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Glasgow 2014 in U-turn on Red Road flats demolition

GLASGOW 2014 is today rewriting its showcase opening with just 100 days to go after dropping controversial plans to blow up the Red Road flats for entertainment.

Commonwealth Games organisers called a halt to the live demolition on safety grounds amid police fears that protesters would put themselves in danger by trying to stop the spectacle.

However, their dramatic U-turn was last night claimed as a victory for people power by a growing campaign that united local residents with thousands of other voices including Glasgow Art School professors who declared the plan to be crass and insensitive.

Steven Camley's cartoon

David Grevemberg, chief executive of Glasgow 2014, said: "We made it clear from the outset the absolute priority was safety and that this event would only happen during the opening ceremony if it was safe to do so.

"Over the past few days it has become clear that opinions have been expressed which change the safety and security context.

"Glasgow 2014, key stakeholders, including Police Scotland, are not prepared to allow what was proposed to be a positive act of commemoration to create risk for all concerned, including the communities of north-east Glasgow."

The change of heart came after the police officer responsible for the security of the Games suggested the very fact opposition to the demolition was so strong made it more risky.

Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen, also citing "strong opinions which changed the safety and security context", said he had asked the organising committee to reconsider its plans.

Insiders said it would have been impossible to secure the blast zone if there were protesters determined to breach its perimeter - just as police were facing their busiest single crowd control event in years.

Glasgow 2014's two main backers and bankrollers, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government, were quick to back the decision to scrap the plan, despite their previous full support.

Commonwealth Games Minister Shona Robison said: "Glasgow 2014 and Games partners have listened to those who have objected to plans for a live demolition and also the security concerns of Police Scotland in making this decision."

A spokesman for the council said: "Public safety must always be paramount on these occasions."

Glasgow 2014 had declared the controlled explosions - usually such events are subject to media blackouts to keep people away - amounted to a "bold statement" of the city's new low-rise image.

Critics, led by former socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie, whose petition against the plan had gathered 17,500 signatures before the U-turn, suspect public revulsion rather than safety was behind the decision.

She said: "I am sure there really were safety issues - but there were safety issues from the very outset.

"I think they have changed their mind because of the sheer silliness of the plan and the sheer number of people expressing doubts about it. But they have made the right decision and this should be welcomed."

Burnistoun comedian Robert Florence, who grew up in the shadows of the high rises, said: "The folk up my bit will be happy that sense prevailed."

Critics of the demolition had included the son of Sam Bunton, the architect of the Red Road flats, who believed the demolition was "crass". Len Bunton, who worked on the tower blocks himself during the 1960s, said: "The flats will now get a dignified demolition. It will be very sad to see it all come down, but life has got to move on."

Politicians of all main parties quickly joined the chorus of relief. Labour's Patricia Ferguson, who represents the Red Road in Holyrood, said: "It was becoming increasingly clear that it would be extremely difficult to ensure that the proposal could go forward in a way that would guarantee the safety of my constituents."

Bob Doris, a Nationalist list MSP for Glasgow, had launched a parliamentary motion complaining of a lack of community engagement on the decision.

Yesterday he said: "The organisers have listened to the overwhelming will of the people of Glasgow on this.

"The Commonwealth Games are just over 100 days away and it is vital that they are a unifying factor for people in Glasgow, in Scotland and across the Commonwealth."

The Conservatives yesterday took advantage of the fact that representatives of both the Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council and the SNP Government had initially backed the plan to launch a scathing attack.

Liz Smith MSP said: "This is a victory for common sense.

"It was increasingly clear that the proposal was not only deeply unpopular but that it was sending out all the wrong messages about Glasgow and the Commonwealth Games.

"It was a major distraction which was threatening to undermine the Games themselves. Let's not forget that Scotland's First Minister was involved in the decision-making process. Alex Salmond now has some explaining to do as to why they ever got into this farcical situation."

Glasgow 2014, the council and the government yesterday were all talking of ways in which the opening ceremony could still reflect their view that the Games are a major milestone in - and symbol of - Glasgow's post-industrial transformation.

Mr Grevemberg said: "It remains our intention to dedicate an element within the ceremony to telling the story of Glasgow's social history and regeneration."

The Red Road flats, all but one of which are empty, remain scheduled for blowdown. This, Mr Grevemberg, said was a matter for their owner, Glasgow Housing Association, and it would "take place under a full safety regime as part of their on-going regeneration programme".

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