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Gallacher in awe as Games drive east end regeneration

ALTHOUGH he has watched it unfold from close quarters, John Gallacher remains in awe of the change sweeping through Glasgow's east end.

FOUNDATIONS: John Gallacher believes the £150 million Commonweath Games athletes' village project will play a major role in transforming Glasgow's east end.

"Despite the amount of publicity it has been given, most Glaswegians are quite ignorant of the change that's happening in the east end of Glasgow, because unless you have a reason to go there you don't go there," said the managing director of Cambuslang-based Cruden Estates.

"You really need to get into it to see it."

As a leading light in the City Legacy Consortium, the coalition which built the Athletes' Village for Glasgow 2014, Mr Gallacher can claim some credit for driving that change.

The site is expected to host 6,500 athletes and officials during the Games, but when the action ends it will be transformed into 300 private homes, 400 properties to rent for housing associations, and a 120-bed care home.

The £150 million investment has been a huge undertaking, and comfortably ranks among the biggest regeneration projects Scotland will have ever seen.

It certainly helped that Mr Gallacher and Cruden had plenty of experience to draw on, having been engaged in regeneration work for several decades.

The veteran housebuilder has been involved in more than 75 projects, with an aggregate value topping £200m.

An accountant who joined Cruden from PriceWaterhouse Coopers in 1978, he led the company's bold move to build 350 private homes for sale and rent in Castlemilk in 1998, an initiative credited with sparking the regeneration of the area.

More recently, he co-ordinated the building of 290 new homes to help spark renewal in his native Govan, a project he takes particular satisfaction from.

That saw him take the innovative approach of teaming up with credit unions and housing associations to create bespoke mortgage products for people who had been finding it difficult to get secure lending.

Mr Gallacher has also led pivotal regeneration activity in such areas as Easterhouse, Drumchapel and Darnley in Glasgow, as well as Whitehill and Hillhouse in South Lanarkshire.

He points out, though, that the Commonwealth project brought unique challenges, not least of which was the timing of the global financial crash.

"Where we had been looking at sales values totalling about £54m, that had collapsed to about £38m, so we had a hole in the bucket before we had even put our plans together," Mr Gallacher said. "We had a massive exercise working that one through."

He contrasted the project with typical consortium deals, where companies bid for contracts, divide them up and "go on and do your own thing".

In this case, all of the house sales go to the consortium partners - Cruden, CCG, Mactaggart and Mickel and the Malcolm Group - having made equal contributions in terms of time, finance and risk.

Mr Gallacher said: "It was a genuine partnership in that sense. The problem with that kind of partnership is writing it down on a piece of paper.

"Throw in the complications of what this athletes' village was all about, and it became almost impossible. Although we have a partnership agreement, it's one of the loosest agreements you could ever come across. And it would only work if all the parties approached it with that mind.

"I've worked in a load of partnerships over the years and this has been the best, no question."

The housebuilder, who was awarded an MBE for services to the community, talks glowingly about the end result.

He said the accommodation, ranging from a one-bedroom flat priced £75,000 to a four-bedroom detached home, available for £200,000, offers value for money, with the added benefit of lower running costs.

"The fact is the houses are built to standards way beyond anything else that's in this city at the moment," he said. "The carbon reduction, for example, is 95% across the development, which is phenomenal - 60% of that was achieved within the fabric of the building itself.

"So there are some quite substantial technological advances within the house."

Mr Gallacher cites the development's combined heat and power system among those advances, which he described as an ultra-efficient version the "old fashioned district heating" model. He adds that 27km of pipe work has been laid under the homes, which feeds the hot water from the plant into a heat exchanger in each house.

"There are two engines in this plant," Mr Gallacher said.

"One engine currently supplies all the power requirements for the 700 houses, the velodrome stadium and the care home.

"It has the capacity to do the rest of the development and more, and there is another engine there. The potential is huge.

"The expectation is around about a 30% reduction in their [homes] heating and water costs."

Mr Gallacher explained the homes are fitted with solar panels, too, which he notes will also go some way to easing the thorny issue of fuel poverty.

And he offered a fascinating insight into the steps that the partners have taken to ensure the level of retrofitting required after the Games is kept to a minimum.

Many of the houses will be linked up when the athletes are in residence, but quickly after the Games conclude "knock-out panels" will be installed to separate the homes. Wiring and plumbing is also in place to allow kitchens to be easily installed.

Mr Gallacher said: "At one stage we were looking at house types where you were having to take walls down and remove bathrooms and so on. But we took the development of the scheme to, in my opinion, a terrific stage.

"The actual retrofit is more like a completion project."

With 237 of the 242 homes released for sale having been reserved, it would appear the homes have captured the attention of house buyers.

And Mr Gallacher said there will be more development to come, with the partners planning to build further homes on part of the site which will be used for medical facilities, a refectory and transport during the Games. As such, the partners are pressing Glasgow City Council to commit to building a new primary school in the development.

Talking more generally about the health of the housing market, Mr Gallacher senses signs of recovery in Scotland.

He cites the Help to Buy scheme as pivotal to that revival, and said he was pleased the Treasury did not acquiesce to calls for it to be scrapped in the Budget in March over concerns over the market overheating in the south of England.

But he warned that property values in what he termed the "second-hand" market are only just beginning to recover, after many owners slipped into negative equity.

He also cited pent up demand in the social housing sector, noting that this will not be satisfied while there remain restrictions on budgets.

Mr Gallacher added: "I think we've got an interesting period coming up, both in terms of the pent up demand for social housing, and the need for housing for sale."

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