GLASGOW'S George Square is one of the most important public spaces in Scotland.
Everyone seems to agree that it badly needs to be upgraded and the red tarmac consigned to history but that is where consensus stops. An announcement had been scheduled for today but yesterday it emerged that the distinguished panel assembled to adjudicate between the six shortlisted designs had failed to agree on a winner.
The panel will convene again next week. It is better to get this decision right than get it quickly. The redesign may have been a Labour manifesto pledge but Glasgow City Council is under no constraint to commit to one of the six shortlisted designs if none of them fits the bill, especially when the public response has been largely negative. There appear to be question marks over the quality of the submissions and none of the selection panel members will want to be associated with something unworthy.
The £15m budget may not be coming from the same pot as the council's day-to-day expenditure but every penny must be spent wisely at a time when support teachers and day centres for adults with learning difficulties are under threat as the council sustains a deep cut in its budget from the Scottish Government. If George Square looks tatty and run down in five or ten years' time, it will have been money wasted and, instead of the administration's legacy, it will be their shame.
The challenge is to come up with a design that is both elegant and practical. Natural elements are desirable but they need to withstand the rigours of a Scottish winter and the trampling of thousands of feet. And though the winning design should be compatible with the staging of public events when the Commonwealth Games comes to Glasgow in 2014, that must not trump the requirement for an attractive and appropriate public space that will draw visitors and residents alike for decades to come. Also, surely this should be used as an opportunity to remove traffic from at least one side of the square, so that pedestrians can reclaim it. It is can resemble a noisy roundabout.
If none of the current shortlist can satisfy such requirements, there must be a strong argument for going back to the drawing board. As The Herald observed, the period for public consultation was overly constrained. It is vital to take members of the public with the council when they are the ones who will have to live with the results for a generation or more.
There may be a case for removing or repositioning at least some of the statues that have accumulated over the decades and incorporating elements that have more relevance to 21st century Glasgow but public opinion on these points was never properly tested. It would be a grave mistake to plough ahead with an unpopular second-rate design merely because Glasgow 2014 is looming ever larger on the calendar.
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