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A skyline transformed as city bids farewell to high-rise flats

IT started with the block made famous by the ode to the "skyscraper weans on the 19th floor" before moving on to the childhood home of a 1980s rock superstar.

LANDMARK EVENT: A controlled explosion brings down a block of the famous Red Road flats in the north-east of Glasgow. Picture: Jamie Simpson
LANDMARK EVENT: A controlled explosion brings down a block of the famous Red Road flats in the north-east of Glasgow. Picture: Jamie Simpson

Now, eight years after the programme began, around a quarter of Glasgow's ­high-rise flats have been pulled down, with several more facing demolition in 2014.

The transfer of social housing from the city council at the start of the 21st century was the ­catalyst for the biggest transformation in Glasgow's housing since the flats were constructed four decades before.

About 40 blocks have now been razed, including the buildings at Fountainwell and Norfolk Court in the Gorbals and many of those forming part of the notorious Red Road flats.

The first came down in ­November 2005, almost three years after the stock transfer to Glasgow Housing Association, with five blocks demolished at Mitchellhill Road in Castlemilk, which were made famous by the Jeely Piece Song.

It was the first wide-scale demolition since the 400 homes in Sir Basil Spence's damp and vermin-infested Hutchesontown development were pulled down in 1993.

By early 2007, the tower block at Crossbank Road in Toryglen, once home to Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr and the focus of much media attention when it was covered in multi-coloured paint for a TV advert, was brought down, followed by several more in the east end's Dalmarnock in preparation for the Commonwealth Games.

Most have been demolished by GHA but other areas where major social landlords have moved in have also seen their concrete towers laid to rubble, most notably Billy Connolly's old stomping ground in Anderston.

But the changing skyline has not always met with the expected approval of locals, with residents of several blocks voting to have their homes retained, albeit regenerated and refurbished.

In Sighthill, where eight blocks have gone in nighttime ­demolitions, tenants have recently campaigned against their towers being pulled down.

For some, spectacular views are too much to give up for a garden, and may include vistas of the Campsie Fells to Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps, then west past the Erskine Bridge and out to Goat Fell on Arran, continuing south over Glasgow and east towards Edinburgh.

Other areas being transformed by demolition include Ibrox, Shawbridge in Pollokshaws, Royston and Yoker.

The last high-rise to be ­demolished in the Gorbals will be down by this time next year, while the ongoing redevelopment of Red Road and Sighthill will see blocks come down there over the next year.

Alex McGuire is director of property at the Wheatley Group, which includes GHA.

He said: "As part of the regeneration of our communities we have demolished thousands of multi-storey flats, which had simply become unpopular and far too expensive to maintain. The demolitions have made way for hundreds of new-build homes and, at the same time, we've invested £1.2 billion upgrading and modernising 70,000 other homes, making them warmer, drier and more comfortable.

"The regeneration over the past decade has certainly changed Glasgow's skyline, but it has also transformed the living conditions of tens of thousands of tenants."

The high-rises date back to the publication of the Bruce Report in 1946, when Glasgow Corporation identified inner-urban districts such as the Gorbals, Anderston and Townhead as having a high proportion of overcrowded slum housing, with mass demolition of insanitary tenements proposed to be replaced by lower-density housing schemes to create space for modern developments.

The plan was for the dispersed population to be relocated to new estates built on green-belt land on the outer periphery of the city's metropolitan area, with others moved out to the New Towns of Cumbernauld and East Kilbride. These initiatives began to be implemented in the late 1950s.

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