Changing the culture: Glasgow and the west of Scotland since devolution

Written by Jenni Davidson on 10 June 2019 in Inside Politics

The west of Scotland is changing significantly through culture and regeneration, but some of the old problems still remain

Glasgow and west of Scotland regional focus - Image credit: Holyrood

In 1999, when the Scottish Parliament was born, Glasgow was the UK City of Design and Architecture.

Twenty years on, one of its most significant architectural assets, the Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art, has burnt down, twice.

But despite losing the jewel in the crown of its architecture and design heritage, the trajectory in terms of both culture and the built environment has tended to be upwards.

Writing in The Independent in 1999, the director of Glasgow UK City of Architecture and Design, Dejan Sudjic, noted that architecture could be on the political agenda for either cultural or economic reasons, adding: “Glasgow, as UK City of Architecture and Design, tries to deal with both aspects of design at the same time. It is about economics and it is about culture.”

And largely that has been the case.

The cultural regeneration had its roots in the 1980s and 1990s, including the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival, which took place on a derelict site by the River Clyde now occupied by the Glasgow Science Centre; Glasgow as European Capital of Culture 1990; the opening of the Glasgow Concert Hall, also in 1990; the launch of Celtic Connections in 1994; and GOMA, which opened in 1996.

Also in 1999, the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre opened and Buchanan Street was given a pedestrianised granite makeover, making the city centre a more appealing hub for shopping.

And from the 1990s onwards, Glasgow’s business and finance district also saw rapid and significant growth.

Things have continued apace in the last 20 years and culture has had a significant impact, not just on how the city looks but also, on how it sees itself and is seen.

Glasgow School of Art graduates have won the Turner Prize five times in the last 20 years, while the biennial Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art, founded in 2005, has been providing a platform for local artists as well as cementing Glasgow’s position on the national and international art stage.

And the city’s thriving film and television production scene was seen as a key factor in Channel 4’s decision last year to place one of its two creative hubs in the city, with the Garment Factory in the Merchant City the likely location of this new venture.

Also significant in Glasgow’s changing fortunes has been the hosting of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which were praised for their organisation and friendliness.

This success of the games, as well as some of the accompanying newly created or upgraded facilities, put Glasgow on the map to host other major sporting events, which it did in 2018, hosting the European Championships jointly with Berlin.

Questions have been asked, though, about the extent to which local people have benefited from them being there.

The area around Glasgow Harbour, where the Glasgow Garden Festival took place, has been a focal point of regeneration and for arts and media.

STV relocated to Pacific Quay from Cowcaddens in 2006 and BBC Scotland moved to its brand-new building by the Clyde in 2007.

The £72m building was the biggest TV recording space in Scotland and was one of the most modern digital broadcasting facilities in the world, housing the broadcaster’s first HD-capable newsroom.

Also on the riverbank are the Glasgow Science Centre, Riverside Museum – the former Glasgow Museum of Transport which was rehoused in the strikingly modern Zaha Hadid building in 2011 – SECC, Clyde Auditorium and SSE Hydro.

Three new bridges have also been built over the last 20 years to better connect the area.

Wider regeneration is now being taken forward through the Glasgow City Region Deal. Announced in August 2014, it involves eight local authorities in the west of Scotland with a pot of £1.13bn to spend over the 20 years of the project.

There are 27 major projects planned – of which six had been completed by December 2018 – not just within the city of Glasgow, but throughout the Clyde valley.

These include Europe’s first ‘smart canal’, which uses predictive sensor technology and a digital surface water drainage system that will enable the regeneration of 110 hectares of land in the north of the city for development.

Construction will start this year on a new bridge over the M8 linking the Sighthill area with the city centre, which will also see new homes, a school and park and a clean-up of post-industrial wasteland.

The design for another footbridge across the Clyde between Govan and Partick near the Riverside Museum was recently unveiled.

Planned for completion in 2021, this bridge forms a key part of the £58.5m Water Row masterplan to regenerate Govan.

It will also connect a planned ‘innovation quarter’ running from the University of Glasgow to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

The city deal was intended not just to leverage public sector investment, but also private sector money into the area, and the decision by Barclays to build a major new hub at Buchanan Wharf on the Clyde is being seen as proof of this.

Construction is underway at the site, which is predicted to bring up to 2,500 jobs to the city, including an allocation for those with who are disadvantaged or have disabilities.

Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken said: “We talk about the city deal levering in an estimated £3.3 billion of private sector investment over 20 years.

“Already we are seeing this happen, with recent high-profile inward investments such as Barclays.

“The Barclays deal is the most significant inward investment ever made in Glasgow and is a beacon for what the public and private sector can achieve in close collaboration.

“It is the first of many inward investments in which the city deal will be a critical factor.”

The Clyde is also the focus of a new project unveiled last week, to regenerate Custom House Quay with bars and restaurants.

But getting away from the city’s industrial past isn’t always easy, as can be seen from the struggle to deal with cancer-causing chromium-VI pollution seeping into the River Clyde from the former Shawfield Chemical Works, which closed more than 50 years ago.

It is thought decontamination of the site could cost £54.2m and Clyde Gateway has warned that the pollution is “putting at risk the successful strategy to have the river as the focus of so much of the city’s economic rebirth”.

While Glasgow’s regeneration might dominate, there has also been much going on in the rest of the west of Scotland. In Motherwell, £3.5m city deal funding will contribute to improvements to the city centre and developers have submitted plans for the site of the former Ravenscraig steel works, which closed in 1992, that include proposals for housing, schools, a park as well as community, retail and commercial facilities.

In Inverclyde, there are plans for new berthing facilities for cruise ships, a visitor centre, gallery and restaurant at Greenock Ferry Terminal to be completed by summer 2020 to increase the number of cruise ships’ passengers and tourism across the region.

The outline business case estimated that the development could see over 150,000 passengers arriving at Greenock, delivering £26m into the economy.

A wider tourism strategy for the region, launched by all eight councils, plans to attract one million more visitors to the region by 2023.

In Renfrewshire, the construction of the first opening road bridge over the Clyde, linking Renfrew and Yoker, was given planning approval in November 2018.

The Clyde Waterfront and Renfrew Riverside project is expected to create 2,300 jobs and inject £867m into the economy.

As well as the bridge, it also includes new roads, walkways and cycle routes into a 150-acre site next to Glasgow Airport that is being developed as a manufacturing district, which has already attracted two national innovation centres, the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland and a major centre for medicines manufacturing.

Clyde Waterfront and Renfrew Riverside is one of three city deal-funded projects in Renfrewshire alongside the Glasgow Airport Investment Area Project, which will deliver the infrastructure behind the new manufacturing district and the Airport Access Project, creating a rail link between Glasgow Airport, Paisley Gilmour Street and Glasgow Central.

The latter has been a source of ongoing controversy, after plans for a direct rail or train-tram link from Glasgow Central were shelved in favour of a shuttle between the airport and Paisley Gilmour Street, even though the rail link had been part of the city deal plans in 2014 and was expected to be in place by 2025.

But something similar could be back on the agenda, after the Glasgow Connectivity Commission recently reported on its proposals which include a massively expanded city-wide metro system to begin with a rail link between Paisley Gilmour Street and Glasgow Airport, which would also connect to Renfrew, Braehead, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and the city centre.

The commission also recommended a tunnel between Queen Street and Central stations, as well as the expansion of Central to accommodate HS2 and the introduction of trams.

Also approved, but at a much earlier stage, is a regional growth deal for Ayrshire, which was finalised in March 2019.

Worth over £250m, plans include £80m investment to position Ayrshire as one of the UK’s leading aerospace centres, establishing a horizontal space launch facility and visitor centre at Prestwick Airport, £23m for manufacturing, £24m for local energy generation and a further £18m to create a centre for research into low carbon energy at Hunterston Terminal – which closed in 2016 with the loss of 120 jobs – £25m to support the growth of tourism, plus £14m to improve the region’s digital connectivity and infrastructure.

It is hoped the 15-year deal will create approximately 7,000 jobs across a wide range of sectors.

Following a similar model to Glasgow, using culture as a vehicle for economic growth, Paisley has been building on its bid to be UK City of Culture 2021.

Although the town lost out to Coventry in 2017, the group behind the bid vowed that they would continue with plans to turn around its fortunes and drive regeneration.

It will benefit from infrastructure planned in the city deal, but also £110m investment in the town centre and venues.

The aim is to use Paisley’s textile history, and through this to grow the tourism and cultural sector.

As well as plans to refurbish the museum and town hall, the intention is that by 2027, the numbers employed in the cultural and creative sectors will have doubled, and that the number of students studying creative subjects, people attending cultural events, and digital connectivity will also have increased. A further aim is to reduce the number of heritage buildings at risk by 25 per cent and vacancy levels by 25 per cent to below the national average.

In addition, there are ambitions to improve the prospects of people living in areas of multiple deprivation in Paisley so that by 2027, Ferguslie Park will no longer be the most deprived area in the country, alcohol-related hospital admissions will be reduced by 33 per cent and medication for mental illness by 30 per cent, while 87 per cent of children in the 20 per cent most deprived areas will reach expected levels for literacy.

These big ambitions tap into what is still the biggest challenge not just for Paisley, but for Glasgow and the whole region.

Some of the highest rates of child poverty in Scotland are in the west of Scotland, with Ferguslie Park, as noted above, the most deprived area of the country, according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) and eight out of the other nine most deprived areas in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire.

Forty-eight per cent of the areas of Glasgow are among the 20 per cent most deprived in Scotland, with Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire and North Ayrshire next highest, and East Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire not far behind. In 2017, 34 per cent of all children in Glasgow were estimated to be living in poverty.

Glasgow’s position has improved, with the proportion of Glasgow’s data zones in the most deprived 10 per cent dropping from 47 per cent in 2004 to 32 per cent in 2016, but life expectancy, although improved, is still nearly seven years below the national average for men, and over four years below the national average for women, and mortality rates are among the highest in Europe, while life expectancy varies greatly across the city between rich and poor.

Research in 2010 by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, which was set up in 2004 to study the causes of Glasgow’s ill health, on the ‘Glasgow effect’ found that although Glasgow had a similar deprivation profile to Liverpool and Manchester, premature deaths in Glasgow were over 30 per cent higher, with the higher mortality fuelled by stroke, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer, along with deaths caused by alcohol, drugs, violence and suicide.

However, while Glasgow remains the ‘sick man of Europe’, over the last two decades it has lost its reputation as the ‘murder capital of Europe’.

That has changed dramatically, largely through the work of the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). Set up in 2005 by Strathclyde Police, the VRU took a public health approach to violent crime, focusing on prevention and tackling the causes of violence such as poverty, alcohol, lack of opportunities and a culture of knife carrying through cross-agency work between those working in the justice system and health, education and social work.

Since the VRU launched, the murder rate has dropped by 60 per cent and the number of facial trauma victims in Glasgow hospitals has halved.

The success of the VRU in tackling violent crime has become so widely recognised that a similar project is being launched to stem the rising tide of gang-related knife crime in London.

But despite the decrease, Glasgow still experiences a level of violent crime that is 55 per cent higher than the national average.

And sectarianism, too, is still an ingrained issue, with Glasgow City Council recently having to reroute four parades away from passing St Alphonsus Church, on London Road, where last year a priest was spat at, after police raised concerns about the potential impact.

This suggests that while much has been achieved, there is much still to do. Although there has been significant cultural change over the past 20 years, some aspects remain stubbornly difficult to shift.

And although inclusive growth, employment and regeneration are at the heart of what is intended by the growth deals and Paisley’s legacy strategy, the tougher challenge will be for these projects to provide not just a cosmetic facelift but a true transformation for the people who are the most marginalised in the region.

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