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Red Road U-turn in right direction

The decision not to include the demolition of the Red Road flats in the Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony is the right one in view of police concerns about public safety.

It comes against a growing public backlash to the plan, which threatened to make controversy over those few moments of the opening ceremony the stand-out story of Glasgow 2014.

The series of controlled explosions were intended to make a bold statement to Scotland and the watching world about Glasgow as a forward-looking city, prepared to front up to past failures as part of a strategy of regeneration. It was indeed an adventurous idea, The Herald noted when it was first announced 10 days ago, yet one that would not be universally welcomed. While there is widespread support for the removal of the blocks, their destruction as a form of entertainment has provoked objections, the ferocity of which seemed to take the organising committee by surprise. There were bound to be mixed feelings about the plan among former residents, and Glaswegians in general, and some 17,500 people had by last night signed a petition objecting to it. Many felt particular disquiet about the fact that one block would be left standing because it housed asylum seekers. That was widely felt to be an unhappy contradiction and insensitive to those remaining residents. Public opposition looked set to grow and grow.

Questions will now inevitably be asked about how it was that the Games organisers seemed not to anticipate both the public opposition and the problems associated with making the demolition a spectacle. It is the norm with such demolitions not to publicise them so as to avoid having large crowds gather where they could be at risk from flying masonry. In this case, given the glare of publicity, it was inevitable that people would come to watch in their droves, creating a major policing headache. The public outcry created an added safety problem, because it prompted protesters to threaten to occupy the exclusion zone around the flats to block the blow-up. That ultimately led the police to conclude they could not guarantee public safety, but even without the protest threat, it would have been a risky undertaking.

Many will agree with Carolyn Leckie that police concerns have given the organisers a helpful way out of what had become a major controversy. The U-turn is of course embarrassing, not just for the organising committee, but for politicians associated with it. SNP ministers nodded through the plan and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was defending the idea only three days ago. But it was Glasgow City Council Labour leader Gordon Matheson who has, somewhat unfairly, been singled out for particular criticism. Although it was no more his idea than it was Ms Sturgeon's or Shona Robison's, he trumpeted the plan and was swiftly targeted for criticism by SNP opponents.

Mr Matheson saw in the plan a symbol of the changing face of Glasgow, a view echoed by ministers, but in the end, that symbolism was lost amid safety concerns and public outrage. Dropping it is the right move.

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Local government

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