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A feat of backtracking that was worth an Olympic gold medal

THEY knew the plans were explosive.

REVEALED: Independent director of Glasgow 2014 Eileen Gallagher unveiled the controversial Red Road flats plan at a press call on April 3. Picture: SNS
REVEALED: Independent director of Glasgow 2014 Eileen Gallagher unveiled the controversial Red Road flats plan at a press call on April 3. Picture: SNS

They just did not think they would blow up in their faces.

Commonwealth Games organisers - and their government and council backers - wanted a spectacle when they announced they would demolish Glasgow's Red Road flats during this summer's opening ceremony.

They got it yesterday - 100 days early - in an example of Olympic-paced backtracking worthy of any gold medal.

Officially, the Organising Committee, or OC for short, bailed out of blowing up five of the remaining six tower blocks because of police advice that it was no longer safe to do so.

It was the sheer scale of opposition to their scheme - declared "crass and insensitive" by the professors of Glasgow School of Art, no less - that made the demolition risky.

Why? Because keeping protesters out of a giant blast zone would be a huge job for the police, just when they were at their most stretched for years. That, at least, was the official line yesterday.

Insiders suggested the shaky alliance behind the Games - the organisers themselves, Glasgow Labour and the SNP - just couldn't keep their nerve. The Games, despite their relatively modest sporting significance, are being billed as Scotland's big showcase.

Could Glasgow 2014, and its Red Road extravaganza, afford to be labelled "naff" internationally?

It wasn't supposed to be like this. The big showcase was meant to begin with a bang to rival the opening ceremonies of London 2012 or the Winter Olympics earlier this year in Sochi, Russia. But Glasgow didn't have the bucks to pay for such bangs.

Cue the Red Road plan, spelled out by David Zolkwer, the OC's artistic director. "Over the course of just a few seconds the city's skyline will be transformed forever," he said. "It's a bold and confident statement that says 'bring on the future' but it will also be an important opportunity for us to contemplate the many lives lived in the blocks."

Carolyn Leckie, a former socialist MSP, heard the announcement. "At first I was just stunned that somebody would make a celebration at seeing people's homes being blown up," she said. "Then I realised that one of the blocks - full of asylum seekers - would be left and I decided this would send the wrong message.

"My guess is that they realised the budget for the opening ceremony wasn't enough to create a spectacle and some bright spark realised something spectacular was scheduled to happen anyway - using somebody else's budget."

The main backers of the Games, however, were supportive. Gordon Matheson, leader of the city council, said the blowdown would be "symbolic of the changing face of Glasgow".

That was a red rag to some of his critics, including city nationalists, who feel the city's regeneration has been patchy at best. They included the SNP's David McDonald. He chairs the city committee which, as recently as Thursday, rubber-stamped a demolition licence for the Red Road. Mr McDonald's committee had another duty last week, to "note" the council's purchase of a retail unit at Red Road Court, the shabby parade of shops next to the high rises, for £200,000, in order to blow it up. "I think there was a rush to get the demolition done for the Games and the guy who held out before selling up got a good deal," Mr McDonald said.

His party bosses, however, were as enthusiastic as Mr Matheson about the demolition. Shona Robison, the Games minister, claimed it would send a "strong message". Yesterday she said Glasgow 2014 "listened to those who have objected". And the Red Road? It will still come down with a bang - but not in 100 days.

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