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Top UK scientist calls for stones to be saved

THE removal of a stone circle in an inner city housing scheme would undermine Glasgow's claim to be a City of Science, one of the UK's leading astronomers has said.

ATTACK: Professor John Brown, left, says bulldozing the Sighthill Stone Circle, above, would undermine Glasgow's claim to be a City of Science. Picture:  Colin Templeton
ATTACK: Professor John Brown, left, says bulldozing the Sighthill Stone Circle, above, would undermine Glasgow's claim to be a City of Science. Picture: Colin Templeton

Professor John Brown, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, is the latest to speak out against plans to bulldoze the Sighthill Stone Circle – hailed as a mini-Stonehenge – as part of the city's bid to host the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and the regeneration of the area.

Backing the campaign, Mr Brown, a former professor of astrophysics at Glasgow University who has carried out work for Nasa on numerous occasions, also described the proposal as blasphemous, insisting the stones could be used to promote the sciences.

Glasgow is currently aspiring to become a World City of Science, using the reputation of its universities.

His comments follow the intervention of leading author and artist Alasdair Gray, who launched an attack on civic planners over the Sighthill proposals, claiming 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.

Support has also come from Eoghann MacColl, custodian of the research by his great-grandfather Alexander Thom and grandfather Archie Thom, two leading experts on Stonehenge and other megalithic sites; David Roy, son of Professor Archie Roy, who died last week; Dr Euan MacKie, archaeologist and former assistant curator of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum; and David Hardy, astro-artist who illustrated the late Patrick Moore's books.

The campaign is also being championed by Stuart Braithwaite, of rock band Mogwai and whose late father John was technical supervisor on the project.

Created in the late-1970s by amateur astronomer and science writer Duncan Lunan, the stones were part of the national Jobs Creation Scheme in which £4 million was offered to Glasgow and its parks department on the condition a series of special projects would be created.

The council put together a school astronomy competition, encouraging pupils to suggest how some of the money should be spent. The winning idea was to build a copy of an ancient site like Stonehenge or Callanish in one of the city's parks.

But just a fortnight after the stones were put in place, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government came to power and the project halted abruptly.

Glasgow City Council plans to revamp the entire Sighthill area, regardless of whether its bid for the 2018 Youth Games is successful, with plans for 830 homes, a new school campus and the demolition of the tower blocks.

One proposal would result in the stones being removed to make room for a pathway.

But Mr Brown, only the 10th Royal Astronomer for Scotland since the post was created in 1834 and whose responsibilities include advising the sovereign on astronomical and related scientific matters, said: "As Astronomer Royal for Scotland I see it as outrageous to destroy such a nice piece of art/science culture especially in Glasgow as City of Science.

"The proposal is particularly blasphemous in the year of the death of it creator, John Braithwaite, one of Scotland's greatest ever amateur astronomers. If Glasgow wants to be taken seriously as a City of Science it should be supporting things of a scientific nature like this.

"Having something where art meets science in the middle of a city is ideal to bring to people's attention, especially if you can't get to Stonehenge or Callanish."

Duncan Lunan said: "It's been very heart-warming, not to say touching, to find out how much the circle means, to so many people, in so many ways.

"Signatures on the petition now total 650 with more coming in by the hour.

"I thought the circle's time had come for it to be the educational feature and visitor attraction that was originally intended, and the feedback from the UK and overseas shows it could be."

A council spokesman said: "We are currently developing the masterplan for Sighthill and it is too early to say whether the stones will be affected. The regeneration will bring in new homes, families and jobs into the area.

"If it is possible to retain the stones, then we are obviously keen to do that."

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