THE future of the civic heart of Scotland’s largest city should be decided by a public vote, opposition politicians have demanded.
A leading figure in Glasgow’s SNP group has called for a speedy poll on the plans to help decide the fate of the city’s George Square.
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David McDonald said assurances that the public would be consulted on the £15 million plans to revamp the square had not been delivered, adding that council leader Gordon Matheson had previously publicly stated he would not dream of embarking on any proposals without asking the city’s voters.
He has now written to Mr Matheson calling for an online vote ahead of the winning design being announced a week on Friday.
Mr McDonald, whose operational delivery scrutiny committee reassessed the decision to go ahead with the George Square plans, called for the poll after the six visions for the project went on public display, with viewers to the exhibition at the city’s Lighthouse centre invited to give their opinions.
Pollsters Ipsos MORI carried out a survey of a number of focus groups, described as an initial and small-scale study, in the summer, while businesses were also asked their views.
However, campaigners against the commercialisation of the square, a manifesto pledge by Labour in the run-up to the local elections, raised concerns that barely 50 members of the public were involved in the survey.
Ipsos MORI also advised the council to continue involving the public throughout the re-development to underline the square’s core function as a civic space. The council last night described its consultation as “in-depth”.
However, in his letter to Mr Matheson, Mr McDonald said: “You stated publicly that you would not dream of embarking on a proposal for George Square without it first receiving the support of the public, so I ask you to live up to that commitment and put in place a facility for all Glaswegians to make their opinions known.
“I’m calling for a city-wide referendum on the George Square proposals, similar to the vote last year in Aberdeen. I don’t feel that the assurances given at the meeting I chaired about the quality of the public consultation have been met.
“The consultation and public display of proposals isn’t adequate, with no local displays in communities around the city, nor are the designs available, officially, online.
“On online sources like Twitter and Facebook there is a vibrant debate taking place but none of these views will be counted.
“It shouldn’t be beyond the council to arrange an online poll which would fit in with their current time scales and would help the panel to come to a decision, but most importantly one which would give Glaswegians an opportunity to shape the future of their square.”
Campaign group Restore George Square has been opposing the removal of the dozen historic statues in the square since the plans were announced.
It has also raised concerns about the input from businesses to the proposals and its use as an events space.
Its spokesman said that “developments like St Enoch Square and the M8 show that decisions like this should not be rushed”, adding it was “vital that Glaswegians have a say in the actual purpose of the square and not just superficial differences between individual designs”.
The spokesman added: “It is very concerning that council marketing quangos and business stakeholders have managed to bring us to the brink of a George Square ‘urban utility space’ without statues or grass.
Asking retailers what they’d like to do with George Square is like asking builders what they’d like to do with a football pitch in a premium residential area.
“A publicly subsidised ‘retail-led’ development with the aim of increasing soft-footfall for retailers is not what the citizens of Glasgow want. A quantitative poll will confirm this.”
A council spokesman said: “We carried out an exercise last year involving resident focus groups and in-depth stakeholder interviews. This played a role in establishing what the future vision of the square should be, as well as priorities in terms of the redevelopment.
“We’re now putting the six design submissions on display and any views from the public will be made available to the judging panel.”