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Alasdair Gray criticises planners' revamp of city's square

THE leading author and artist Alasdair Gray has launched a caustic attack on civic planners, comparing a major regeneration project with the discredited post-war clearances of traditional neighbourhoods.

TARGETED: Alasdair Gray has compared Glasgow City Council's plans for George Square, above, and the Sighthill Stone Circle to the discredited post-war clearances of traditional neighbourhoods.
TARGETED: Alasdair Gray has compared Glasgow City Council's plans for George Square, above, and the Sighthill Stone Circle to the discredited post-war clearances of traditional neighbourhoods.

The acclaimed Glaswegian polymath said Scotland's largest local authority was working to the idea that "to renovate they must first devastate", accusing it of flying in the face of the approach of "Scotland's greatest town planner" and criticising the planned removal of statues from the city's George Square.

He also said there was "something grisly familiar" about the plans to destroy Britain's first authentically aligned stone circle to have been erected in more than 3000 years and tear down the high-rise flats in Glasgow's Sighthill area.

Alasdair Gray's letter in full

The intervention comes just days after the council's plans for George Square were compared by the Queen's sculptor in Scotland with the Taliban's destruction of ancient Buddhas in 2001.

Gray, 77, is widely regarded as one of the nation's greatest art figures and is the writer of classic novels such as Lanark and Poor Things, as well as a distinguished painter of murals and portraiture.

His novel Lanark is partly located in the area now occupied by the high-rises of Sighthill, with a letter in today's Herald also vividly describing the area before the creation of the M8 and the flats.

A campaign is already under way to save the Sighthill Stone Circle, built in 1979 by astronomer and science writer Duncan Lunan, from removal with the area in line for a multimillion-pound regeneration.

Incorporating the line of the midsummer sunset across the city, the stones are on the site of midsummer parties held to celebrate the sun at its highest and most powerful. The Pagan-style parties continued until the 17th century, when they were halted by the Church.

Glasgow City Council plans to revamp the entire Sighthill area, whether or not its bid for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games is successful, with plans for 830 homes, a new school campus and the demolition of the tower blocks.

The housing proposals would form the centrepiece of the regeneration plans but would involve decanting more than 400 families still living in the flats.

However, Gray said: "There is something grimly familiar about this. Since the Second World War Glasgow has used planners who think that to renovate they must first devastate – totally clear the ground so a blank drawing board can represent it – a blank they can now fill with a new scheme that is wholly their own and that of their paymasters, the councillors and property market which the councillors serve.

"In this they go against the advice of Patrick Geddes, Scotland's greatest town planner and thinker on the subject, who said that before planning to improve a depressed district you should carefully survey it, finding what bits are in good working order and what can be made so."

He added: "Have our councillors found how many of the 400 families in the high-rise flats want to leave them? Not every high-rise building is a slum, and Sighthill Park with its open spaces and wildlife is handy for these.

"The politicians we elect as puppets. But they want to be action men – exciting instigators of visible change – so they will remove all the historic monuments to great Scots from George Square, make it a space for commercial enterprises like McDonald's and Coca-Cola for two or three years, then bring them back or find it cannot afford to do so. And armed with compulsory purchase orders and powers of eviction enforced by the police, they will get grand publicity for their Sighthill renovation scheme."

A council spokesman said: "At this stage of the development of the proposal, it is too early to comment on what will be done with the standing stones at Sighthill Park in terms of their location or incorporation into the masterplan for the area."

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