As the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau chase customers and investors chase profit, there has been a growing feeling that citizens of Glasgow have been shielded from involvement in the George Square redevelopment process. Citizens’ only role it would seem is to spend money on events in George Square and in Land Securities’ Buchanan Quarter.

In increasing attempts to prove a correlation between business interests and the opinions of Glaswegians, Glasgow City Council have been keen to point out that retail led events in George Square are well attended. Do people drive on the M8? Do they use the St Enoch Centre? Have either developments been ideal for the city? At the very least it is highly debatable.

Would events be well attended in other parts of the city, (not in close proximity to the Buchanan Quarter) like a revitalised Selfridges site? Successful events in Glasgow Green would suggest yes.

Just as in 1998, Glaswegians have not been properly consulted about the further appropriation of George Square for business ends. As the high-street continues to suffer in the current economic climate, and shows no signs of evolving to adapt to new challenges, we can only expect increasingly desperate attempts to ‘create customers’ with George Square being the ‘bait’ (whilst other areas in the city centre languish and remain derelict). Some of the peculiar tented ‘attractions’ during the recent Christmas season may hint at what is to come on a year-round basis.

John McAslan’s updated design for George Square is welcome and a huge step in the right direction, and seems much more in keeping with citizens’ aspirations for George Square. It is difficult not to feel it is too late. And the increased greenspace contained would surely scupper the plan for increased ‘major events’. Until Glasgow City Council give a commitment on their events plan it is difficult to muster any enthusiasm for designs that will ultimately be covered in marquees, portaloos and crush barriers for half of the year and a building site for the rest.

A theme throughout George Square’s bizarre recent history has been the deliberately obtuse and (being polite) misleading communications from Glasgow City Council on the issue. This has been characterised by the recent revelations surrounding Gordon Matheson and the competition jury.

Some quotes from 1998 to the present day go some way to explaining the anger and lack of trust people have in Glasgow City Council and their ability to handle the George Square project satisfactorily:

Frank McAveety, Glasgow City Council Leader, 1998 after £200,000 ‘upgrade’.

“We’ll have an upgraded surface and permanent entertainment space. We will replace the trees which have Dutch Elm Disease.”

“This is a reasonable upgrading, but any substantial change to the square would involve all the citizens of Glasgow.”

“I understand the concerns, but would ask people to wait.”

“The work will leave the square as green as ever.”

“The work can only enhance what is a most important public space.”

“We have apologised. We can’t deny that the public were not told about the work.”

“We regret the inconvenience the work has caused but the surface of the square needed upgrading.”

 

Steven Purcell, Glasgow City Council Leader, 2005 after £24,000 cafe in George Square plans shelved.

“The expenditure on the George Square cafe over three years could build us one new primary school.”

 

Glasgow City Council Spokesman, January 2012

“George Square is a much loved public space. We have no plans to change that.”

 

Glasgow Labour Manifesto Pledge 55 headed ‘Environment’, April 2012

“Labour will revamp and completely refurbish George Square.”

 

Gordon Matheson, Glasgow City Council Leader, July 2012

“I want to give the people of Glasgow the square they deserve so I am beginning a public consultation on a generational revamp of George Square.

“For this to succeed, the people of Glasgow need to feel they have been involved in the process and I would not dream of embarking on it without their involvement.”

“Some people have said it is brave of me to take on this project, but what is the point of having power if you are not prepared to make decisions which are of benefit to the city?”

“That is my job but I am keenly aware I can only succeed with the support of the people.”

 

Gordon Matheson, Glasgow City Council Leader, November 2012 on George Square’s statues

“It seems there are those committed to retaining the place of unknown, lifeless relics, from a bygone era, who are ensconced in George Square, determined to hold back development.”

 

Gordon Matheson, Glasgow City Council Leader, 12 January 2013

“I think it’s fine to be nostalgic,” he says. “I’m nostalgic. I get emotional about Glasgow’s history. But Glasgow has always reinvented itself, and it ­always must.”

“Our Victorian forebears wouldn’t even have been having this conversation. They wiped out much of the built heritage that was left to them. From some quarters you hear that we’ve got to lose all that sense of ambition and simply preserve what they did.”

On criticism that the redevelopment is being driven by commercial interests:

“Well, I think that’s an easy criticism to make … but I don’t think it’s borne out by reality.”

 

Gordon Matheson, Glasgow City Council Leader, 17 January 2013

“When you are attracting events from all across the world, you need to look your best. Jobs depend on it.”

“George Square is our principle civic square so the investment that we are making is part of our overall effort to not only beautify Glasgow, principally for the Glaswegians, but also so we can put on a show and continue to attract tourism, conferences and events from across the world.”

“Let me tell you there has been a wide range of views. The majority opinion was not for adding a further option, it is for one of the options that has been submitted already.”

“The whole design of this exercise from beginning to end has been shaped by consulting with the people of Glasgow.”

 

Gordon Matheson, Glasgow City Council Leader, 21 January 2013

“So, our decision is that, having listened to the people, there is no consensus in Glasgow behind a radical redesign of George Square but what people do want to see is an investment in George Square — they want it returned to its former glory.”

“We we still invest £15m but this is a major investment in George Square and, in the process, the grass will remain which is what the people have said that they wanted, the statues will remain — but we need to respect the history of George Square too.”

“I have listened to the people.”

 

Glasgow City Council Spokesman 22 January 2013

“The research we did was entirely appropriate and told us what people wanted to have in the square.”

“They wanted a square that was nice to look at and sit in, had more* staged events and had statues.”

* A quantitative poll in Urban Realm (of almost 5 times the amount of people involved in the Mori focus groups) found  90% of respondents favoured greenspace over events.

 

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