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George Square plans axed

PLANS for a radical redesign of one of Scotland's best known civic squares have been scrapped at a cost in excess of £100,000, heaping embarrassment and pressure on the council's leadership.

Glasgow City Council announced it had selected a winner from a shortlist of designs for a revamped George Square it had commissioned in an international competition only to add it would not be implementing the plans.

Instead, it has announced it will proceed with much more modest proposals, U-turning on plans to remove the centuries' old statues, retaining the grass areas and replacing the red tarmac.

The aborted project cost a basic of £90,000 before the time of several senior officers over several months is factored in. That would take it easily into six figures at a time when the council is making major cuts to services and laying off staff.

It will also heap further pressure on the city council's leader, Gordon Matheson, just days after it was revealed he was reported to prosecutors for an alleged public sex act.

Mr Matheson has been personally responsible for driving the project forward, including championing the idea of a water feature, and was a member of the judging panel.

It also comes days after The Herald revealed there were concerns from the judging panel over the quality of the designs, with pressure on Mr Matheson to take into account the views of the public and even his own colleagues who were opposed to the plans.

A consultation in the autumn surveyed just 42 members of the public and about seven businesses, with reaction to the shortlist on social media forums often far from favourable.

The plans also sparked a bitter reaction from the Queen's sculptor in Scotland, Alexander Stoddart, as well as author and artist Alasdair Gray.

The revelation last Friday that Mr Matheson, who is gay, was caught by police allegedly performing a sex act on another man who is not his partner in a car park is understood to have weakened his position regarding the plans and was a factor in the U-turn.

Graeme Hendry, leader of the council's SNP group, said: "How much was spent pursuing the council leader's personal legacy plans? His obsession with water features and removing green space was a wrong call. It now sounds like Mr Matheson has been forced into a humiliating U-turn following public response to his plans for George Square."

The panel, which had been judging six plans shortlisted in the competition, chose design number two, produced by John McAslan & Partners, the firm behind the redevelopment of the Grade 1 listed King's Cross Station in London and another scheme in Moscow.

Under the procurement process for the design contest, the jury had to conclude its deliberations and choose a winner. The council would then have had to agree to award the contract. However, that recommendation will now not be put before councillors.

Instead, they will vote on February 7 on more modest plans.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, headed by jury member Neil Baxter, has been paid £19,500 for its role in the debacle, £14,000 goes to pollsters MORI, the five "unsuccessful" firms on the shortlist get £5000 each, the "winner" receives £10,000 and the chairman of the jury, David Mackay, a partner at MBM Architects Barcelona, also gets £5000.

Mr Matheson said: "The people of Glasgow have made it clear they do not want a radical re-design of the square."

No-one from John McAslan & Partners was available for comment.

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