Helensburgh Town Centre and Waterfront

by 20 July 2004blog, frameworks, place making, small towns, waterfronts, working with communities

The pier at Helensburgh

As part of a team led by yellow book, we have been commissioned jointly by Argyll and Bute Council and Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire to prepare a strategy and action plan to guide and inform the management, promotion, regeneration, revitalisation and redevelopment of Helensburgh Town Centre and Waterfront.

Helensburgh east waterfront

The brief calls for an aspirational but realistic approach, based on a robust assessment of market conditions and constraints on public sector funding.

Helensburgh is a fortunate and favoured place. The town is one of the most sought-after residential locations in the west of Scotland, close to the Glasgow conurbation, but enjoying a superb location overlooking the Firth of Clyde and close to Loch Lomond and the National Park. It is a wealthy community, has excellent schools and a extensive network of social, community and recreational activities.

Given these advantages, why is the heart of Helensburgh such a disappointment? If Helensburgh is one of the wealthiest communities in Scotland, why is there so little in the town centre experience to reflect that quality? We are not saying anything new here. The brief is predicated on a recognition that the town centre and waterfront are failing to deliver. The Vision Steering Group (VSG) and others have focused on the same problem, and our analysis merely serves to confirm the shabby, undistinguished and outdated appearance of much of the heart of Helensburgh.

The wretched condition of the pivotal pier head site is both a symptom of – and a significant factor in – the general malaise. The condition of this superb site – equivalent in scale to a whole block of the historic street grid – is a source of shame, embarrassment and frustration to the whole community. What should be the most prized location in the central area – the place where the town meets the sea – is a squalid mess of surface car parking, cheerless “amusements”, decaying buildings and litter. It could hardly be worse, and here wealthy Helensburgh has achieved the grim distinction of creating an environment reminiscent of failing seaside resorts like Morecambe and Yarmouth.

Against this backdrop it is perhaps not surprising that the development of a superstore on this site appeared to some an attractive option. In fact, there could be no more eloquent testimony to the collapse of confidence and poverty of aspirations. The rejection of these proposals by a Scottish Executive Reporter should be seen as a turning point in the fortunes of the town centre. It saved Helensburgh from a blow from which it would have been hard to recover, and created the opportunity to recover a distinctive sense of place.

Princes Street, Helensburgh

Final Report

Helensburgh Photogallery