OBSERVERS of Sauchiehall Street have not been given much reason to be cheerful in recent years. But maybe, just maybe, there are signs a brighter future could be in store for the famous Glasgow thoroughfare.

It emerged this week that final plans have been submitted to transform the former Marks & Spencer store, for so long a mainstay of the street until Covid hit, into student accommodation for more than 600 people.

Developer Fusion Students said its £76 million project will go some way to addressing the ongoing shortage of student beds in the city and, crucially for conservationists, will ensure the property’s 1930s art deco façade will be retained and restored to its former glory.

“We are delighted to have submitted our application to redevelop this historic site in Glasgow’s city centre, which we believe will leave a lasting positive impact for the city,” a spokesperson for Fusion said.

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“The submission marks a significant milestone following extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders over the last year which has helped to shape our final plans.

“Our proposals combine exceptional quality accommodation, inviting public realm spaces and carefully thought-out commercial units, all aimed at revitalising and enhancing this part of Sauchiehall Street.

“At its core, the plans will help to address the pressing shortfall of student accommodation, creating a vibrant and inclusive community that will truly enhance the student living experience in Glasgow.”

With Sauchiehall Street having toiled so long, first from the gradual drift of retailers to out-of-town locations and then from the huge displacement of people sparked by lockdown, the plans can surely be seen as a major vote of confidence in an area that is crying out for significant regeneration.

Indeed, some people have justifiably feared the street might never properly recover.

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While in its heyday Sauchiehall Street was home to a rich array of shops and department stores, helping Glasgow establish a reputation as one of the UK’s premier shopping destinations, it has sustained the departure of a series of big-name retailers over recent years, including Watt Brothers, BHS, Greaves and of course M&S.

The loss of those businesses has been greatly compounded by Covid and the edicts which required office workers to ply their trade at home, robbing the street and so many others in the city of the footfall that is their lifeblood. Even now, footfall remains well below pre-Covid levels as many people continue to spend part of their working weeks at home.

With the cost-of-living crisis showing no significant signs of easing, it might be expected that many people will favour a hybrid working pattern for some time to come as they look to conserve cash, meaning that city-centre businesses will continue to be held back by lower footfall in the short term.

However, the prospect of hundreds of students taking up residence in the heart of Sauchiehall Street is encouraging for the longer term.

Crucially for the area, it is not the only major project in the works. There can be no doubt that eyebrows were raised when the news broke last year that commercial property giant Land Securities planned to knock down the relatively new Buchanan Galleries nearby and replace it with a “mixed-use urban neighbourhood”. Especially as it is one of the better places to shop in Glasgow.

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However, taking a step back it is easy to understand the logic behind the company’s thinking. With the plans envisaging the replacement of the current shopping centre with a mix of shops, homes, hotel accommodation and hospitality outlets, Land Securities is preparing for a very different future for Glasgow, one in which the city centre no longer relies on the retail sector in the way it has for decades.

A similar approach is being taken at the other end of the city centre, where Glasgow City Council last week approved the first phase of plans by Sovereign Centros to radically revamp the St Enoch Centre.

The proposals involve knocking down a building that has been a presence in the city centre since 1989 and replacing it with a mixed-use development, focused on retail, leisure, entertainment, hotels, offices, and city-centre living.

Sovereign Centros said its plans show how St Enoch Centre can be “sustainably developed” over the next 15 to 20 years while allowing existing retailers, restaurants, and leisure operators to remain open. Its scheme includes a "revitalised" shopping and leisure space, up to 917 homes, high-quality office space and a four-star hotel.

“This marks a milestone moment for St Enoch Centre and underlines the council’s commitment to meeting the need and demands of people who live and work in the city centre,” said Guy Beaumont, director of the property owner.

“It’s an exciting time for Glasgow city centre and with a clear strategy and appetite for improvement, there is an enormous opportunity to create something truly special. We will now begin to refine the proposals, in line with our consents.”

Other, more modest developments in the city centre have also been heartening to see in recent times, including the emergence of McLellan Works on Sauchiehall Street, where Bywater Properties has attracted tenants such as For Anime, the UK’s largest distributor of Japanese animation, Experian and Mental Health Foundation.

The development, which occupies the same building as McLellan Galleries, has created a buzz in a part of the street that had been badly affected by upheaval in the retail sector and the fall-out from the pandemic.

That vibrancy was boosted further by the opening of a new record store by Dundee-based vinyl retailer Assai on the other side of the street in March, in a moved hailed by councillor Angus Millar, convener for city centre recovery at Glasgow City Council, as “another sign of investor confidence” in the area.

No one is pretending the problems of Glasgow are over. The city centre remains blighted by empty units, there are areas where it simply does not feel safe at certain times, and businesses remain under pressure from an inflation crisis that is far from over.

But it is perhaps possible now to envisage a time when people and businesses in Glasgow feel a good deal more confident about the future.