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Scope of works:

Phase 1 of the George Square re-development includes the resurfacing of the square, the re-introduction of two flush grass beds (one to the NW, and the other to the SW of the square), and cleaning of the statues.
The boundary of the square will be hoarded to contain the works, with no public access to the square within the duration of the works, which is expected to commence in July 2013.

Design Intention

George Square is the most important urban space within Glasgow and is the heart of the city. It is a focal point where the general public meet, gather, rest and play, both informally and formally. Many important events have their setting here: Remembrance Day, Christmas celebrations and trade fairs. Some of Glasgow’s most important historical events have been played out within the square and as testimony to this; it has become one of the most defining aspects of Glasgow’s public image.

Existing condition

At present, the existing red Tarmac has faded and shows signs of weathering. The surface is uneven with areas where water pools; this looks unsightly and is a slipping hazard in freezing weather conditions. There is general surface wear and tear after years of vehicular and events usage. The statues and their bases are suffering from Algal greening and are in need of a routine clean.

Reason for change

George Square needs a programme of improvement. However, a major refurbishment of the square is unfeasible at the moment due to the short timescale before the 2014 Commonwealth Games begin.
Glasgow will be featured internationally during the games, therefore it is important than an intermediate facelift of the square goes ahead, in order to promote a welcoming and impressive image of the city globally.
Given the timescale and in order to minimise disruption to use of the public realm, the most appropriate option is to resurface the square, re-instate the two grass beds and clean the statues.
This preliminary stage will allow the square to have an appealing surface, which is more complimentary to the buildings surrounding the square. The re-introduction of the grass beds provides much more useable green space within the heart of the City, and as part of the facelift, this will be a suitable time for the statues to undergo cleaning and have their illumination reviewed.


The existing Tarmac will be skimmed back and topped off with a new coating of pigmented epoxy resin binder, dressed with natural or pigmented aggregates, a variety of colours are being considered. This change is to create a more appealing surface treatment and compliment the built environment surrounding George Square.
Where the new surface meets edges like existing kerbstones, imperial measurements, plaques, and grass beds, the appearance will be flush due to the skimming of the existing Tarmac. The new surface will meet the statues with a clean edge but will not be flush due to the raised bases and natural fall in height across the square.
The new surface is durable and suitable for the occasional weight of vehicles and events. Where there are existing inspection covers, these will be surfaced in the same material and be flush with the surface of the square.

New grass beds

The locations of the new beds will allow sufficient pedestrian access between their kerbs and statues on the West side of the square. Their position relative to the perimeter kerb of the square has been defined so that they match closely the positions of the existing beds. The dimensions of the new grass areas are designed to work harmoniously with the proportions of the existing beds. This allows the statue of Robert Burns to be located in a similar position within the grass, mirroring the statue of Thomas Campbell in the existing SE bed.
A new conservation kerb will be used around the perimeter of the proposed grass areas and sit flush with the new surface.
Each of the new areas have been located within existing service and furniture boundaries, e.g. hatches, lampposts, underground ducting, cabling. This will constitute a simpler and more efficient programme of works. All hatch covers within the new grass beds will be turfed on the top surface in order to blend in with the surrounding grass. Each proposed grass area will be connected to existing drainage gullies to prevent waterlogged ground.

Statue Cleaning

The proposal includes a programme of statue cleaning (to be defined), this will happen on-site. No statues will be moved or re-located as part of this process. In parallel to this there will be a review and refurbishment of statue lighting where required.


The impact on the movement of vehicles and flow of pedestrians will be unaltered after the work is completed. The mobility of visually impaired people will be improved due to the new surface, and quality of visual contrast, as per DDA requirements.
During the works there will be no access for the public to the square. The site will be hoarded just outside the perimeter kerb, including parking bays, these areas will be used for the storage of materials and equipment.
There will be no impact on vehicular traffic around George Square. Pedestrian routes on pavements adjoining the buildings surrounding the square will only be disturbed minimally. This will include fencing around button paving to prevent visually impaired people from crossing over to the hoarded site. Pedestrian crossings facing the square will have their pedestrian traffic light signals taped up to prevent access.

Duration of works

The works are expected to commence in July and be completed by the end of September 2013.


Glasgow Bids to be ‘European Green Capital 2015′

Bailie Liz Cameron on the bid:

“Of course we need our own people to be fully engaged. And to know how much the city is committed to greenness and sustainability. We need them to be working on this in their own community – to be green activists. And to help change the spaces and places so they can be given back, truly sustainable to the people.”

If Glasgow is serious about being a green city, perhaps Liz Cameron should be questioning why her current administration:

• Continues to allow the city’s most famous greenspace, George Square, to be coveted by big business;

• Is currently trying to turn turn North Kelvin Meadow – Glasgow’s largest, non-park, community greenspace – into flats;

• Allows listed buildings like Springburn Public Halls to be demolished whilst supporting the ‘supermall’ development in the Buchanan Quarter;

• Signs the city into partnership agreements with the city’s business lobby, the Chamber of Commerce, who have questionable green credentials – “We don’t want to go down the path of driving the private car out of the city centre”.

Some of the language used on the bid’s website also sound worryingly familiar:

“Glasgow never stands still for long. From the birth of the Industrial Revolution, to its cultural reinvention in the 1990s, our city has continually transformed itself.”

Gordon Matheson, Scotland on Sunday 12 January 2013 justifying his intention to remove the statues from George Square:

“I’m nostalgic. I get emotional about Glasgow’s history. But Glasgow has always reinvented itself, and it ­always must.”

Presumably this same language was used to justify demolishing swathes of the city for the M8 and flattening St Enoch Station to make way for the St Enoch Centre.

Events still the priority for Glasgow City Council as RIAS look to blame Matheson

Hot on the heels of yesterday afternoon’s document outlining Glasgow City Council’s revised plans for George Square, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland released a devastating criticism of Gordon Matheson’s role in the botched competition process.

The document focusses almost entirely on Matheson and is unsurprisingly uncritical of the RIAS’ own role or the wider City Council. The document, which outlines some of the fees involved – including £19,500 for themselves, even compliments the Council’s handling of the process:

“This was a well run-competition. While the hiccup of the PQQ process was unfortunate, the competition brief and the process were correct and sufficient.”

The document further illuminates Matheson’s bizarre behaviour during the judging process (first described in Tom Gordon’s piece, Sunday Herald 27 Jan). Maybe the most damning new being confirmation that the much publicised ‘wider public consultation’ was to be ignored by the judges:

“He [Matheson] proceeded to re-emphasise the importance of the competition for Glasgow and as key to his own agenda as leader and pointed out that, although there had been much public comment on the submissions … this should not influence the judging process.”

“… it appears that, for whatever reason, Councillor Matheson had selected his own winner at the outset and reasoning by a very experienced group of judges did not persuade him otherwise.”

Matheson (with almost humorous timing) was quoted today in the Evening Times:

“The people of Glasgow were very vocal throughout the design competition that they did not want a radical redesign of the square.”

“They wanted the statues to remain, the grass to stay and the red Tarmac to go. We listened to their views and have responded.”

While the RIAS look to lay the blame for this botched competition at the door of Gordon Matheson perhaps they and Glasgow City Council should also be questioning why it was decided, from the outset and without ‘robust‘ consultation, to use public money to realise the commercial vision of a George Square designed primarily for marquees, portaloos and crush barriers. The latest committee document appears to confirm Glasgow City Council are still relentlessly pursuing this agenda.

Yesterday’s Facebook link to the Evening Times’ story about SPT’s bid to block the Buchanan Galleries ‘supermall’ project prompted Councillor Nina Baker to make the following comment:

“This news story is actually more significant than you are giving credit for. The SPT board is Labour-led, ie the same folks who promoted the BG expansion and the TIF as “Good things for Glasgow” and, hence by extension, for the square. So, if they are speaking out against the BG expansion this means there must be a change of heart in the depths of the administration…”

The Labour Councillors at the heart of SPT include George Redmond and Jim Coleman – involved in a scandal of their own over the £500,000 payoff of ‘poverty charity boss’ Ronnie Saez.

What the implications these latest developments have for George Square, Glasgow Labour, and the city as a whole it is uncertain. However, with the Scottish Labour Conference in April looming it is expected events in Glasgow over the last year will form a large part of the discussions.

Would it be an underestimation to suggest the George Square fiasco has shone a light on a general malaise in local Glasgow politics?

The Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games were shrouded in controversy and with just over 500 days until the games come to Glasgow, it is difficult to feel any confidence in those running our local government and some of the key organisations which help form their decisions.

Tom Gordon’s piece in the Herald (with unnamed council sources) may have accurately reflected Gordon Matheson’s worrying personality traits or represented more political power-plays and infighting within the current council administration. Either way it is immensely embarrassing for the city:

“a f***ing disaster… It was all vanity stuff. Matheson probably wanted his name in George Square somewhere. It’s like Carry On Council sometimes. You couldn’t make it up.”

“Cllr Matheson had an idea, included it in his manifesto, and then decided that it was his way or not at all. It’s a flagrant waste of public money.”

At the 15th State of the City Economy Conference at the end of last year Matheson told the audience:

“You may recall that I ended my speech in 2011 by saying that I’ll see you all next year. Well here I am. Following a decisive election victory in May, which has secured a very stable 5-year majority for my administration.”

Gordon Matheson won his seat in the Anderston/City ward with barely over 1 in 20 of the electorate voting for him. The turnout reflected very poorly on all parties, with a turnout of just 23.6% (apologies for the wiki source, GCC have yet to update their website…). These diabolical figures barely improved in other wards with an overall turnout of just 33%.

Since their election victory in May the Glasgow Labour website appears to have disappeared completely. The @glasgowlabour twitter account has not been updated since September.

According to one follower of, Councillor Archie Graham has been justifying prioritising George Square’s use as an events space:

“Although 4,000 people may have signed a petition to restore the square, the Council had to ‘bear in mind’ that 78,000 people applied for tickets to the Christmas light switch on last year, thus proving the existence of a clear preference amongst the people to see George Square maximised as an events space, per the administration’s agenda, as opposed to seeing the square restored.”

This sentiment is echoed by Jane Laiolo of Development and Regeneration Services, Glasgow City Council, who sits on the George Square Project Board:

“I would suggest that many thousands of Glaswegians do in fact care about George Square being used as an event space. Events like the Christmas Lights switch on are oversubscribed each year by many thousand.”

The Christmas Light switch on referred to here is now a largely commercial affair with those being directly involved including: Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Glasgow Life, Buchanan Galleries, St Enoch Centre, Argyll Arcade, Frasers, Hamleys, John Lewis and Princes Square. (More on GCMB and GCoC here)

The fact our councillors and members of of the George Square Project Board are now using ticket demand numbers for a one-off free Christmas retail-led event to justify ignoring public consultation and public petitions is the clearest indication yet that George Square is no longer considered a public space by those who have been entrusted with its care. It also lends weight to the theory expressed by council sources in the above Herald article that the reprieve for the statues was nothing to do with public pressure and everything to do with petty egos and party politics.

When we put our concerns to Jane Laiolo about the flaws in the argument of using retrospective usage/footfall figures to justify controversial developments and demolitions we were told:

“With regard to the M8 and St Enoch parallels you draw, I would only point out that not everyone in this city would agree with you.”

The natural progression of the prevailing ideology being employed by our councillors and influential organisations suggests that greenspaces and other public spaces and amenities are now in immediate threat. Heritage and greenspace, etc, do not convert easily into cash or footfall figures for businesses so are effectively worthless (unknown, lifeless relics, from a bygone era) to our councillors and the commercial interests they represent.

Email your councillor here


This report outlines revised plans for George Square. Land Securities’ (Buchanan Galleries) and Henderson Global Investors’ investment (via a £10m TIF loan, underwritten by the Glasgow public) for the ‘refurbishment’ is still being used to ‘upgrade’ the space. This will primarily involve additions to George Square’s events infrastructure.

The Executive Committee meets on the 7th February.

It is assumed the George Square Project Board is still made up entirely of GCC employees and representatives from Glasgow Life, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau and Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.

There appears to be no further public consultation on this development.


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

“They wanted a square that … had more staged events.”

This is a recent statement from a Glasgow City Council spokesman – presumably the ‘research’ referred to is the infamous Ipos Mori ‘qualitative research’ involving focus groups of just 42 citizens.

The conclusion of that research states:

“Going forward, representative survey research would enable the Council to assess the extent to which the various aspirations and concerns raised by the participants are reflected among the wider citizenry, thus providing a robust evidence base for future decisions.”

That representative survey clearly has not taken place. Quantitative polls like those below might explain why Glasgow City Council have been so keen to ignore this recommendation from Ipos Mori:

Glasgow Guide

Urban Realm

The George Square Project Board is made up entirely of Glasgow City Council employees and representatives from Glasgow Life, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (including the Head of Major Events) and the Chamber of Commerce (Glasgow’s business lobby, read Stuart Patrick’s aspirations for George Square here).

Email your councillor via this link and contact the George Square Project Board at

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.


Email your councillor here

This article is by Rory Olcayto and appears in the Architects’ Journal

[From the deputy editor] Glasgow’s failure to embrace bold, imaginative urban design led to this George Square debacle, says Rory Olcayto

What’s more depressing: the fact that Glasgow City Council has scrapped its £15 million plan to redesign George Square, or the fact that nobody who knows the city well is in any way surprised? As Chris Platt, Head of School and Professor of Architecture at the Mack, says, the result is ‘a catastrophic loss of nerve and failure in civic leadership’. Too true. Yet we’ve been here several times before.

In 2006 the council asked designers to go back to the drawing board after scrapping Richard Rogers’ 2003 competition-winning scheme for a bridge in the city centre to kick-start its riverside regeneration plans. But, when it came in over-budget, it was retendered and a low-grade design – with no architectural input – was eventually built.

A year before, in June 2005, another landmark competition for the city, to design a café in George Square, was axed by then council leader Stephen Purcell, who cynically announced: ‘The expenditure on the George Square café over three years could build us one new primary school.’ In a city still plagued by severe poverty, it was a clever way for Purcell to align himself ‘with the people’ but it played fast and loose with the truth about how council funds are allocated.

At the time, Purcell’s design champ, Gerry Grams, said the council had been given a ‘reality check’ by the café competition. Like this latest farcical attempt to improve Glasgow’s public realm it, too, was exhibited at the Lighthouse for a minimal period, but, said Grams, it had ‘opened a wider debate’ about city centre public spaces, because many of the shortlisted schemes, such as those by Richard Murphy and Platt’s Studio Kap, proposed a complete reorganisation of the square. To seasoned Glasgow-watchers, this latest, albeit rushed, badlypublicised and ineptly managed international competition seemed to have resulted from that ‘reality check’. Maybe Glasgow was serious this time.

No such luck. Once again, a mendacious explanation has been rolled out by the council leader, Gordon Matheson, who has used public outrage over concurrent council plans to remove the square’s statues to deflect inquiry into yet another embarrassing U-turn by Scotland’s biggest city. ‘The people of Glasgow have made it clear that they do not want a radical redesign of the square,’ he said, rounding on the shortlisted hard landscape designs most evident in John McAslan’s winning scheme.

No doubt about it, Glasgow has a leadership crisis. Matheson’s position has been seriously weakened by news – which emerged two days before the competition was scrapped – that he had been caught by police allegedly performing a sex act on another man, not his partner, in a car park. And let us not forget his predecessor Purcell resigned amid rumours of a cocaine-gangster-blackmail plot in 2010. No wonder Platt, in our lead story, is calling for a mayor.

Yet, as these hapless bids to enhance the public realm prove, Glasgow City Council has failed to develop a bold urban design culture to match those in London or Manchester. It is a problem rooted in the ‘Miles Better’ and ‘City of Culture’ revivals in the ’80s and ’90s which, although they were ostensibly cultural, were in fact retail-led, and which have had the unfortunate effect of conflating, in the minds of city leaders at least, shopping space with public realm.

It is why the truly awful Buchanan Galleries, at the junction of Glasgow’s two main boulevards, Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street, an important civicspace, is hailed a ‘world class’ shopping success, while the steps outside the Leslie Martin-designed Concert Hall, where city workers gather for lunch, are to be removed to make way for the mall’s extension.

The arrogance, the stupidity – it’s painful.