A LEADING figure in the City of London has called on
Glasgow to rediscover its identity.
Peter Rees, the City of London Corporation's veteran chief planning officer, has seen a transformation of the Square Mile over the past quarter of a century.
The man who has approved buildings such as the Gherkin and the Walkie-Talkie, the building whose reflection has been blamed for melting parts of a car during a recent heatwave, argues Scotland's largest city needs a clearer "sense of purpose" to foster civic pride.
Mr Rees sees himself as a player in the City's battle with other financial powerhouses whether Frankfurt, New York "or even Edinburgh".
"The City has not got a birthright to remain a financial centre. It won't hang on to that itself. It has to be helped," he said.
The City, where 350,000 people work but which has just 8000 residents, is primarily a centre of commerce.
"We know what it is we are trying to do. But take Sheffield, which lost steel, or Glasgow that lost its manufacturing: in these and other cities there is a need to get a sense of purpose.
"You do not do that just by putting up administrative offices and call centres."
Recounting a walk he made along Sauchiehall Street towards Kelvingrove Park, he said: "The economy seems to be smaller than the city. It tails away the further you get from the centre."
But the Welshman has high hopes for Scotland's largest city.
"I see Glasgow as a 'can-do city' rather than a 'let's just talk about it city' like Edinburgh," he said.
Mr Rees has overseen the City's planning through periods of massive change from the Big Bang of the 1980s - when the old banking halls were vacated as deregulation led to industry consolidation - to the credit crunch of recent years that has seen the banks withdraw from financing property development.
"We love nothing better than a crisis," Mr Rees said. "Luckily we have quite a lot of them."
The City contains everything from Roman walls and churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren to more recent offerings from Giles Gilbert Scott and Lord Norman Foster
But in fact Mr Rees - whose walking speed as he conducts The Herald on a tour of his patch does nothing to betray that he celebrates his 65th birthday this month - thinks the most important parts are the bits in between the buildings.
"You have to make sure the spaces work," he said as another little pocket park emerged at the end of an unpromising alleyway.
For it is in the public spaces, the parks, coffee shops and bars, where confidences are shared and deals brokered.
"The secret of our success: it is based on gossip," he said.
A proud son of Swansea, Mr Rees puts London's prosperity down to the work of the capital's incomers.
"London is not an English city," he asserted. "It is as much a Welsh city or a Scottish city or even an African city or Russian city as it is anything to do with the English. I regard it as my job to remind them of this."
A key part of his role is to broker compromise deals with the City's ambitious developers.
After about 28 years in post, Mr Rees estimates that 99% of his recommendations have been accepted by corporation members, who are elected largely by the City's businesses.
Few buildings have risen in the City during his time which he believes were mistaken. He argues that its controversial collection of skyscrapers, where the likes of the Gherkin and the Lloyd's of London building with its external pipework have been joined by the Cheesegrater and Walkie-Talkie, are successful because they sit in a cluster.
He is less complimentary about the 87-storey Shard that has been built on the other side of the Thames.
"People think tall buildings change an economy. They don't," he said.
"Glasgow shouldn't build tall. It doesn't need to."