The winning design to revamp Glasgow's George Square will be announced in eight days' time.
The six contenders are on display at The Lighthouse centre for architecture and appear on a number of websites including heraldscotland.com but the timescale gives scarcely any opportunity for the public to make their views known. Yet the proposals are highly controversial. There has already been a public outcry at the plan to remove the 12 statues from the square and all the designs involve removing or moving some or all of them.
This has prompted Councillor David McDonald, SNP convener of the city council's operational development scrutiny committee, to call for a city-wide referendum on the proposals. There has been a woeful lack of consultation on the future of Glasgow's central civic space. George Square at present is a glorified traffic island. Since 1998, when trees and grassy areas were ripped out, all tranquillity has been lost and the red tarmac is a further assault on the senses.
A survey last year found members of the public wanted the statues retained and favoured a water feature, coffee stall and increased pedestrianisation while business and tourist organisations largely thought the statues should be removed to make way for the "wow factor" the square currently lacks. The problem with this consultation was that, although representative, it involved only 42 members of the public and seven from stakeholder groups. By demonstrating how opinion was divided between businesses and citizens, however, it has identified the nub of the conflict whether George Square's primary purpose is as a civic space in the heart of the city or as a venue for events. It appears the city council is attempting to do both and that is why there is a need to remove, reduce or, at the very least, realign the statues.
The redevelopment work is expected to be carried out in two stages, with the first being finished before the 2014 Commonwealth Games. That may explain both the hasty timescale for reaching a decision and the emphasis on open space in most of the designs.
The benefits of a central gathering space during the Games are obvious but must not trump the value to visitors, as well as citizens, of an identifiable sense of place. Glasgow is one of the world's best-preserved examples of a Victorian city and the collection of statues in George Square symbolises that.
Exhibiting the options for nine days, including only one weekend, amounts to tokenism. Let us not forget that Gordon Matheson, leader of the city council, had said the people of Glasgow needed to feel they had been involved in the redevelopment process and that he would not dream of embarking on it without their involvement.
A referendum does not seem practical; councillors are elected to make decisions and should fulfil that duty but, in the case of George Square, that duty includes far greater consultation. All those who feel strongly must make their views known.
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