Why are our councillors’ ideas for George Square aligned to business interests and so out of touch with the citizens of Glasgow?

After news of Labour’s victory in Glasgow was assured and a design competition for George Square announced, the real nature of the plans for George Square has become more and more apparent with each piece of council communication relating to the development. The nature of the funding (£10m private investment through the controversial Buchanan Quarter TIF); the design brief; the non-quantitative Mori ‘poll’ of just 42 citizens; the banning of processions; the threat of removing the square’s historic statues and the make-up of the competition jury; all indicate plans to increase commercial events and bulldoze the remaining green space. Retail and leisure businesses that surround George Square are understood to be (unsurprisingly) keen on an increase in events and the soft foot-fall they provide.

It now looks almost certain the statues are to go permanently and George Square turned into a ‘hard, urban utility space’. In the thousands of comments, letters and articles online relating to the development you will find minimal public support for these plans. Why are the public not being listened to?

The three organisations central to the George Square issue are Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Glasgow City Marketing Bureau:

Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (Scotland with Style) is a ‘public/private’ organisation – its mission is to ‘Create Customers’. One of the ways they create these customers is with events, including Glasgow Loves Christmas at George Square. The Chief Executive is Scott Taylor (salary £106k per annum) and the Chair is Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson. Directors include Liz Cameron (Glasgow City Council), Graeme Hendry (Glasgow City Council) and Geoff Ellis (through DF Concerts responsible for T in the Park and Glasgow On Ice). Matheson and Ellis are both on the George Square competition jury and both Scott Taylor and Joe Aitken (head of major events) of GCMB sit on the George Square project board. The Bureau run many events in the city and their own Key Performance Indicators include lofty attendance targets. There is no commitment to safeguarding or promoting our city’s heritage in these KPIs. Gordon Matheson used a recent speech at the ‘State of the City Economy Conference’ to describe the statues as ‘unknown, lifeless relics, from a bygone era‘. (This wilful ignorance was not reported in the press.) Companies who pay for membership are promised, amongst other things, ‘access to decision makers‘.

Over at Glasgow Chamber of Commerce – which represents the interests of Glasgow businesses – Stuart Patrick is Chief Executive and sits on the George Square Project Board. Unspecified ‘opportunities’ (page since removed, cached screengrab attached) are available to Platinum Partners of the Chamber of Commerce who pay £10k a year for the privilege. These include Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, City Building, St Enoch Centre, Land Securities (Buchanan Galleries) and Radio Clyde. Scott Taylor of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau sits on the Board of Chamber of Commerce. According to President Varry McMenemy, the Chamber of Commerce have recently formalised their partnership with Glasgow City Council in a ‘joint memorandum of understanding’.

Gordon Matheson was recently awarded ‘Local Politician of the Year’ at the Herald Scottish Politician of the Year Awards. The Evening Times is a media partner of the Chamber of Commerce Glasgow Business Awards and it boasts, ‘The Evening Times is dedicated to promoting the very best of Glasgow and, in particular, in celebrating and supporting businesses which help make the city the economic heart of Scotland’.

With such relationships between our councillors, businesses and the media, is anyone really surprised that the turnout in the May elections was a lowly 33%? In July Gordon Matheson said of the George Square redevelopment, ‘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‘. In hindsight we believe this to be shameless and cynical politics. With such vested interests involved, the public were never going to be afforded the courtesy of a quantitative poll that would have confirmed the vast majority of Glaswegians want the statues to stay and that greenspace to take priority over events.

Early this month six chosen designs will go on display at the Lighthouse. No doubt this will be accompanied by friendly PR puff pieces in the press. Meanwhile, the deluge of complaints the council has received over the development means work cannot begin on removing the statues until the planning committee give the go-ahead. So, a stay of execution at least until February. Will our ‘decision makers’ change their minds? We are not optimistic.