Sustainable regeneration can only be achieved if Glasgow City Centre North is reconnected to the city centre and adjoining neighbourhoods, and all the best European models treat connectivity as a non-negotiable requirement.
- Improving pedestrian access to and through the study area: Most pedestrian routes in and out of the study area are obscure and unattractive, and sometimes hostile. Port Dundas, for example, is easily walkable from the city centre but it is not a good experience. The study area often feels deserted: even at the busiest times of time there are few people on the streets. Over time, radical solutions may be required to remove barriers; in the short term, a plan to make pedestrian routes safer and more attractive is imperative.
- Enhancing the public realm: Although parts of the study area have a rich character and heritage, the quality of the public realm is almost uniformly poor: The canalside around Speirs Wharf is the only exception. The strategy must include a long-term plan for strengthening and enhancing the public realm and creating high quality urban spaces, but a short-term early action plan should also be devised – focusing on areas with the potential for rapid improvement, for example, by cleaning up derelict land, improving recent development sites and influencing new developments.
- Raising design standards: Recent investment in the study area is a source of some encouragement, but the design quality of projects post-Speirs Wharf has, almost without exception, been very disappointing. The City Council has a responsibility to ensure that future developments set a higher standard for architecture and urban design. One of the most disappointing features of recent projects has been the way in which anodyne buildings have eroded the distinctiveness of the study area without injecting style or quality into the townscape.
We have advocated a twin-track approach to the next phase of the study. In parallel with work on the strategy, a second workstream should focus on implementation: producing a plan which will focus on the “how” and “when” of the regeneration process. Some of the work has already been undertaken in this study: Section 6 contains sets out a detailed and authoritative account of market conditions in different parts of the study area, although a more fine grained market appraisal will still be required to shape and inform proposals for specific sites. We have also gathered information on property and site ownerships, which are likely to be a key factor in determining the feasibility of particular proposals as well as the timing of developments.
It is already clear that only limited amounts of land are owned by the Council or key partners such as British Waterways, and that the pattern of ownership in the study area is fragmented. Experience suggests that this is likely to be a significant constraint on the partners’ aspirations, and much will therefore depend on the Council’s willingness and/or ability to create the conditions for change.