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Expert warns flats demolition plan raises risk to the public

THE plan to blow up Glasgow's Red Road towers during the ­opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games increases the risk to the public, a leading expert has warned.

Charles Moran, a fellow and former past president of both the Institute of Explosives Engineers and the Institute of Demolition Engineers, said demolitions were "not showbusiness" and it was impossible to remove all risk when using explosives.

His comments came as Deputy First Minister and Glasgow MSP Nicola Sturgeon said the demolotion during the opening ceremony was good idea but needed to be carried out sensitively.

The expert, who has more than 30 years of experience, said attracting publicity to the spectacles had been discouraged ever since Glasgow woman Helen Tinney, 61, was killed after being struck with a lump of concrete while watching the destruction of two high-rise blocks in The Gorbals in 1993. Several others were injured.

He also cited the case of Katie Bender, a 12-year-old who was decapitated by a piece of flying steel while watching the implosion of a hospital in Canberra, Australia, in 1997 despite being in a designated safe zone.

Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), which owns the blocks, said the demolition of five of the remaining six towers during the ceremony would not be promoted as an event for spectators nearby.

However, it is feared the ­decision by ­Glasgow 2014 to ­promise a "spectacular" sight with the help of 1250kg of explosives months in advance is likely to increase the number of people who turn out to watch.

Mr Moran, who founded the Controlled Demolition Group in 1981 and now works as a demolition consultant, said that, after the 1993 tragedy, the Health and Safety Executive issued guidance saying demolitions "shouldn't be advertised" or "publicity stunts".

He added: "That has been the underlying attitude of professionals in the industry ever since and as far as I'm concerned it's a sound one. There's enough to do with getting the job done properly without adding another dimension and attracting people that wouldn't have normally bothered turning up. Under normal circumstances it's done quietly on a Sunday morning with none of the fanfare.

"Demolishing buildings with explosives is not an exact science, there are always unknowns. You can push the button and they just don't come down the right way. The more people you invite to these events, the more chance of the unexpected happening."

Mr Moran's views echo those of others within the industry who have spoken to The Herald on the condition of anonymity. Safedem Ltd, which will carry out the demolition, is one of the UK's most respected demolition firms. It will employ a range of safety precautions including dust and debris ­suppression measures.

A spokesman for GHA said: "Public safety is our absolute priority in this and every other demolition. We are certainly not making this an event for spectators at or near the site. We, and our contractor Safedem, will actively discourage people from watching the demolition in the nearby area.

"Our evacuation zone and additional restricted areas have been designed to prevent people from gathering in open spaces to view the demolitions on the ground."

Ms Sturgeon said the people against the plan should be listened to but she still thought it was the right thing to do.

She said: "I think we've all got a duty to listen to those who might not be as enthusiastic about this as others, so we can move together in a way that allows us all to look forward to the Commonwealth Games as I am doing immensely."

A Glasgow 2014 spokeswoman said: "Safety will be paramount and the blowdown will only take place during the opening ceremony if and when it is safe."

A petition opposing incorporating the demolition in the ceremony largely on the grounds of taste, rather than safety, has been signed by more than 15,000 people. In a letter to The Herald today, members of The Mackintosh School of Architecture of The Glasgow School of Art condemn the plan as crass and insensitive.

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