GLASGOW has been urged to address the blight of vacant properties on one of the city’s most iconic streets by replicating a project which is helping to revitalise Dumfries town centre.

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney made the plea while criticising Glasgow City Council for placing vinyl coverings on vacant shopfronts on Sauchiehall Street while new uses are planned for the properties, a move which the Glasgow representative branded “insultingly inadequate” and “an exercise in papering over the cracks”.

The vinyls, which feature symbols, images and texts which pay homage to Glasgow’s digital and creative economy, cultural and music scene and history, form part of work being carried out by the council’s City Centre Task Force to improve the look and feel of the city centre and help drive forward the recovery and revitalisation of the area after the pandemic.

The project also involves other activities such as the deep cleaning of streets, graffiti removal and supporting businesses to encourage an increase in café culture.

Mr Sweeney believes Glasgow should take inspiration from The Midsteeple Quarter Co-operative, a community-owned enterprise which is working to buy vacant buildings in the Midsteeple Quarter area of Dumfries and bring them back into use.

HeraldScotland: Midsteeple Quarter’s phase one construction site on Dumfries High Street. Midsteeple Quarter’s phase one construction site on Dumfries High Street. (Image: Kirstin McEwan / Midsteeple Quarter)

The enterprise plans to bring a total of eight empty properties under community control and refurbish them as a contemporary living, working, socialising, learning and enterprising quarter and a “new beating heart” for the town centre.

The MSP said the work of the enterprise was one of a number of “shining examples” to be found which highlighted what “is possible when a local authority works collaboratively with the community”.

He told The Herald: “This proposal to place vinyl on vacant city centre shop fronts is insultingly inadequate, and risks inadvertently drawing more attention to the number of vacant units there are at present.

“Rather than coming up with an actual plan to revitalise an area that is evidently failing, Glasgow City Council have opted for window dressing, quite literally in this instance.

“Glasgow city centre has no shortage of vacant floor space – in fact the vacant floor space is currently equivalent to the size of the Freedom Tower in New York. We also have the lowest city centre residential population of any major British city.

“It can’t be allowed to continue, particularly as we enter a period of economic turmoil which comes with the risk of more upheaval in our city centre as retailers continue to feel the pinch.

“There are shining examples of what is possible when a local authority works collaboratively with the community. We have seen it in Dumfries where the efforts of the Midsteeple Quarter Co-operative have revitalised the town centre, attracting small businesses and social enterprises into what were once vacant and derelict units.

“By doing so they have transformed the area, made it a desirable and attractive place to do business and to visit.”

“The economic impact of these initiatives is also of huge importance – they increase footfall, keep money in local economies and ultimately ensure the sustainability of city centres. We need an equivalent initiative in Glasgow, not an exercise in papering over the cracks like is being proposed.”

Work on the first phase of the Dumfries project got underway in July with a £3.4 million package from the Scottish Government. It followed years of campaigning and fundraising by townsfolk to bring buildings into community ownership.

The project, once completed, will create more than 60 new homes and 50 new commercial spaces in a new neighbourhood, sheltered within a town block, which will become home to around 200 people.

HeraldScotland: Midsteeple Quarter Executive Director Scott Mackay (pointing, centre) on Dumfries High Street.Midsteeple Quarter Executive Director Scott Mackay (pointing, centre) on Dumfries High Street. (Image: Kirstin McEwan / Midsteeple Quarter)

Midsteeple Quarter executive director Scott Mackay said he believed Glasgow City Council could aim to launch their own Community Benefit Company to help bring “a new dimension” to the city centre.

He told The Herald: “The Midsteeple Quarter model of community ownership has the potential to be transformational for many communities.

“It takes power away from disinterested, vacant landlords – some of whom seem happy for buildings to sit derelict – or huge corporations and puts it in the hands of local people.

“It’s a way of working which puts the community in-charge of its own destiny, creating places to work and live with the interests of local residents at heart. It’s one that could certainly bring a new dimension to Sauchiehall Street and other parts of Glasgow city centre - putting people before corporate interests, delivering sustainability and success.

“This is action which has to be driven by the community. It’s the people of Glasgow who would need to own the buildings, as the residents of Dumfries do at Midsteeple Quarter.

“Glasgow City Council could perhaps help unlock that potential by facilitating meetings with the aim of launching a Community Benefit Company like ours. It’s hard work, but with passion, creativity and commitment so much is possible.

“We’re only really at the beginning of our journey in Dumfries, but we are already seeing and feeling the benefits of community ownership.”

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “The vinyls are part of recovery work to improve the look and feel of the city centre, while we work with owners and developers to find ‘meanwhile’ or permanent uses for vacant units or sites.

"It should be noted that the owners of nine of these sites asked that we did not apply vinyls as they were about to let out the properties, so showing that investment and development continues.”