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Glasgow should let Sighthill flourish

AT Callanish, the Ring of Brodgar or Stonehenge, we can only marvel at the extent of the knowledge and expertise of our ancient forebears.

Archaeological and precise calculations of the rising and setting of the sun have confirmed that the ancient Neolithic monuments were painstakingly positioned to align with significant solar and lunar events. In Sighthill Park, immediately to the north of Glasgow city centre, is a 17-stone circle, meticulously aligned to provide 14 astronomical sightlines. Those who know about this circle, however, are lost in wonderment at the lack of knowledge displayed by the city council.

The stone calendar was built not four millennia but a mere three decades ago. In 2013, however, it is as much a monument to another age as those ancient rings on Lewis, Orkney or Salisbury Plain. When built, it was a time of high unemployment. The large numbers of young people unable to find work prompted government intervention in the form of temporary jobs. The Glasgow Parks Department had funding through this Job Creation Scheme and decided to build a replica stone circle to meet the condition of an educational element to the project.

When the science writer and amateur astronomer Duncan Lunan was appointed manager, however, his commitment to accuracy and authenticity resulted in a circle of real stones placed to mark the sunrise and sunset at the equinoxes. There was more to this than gratifying the ambitions of an astronomy enthusiast. The name is Sighthill and the adjacent Summerhill indicate that the elevation was a point for looking to the horizon and to the heavens and marking the angle of the sun long before any record of Glasgow as a settlement.

People who have lived in Sighthill's 20-storey blocks since they were built more than 40 years ago recall how the flats in Fountainwell and Pinkston Drive were sought after by aspirational young families. Unemployment and the drugs epidemic took a heavy toll and it was the large number of empty homes that prompted the city council to offer to house asylum-seekers in 2001. The sudden influx of large numbers of people from a different culture caused tensions but the murder of a recently-arrived Kurd also produced an unexpected solidarity.

Asylum-seekers have brought new life and a new perspective to an area in desperate straits. Glasgow City Council now plans to complete the transformation into a thriving community through its bid to host the Youth Olympics in 2018, which has just cleared another hurdle. The plan is to demolish the tower blocks, build new houses, initially as the athletes' village, a new school and shops.

The council cannot be faulted for ambition. The Youth Olympics would be a wonderful event for the city. Nor can anyone dispute the claim of Sighthill to investment. The area faces a 20-year wait for regeneration and if anywhere deserves to be fast-forwarded on the back of the Olympic bid, it is this battered corner. But the brave new world of coffee shops and houses with gardens can only be achieved by reneging on a promise to residents that three of the high-rise blocks would be retained and refurbished for those who enjoy living in them. Worse, the 830 new homes will not be sufficient to house all the current residents and some will be beyond their means.

The stone circle was also inconveniently in the way of this grand plan and a failure to appreciate its significance meant it was also to be summarily removed. Of course it should stay. If the Youth Games bid succeeds, Glasgow would add a unique ring of real significance to the Olympic cluster.

But the circle is a favourite spot for local people and what is the prospect for them without the backing of Scotland's Astronomer Royal or the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids? If Sighthill is to flourish, the residents must be saved as well as the stones and the 1960s blocks recognised as a significant part of a very long heritage.

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