Glasgow Civic Forum has followed the saga of the George Square redevelopment with interest, and in February came together with representatives of the Strathclyde Group of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland to discuss the efforts to regenerate the square thus far, and the role groups like ourselves could take in moving the project forward.
The lack of proper consultation has been frustrating for many who care about Glasgow's built heritage. Despite Gordon Matheson's assertions that the most recent volte face is based on the will of the people, the public have still had no formal opportunity to express what they want and need from the square. The forum has been trying to engage the council on the redevelopment plans since November 2012 with little success – a missed opportunity for an open and constructive discussion with volunteers and professionals with expertise, enthusiasm and commitment.
The rushed process prevented the council from producing the supporting evidence that it would expect of any private developer. The council's own Conservation Area Appraisal states that a conservation plan should be drawn up for the square. This has not been carried out to date, and should be the basis of any proposals. This should be followed by a proper design brief, setting out what is needed in the square. Broad wording such as "celebrate the creativity of the city and its people" are motivational words and not criteria for a brief. Without a proper brief or the background documents to support the council's aspirations, and so little public consultation, the design competition was doomed to failure.
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The forum feels strongly that the square should work for the people of Glasgow and in the context of Glasgow, while also being welcoming to visitors and suitable for appropriate events, but we cannot accept that commercial imperatives should define the square, as they seem to at present. Too often when large events are being held, such as the Olympic Torch Relay and the Christmas lights, the streets around the square become a maze of security fencing, making pedestrian and traffic movement difficult. Events should fit the space and not hijack this central point in the city.
There seems to be considerable public support for retaining the statues and it has been suggested the revised facelift will now allow all of the statues to remain in the square. The forum would suggest any changes to the locations of the statues should be properly consulted on, developed and evidenced, rather than being imposed without discussion.
Similarly, the reintroduction of greenspace is felt to be essential, but the nature of this space and how people want to be able to use it has not been examined in detail. It is clear if the existing traffic arrangements are to remain, at least for the time being, additional greenspace and tree planting would assist in limiting the impact of traffic noise and pollution, and would help to solve that oft-repeated criticism that the square is really one big traffic island.
The forum and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland recognise the need for improvements to the square, and welcome the council's commitment to making those improvements. We feel the people who live and work in the city should have an opportunity to have their say on the future of the square through a full and proper consultation process. And we believe that for George Square to be the vibrant, civic, urban space the city council aspires to, this process of genuine, open and transparent dialogue must happen.
Chairwoman, Glasgow Civic Forum,
42 Miller Street, Glasgow.