THE historic statues adorning one of Scotland's grandest public spaces are to be removed and may never be returned under plans to restore the "status and dignity" of a city's civic heart.

The radical proposals will see 12 monuments in Glasgow's George Square taken down and relocated early next year. Only the Cenotaph will stay in place.

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The city council has launched a £15 million project, including an international design contest, which will revamp the square. The first phase will be in place for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

As part of this, the statues will be removed at least on a temporary basis, during which time they will undergo restoration.

However, a new report says a strategy is also being put in place for those statues not returning and to "identify appropriate places of honour so their power and significance can be invested in new neighbourhoods and areas".

The 80ft-high column in the centre of the square, featuring author Walter Scott, is among the monuments being removed. The city council claims "it is possible it will not return to the square and one option may be to harness the power of this important architectural monument and to re-locate it as a focal point in an area of regeneration".

Other monuments include the only known equestrian statues of a young Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, poets Robert Burns and Thomas Campbell, inventor James Watt, chemist Thomas Graham, generals Sir John Moore and Lord Clyde and politicians William Ewart Gladstone, Robert Peel and James Oswald.

The city council's executive committee is expected to approve £5m towards the project at its meeting today – after the Scottish Government approved its plan to use non-domestic rates for developments, including the extension of the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre.

A further £10m will be spent on the square after 2014.

Longer term plans include closing off at least one section of George Square to traffic and the possible introduction of a water feature. In the first phase the red tarmac will be removed, along with parking spaces and the green areas.

The report states: "When first conceived in the 18th century, George Square was regarded by some as being Glasgow's 'Grande Place'. Like most post industrial cities of the late 20th century, the pressures applied to the use of public spaces are significant, and it has been compromised to such an extent that its loss of status and dignity is all too apparent.

"The square has had many piecemeal adjustments over the last century and can no longer claim to be 'grand' – it requires a wholesale re-examination of its image and functions so it can be regarded as a place fit for the 21st century."

It adds: "In order to deliver a substantially improved George Square in advance of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, an ambitious and expeditious programme must be implemented. Phase two works will commence after the Games. Options include full and partial pedestrianisation, on one or more sides."

Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson said: "It is time for George Square to regain its status as not only Glasgow's premier urban space, but Scotland's premier urban space.

"This year George Square has hosted the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee tour and the Olympic Torch. It will be the focal point for the homecoming of Scotland's Olympians and Paralympians. People also use it as a place to sit and watch life pass by. It is not equipped to perform either of those roles particularly well. We need to be more ambitious than that."