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Masterplan to rebuild Glasgow
 
RUSSELL LEADBETTER takes a look back at how Glasgow was rebuilt
 

WHEN Hitler was defeated in 1945, Glasgow, like everywhere else, didn't need to be asked twice to welcome peace.

But, even with the war out of the way, the city faced many pressing problems. Housing was near the top of the list, and with reason.

Before the war, Glasgow had embarked on a slum clearance and rebuilding programme, which was derailed by the outbreak of hostilities.

Now, though, no-one doubted the scale of the task ahead. Across Scotland, in fact, housing was a priority.

In a New Year message in 1946, Scotland's Catholic

bishops described the state of housing as a 'blot on the national character'.

The 'sub-human' level of housing, they said, had led to the decay of proper family life, to continuing diseases like TB, and to juvenile delinquency.

Across Scotland, more than 400,000 homes were without toilets. In the cities, three houses out of every five had no bathroom. And 170,000 young couples who had married during the war had no homes of their own.

In Glasgow, City Engineer Robert Bruce estimated that, out of its 281,000 homes, a staggering 172,320 were deemed unacceptable "on standards of density".

In Anderston and Sandyford, 5500 tenants signed petitions that year against slum conditions. Some 1700 of the 9500 homes there were unfit for habitation. Only the war had prevented them from being demolished.

Broken-down drains and rats (4500 would be killed in the area that year) only added to the sense of misery.

But overcrowded and unsanitary housing wasn't the only problem. Squatting was common, homeless people occupying empty houses as there was nowhere else for them to go.

In February 1946, a branch of the Homeless League was set up in Glasgow to campaign for a better deal for the homeless. The meeting suggested that they could be housed in Nissan huts, used by soldiers in war-time.

The committee president said pointedly that some people had waited in vain for 10 years for a home, and even suggested that ships berthed in the Clyde, close to schools and shops, could be pressed into service.

The acute shortage of accommodation was highlighted by one small case in July 1946, when a house-to-let that came on to the market in Springburn attracted no fewer than 937 applications.

Clearly, something needed to be done - but at least there was no shortage of ideas of how Glasgow could be reshaped.

In March, a radical plan was published by the Clyde Valley Regional Planning Advisory Committee, which had been set up during the war.

It suggested the dispersal of hundreds of thousands of Glaswegians into New Towns at East Kilbride, Cumbernauld, Bishopton and Houston. In all, the plan called for 550,000 people in a city of 1,128,000 to be 'decentralised'.

The report also recommended industrial diversification, and a green belt around Glasgow to restrict urban growth.

But the city fathers weren't keen to see the population - and its taxation base - being cast to the four winds. It had its own plan in mind, this one by Mr Bruce, the City Engineer.

He envisaged the creation of three residential zones in Glasgow - inner, intermediate and outer.

High-rise flats would be built in the inner zone, giving it 34 houses per acre, a much more tolerable level than the current 95. The outer zone would consist of the projected new estates of Castlemilk, Garscadden, Nitshill and Priesthill, and part of Pollok.

Mr Brown believed that Glasgow slums could be cleared, and overcrowding eliminated, within five to 10 years. That was the good news.

The bad news was that even if 10,000 new homes were built every year, it would take until 1966 before everyone had a home of their own. And it would be 70 years before redevelopment was complete.

Mr Bruce's far-reaching vision of Glasgow extended beyond housing.

His 50-year masterplan for the development of Glasgow, published in 1945, had proposed a complete redevelopment of the city's central area, with ranks of buildings (even the City Chambers) being swept away.

It also suggested a radical overhaul of the transport system, from the creation of two new rail stations, called North and South, to an extensive network of new motorways and expressways.

The arguments over which housing approach was better - Mr Bruce's 1946 report, or the Clyde Valley's green belt/overspill programme - raged back and forth.

Eventually, the City Corporation opted for overspill, while building in the peripheral areas of Easterhouse, Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Pollok.

East Kilbride New Town was already up and running. In 1956 Cumbernauld got the go-ahead, with some 40,000 Glaswegians scheduled to head there.

Other residents would re-settle in Glenrothes and Livingston.

In time, Glasgow signed overspill arrangements with around 60 other councils across Scotland, in addition to the new towns.

Tenement after tenement fell victim to the wrecker's ball in the name of progress, but many old communities were maimed in the process, never to recover.

The 50s also saw Glasgow launch the biggest comprehensive development scheme ever seen in the UK. Among the areas chosen for full-scale redevelopment was Hutchestown and Gorbals.

This £13million project, approved in 1957, was determined to demolish 7600 local houses and replace them with 3500 modern properties - half of them in multi-storeys of between 10 and 15 blocks.

Architect Basil Spence designed the 22-storey Queen Elizabeth flats, which came to tower over the Gorbals landscape. (They lasted until 1993.)

Other areas, like Springburn and Townhead, were also bulldozed, while thousands of new homes took shape at Darnley and Summerston.

Back in 1947, city councillors had visited Marseille to inspect new tower-blocks devised by the celebrated French architect, Le Corbusier. High-rise blocks now sprang up all across Glasgow, at such a rate that, by 1979, it had more than 300 multi-storeys.

The Red Road flats at Balornock were, at 31 storeys, the highest in Europe. The first residents were welcomed in 1969, and the blocks were completed in the summer of 1971.

The old Glasgow was fast disappearing, but not just in housing. Millions of pounds were poured into building an ambitious network of new motorways and other key roads. Mr Bruce's recommendations had had some bearing, after all.

But many Glaswegians were upset when these building works pushed through their areas. Protesters ranging from a Gorbals group called Glasgow Resistance to Incoming Motorways to middle-class residents of Great Western Road were not slow to voice their anger.

Few schemes caused as much controversy as the Charing Cross section of the inner ring road, which linked the Kingston Bridge to the St George's Cross interchange.

Critics saw it as a 'classic example of the massacre of an area by urban motorway' - one that had destroyed Charing Cross, long a city landmark.

They also claimed that the residents of Garnethill and the St George's Road area now lived in a shambles that was more like a ghost town than a thriving community.

The £6m Charing Cross section was opened on February 4, 1972, by Gordon Campbell, the then Scottish Secretary. Twenty architectural students from the School of Art protested nearby with placards.

Mr Campbell defended the project vigorously, saying not only that it would benefit the driver and the public, but also that it was the vital link in the development of a 'high standard,

east-west motorway and dual carriageway route' linking the east of Scotland with Glasgow, Renfrewshire and Greenock.

An Evening Times reporter tried out the new Charing Cross route, taking just four minutes to drive three miles from Scotland Street to Alexandra Parade at Wishart Street, as opposed to the 20 minutes it had once taken him.

Between the 1950s and the late 1970s, then, Glasgow had changed radically. Huge numbers of tenements had been flattened, and much new housing built in its place.

Untold thousands of residents had decamped to the new towns or the peripheral estates. An unavoidable network of motorways and dual carriageways had also emerged.

Was this the end to Glasgow's problems? Far from it.

Problems had surfaced in the peripheral estates, where the sense of isolation, and the lack of community facilities, had led to many complaints.

Many high-rise flats weren't as perfect as their architects had envisaged.

In October 1975, the first complaints arose among the tenants of the Red Road flats, concerning living conditions, security and vandalism.

There were wider issues, too. It emerged that around 25,000 people were leaving Glasgow every year, many of them with skills that the city could ill-afford to lose.

And no-one could ignore the daunting evidence of multiple deprivation in the inner city.

A switch in priorities was now needed. The east end had suffered particularly badly, thanks to a decline in industry and manufacturing and the lack of investment in private and public housing.

The responses included the multi-million pound GEAR (Glasgow Eastern Area Renewal) project, which redeveloped 3500 neglected acres in the east end.

By the time GEAR was wound up, in 1987, it had transformed Bridgeton, Dalmarnock, Shettleston and Parkhead through encouraging private housing development, greater inward investment and a wider population mix of population.

At creating jobs, though, it had been less successful, prompting councillor Jean McFadden, convener of the new Glasgow City Council in 1995, to say that it had "just got people better street corners to stand at."

In the years since, regeneration projects have targeted other parts of the city, generally with successful results.

Hand-in-hand with the housing changes has gone a cultural renaissance, from the 1988 Garden Festival and the 1990 Year of Culture to the 1999 accolade of City of Architecture and Design.

High-profile projects like Glasgow Harbour, and such venues as the Science Centre,

the Armadillo and the Science Centre speak volumes about the city's ebullient self-confidence.

Not for nothing has Glasgow become the UK's largest shopping centre after London, and one of Europe's top 20 financial centres.

Expensive flats can be found where once there were quays or vacant land.

But the housing stock remained poor. The problem was that not enough money was being spent to improve homes or neighbourhoods.

The situation was not helped by the city's crippling housing debts of over £900m.

In March 2003, the city's 84,000 homes were formally transferred to the Glasgow Housing Association, a not-for-profit social landlord, with promises of warmer, safer and more affordable homes.

Glasgow may have changed out of all recognition over the last few decades - but housing, that perennial headache, has taken a lot longer to fix.

01/11/04


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