Retrofitting under threat Glasgow tower blocks would emit less carbon over the next decade than demolishing and replacing them, a report has found.

Campaigners fighting for the future of the Wyndford high rises claimed it would take the equivalent of almost half a million trees to absorb and store the same amount of carbon that pulling down the flats and building new would release.

Wynford Residents Union commissioned the carbon analysis report into the environmental and climate impact of demolishing the blocks. It was in the hope that it would strengthen their case against pulling down the 600 homes in Maryhill estate to make way for 300 mixed sized rented homes under plans by social landlord Wheatley Homes Glasgow.

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The report found the impact of the demolition and rebuild is nearly twice that of retrofitting – at approximately 22,465 tonnes CO2 emitted, against 12,098 tonnes CO2 due to retrofitting, which is 46% higher.

The group says approximately 10,000 tonnes of CO2 would be saved in the retrofitting process, the actual build and over the “critical period” [between now and the next 10 years] approximately 6,000 tonnes of CO2 would be saved in total in 10 years up to 2032.


A view of Glasgow from the 21st floor of the tower block at 151 Wyndford Road, Maryhill. Photograph by Colin Mearns.

A view of Glasgow from the 21st floor of the tower block at 151 Wyndford Road, Maryhill. Photograph by Colin Mearns.


Nick Durie, of the Wyndford Residents Union, said: “The 10,000 tonnes of additional CO2 from the demolition and rebuild plans would be equivalent to running a car for 230million miles. To sequester that carbon back you'd need to have a mature forest the size of Dundee City Council area.

“Decision makers seem to have accepted what Wheatley Homes Glasgow say that there is no alternative, but this report quite clearly challenges that. We have had a great deal of support from the architectural profession and this report gives us an opportunity to go to decision makers to show that there is an alternative to demolition.”

The residents’ union estimated it take would take 476,190 trees to absorb and store the same amount of carbon in one year or 47,620 trees to absorb and store the same amount of carbon in 10 years.

In the report carried out pro bono by Joanne McClelland, of not-for-profit EALA Impacts CIC, it recognised that there are two types of carbon - embodied which would be emitted by demolition, and operational, which is due to future carbon use. However, the report only focused on carbon and did not take into account any other pollutants such as dust and noise.

Ms McClelland said: “We have to remember that the analysis is based on having no concrete information about what Wheatley plans to build on the area so for the purpose of the analysis it is posited that they intend to build 300 new homes in a mix of 1,2 and 3 beds at the standard room size etc. We’d be delighted to see more detail on the proposals and re-run the analysis based on that. There is though, a general principle that it’s almost always better to retrofit existing buildings than to build new, but we are always happy to test that. As a practice we want to share ideas and seek ways to transfer knowledge in our built environment.”

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The report found that in the building process and 'critical period' there are huge carbon savings and benefits to be had from retrofitting.

Kim Pratt, Circular Economy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland said: "Decisions about providing homes should be made based on social and environmental need, not on what will make the most profit for big businesses.

"Glasgow hosted COP26 just one year ago, and the council has made strong commitments on paper to reuse buildings. It is time now to act on those promises, and bring the carbon and material impacts of demolition vs retrofit into their decision-making on the Wyndford tower blocks."


Wyndford tower blocks in Maryhill have been earmarked for demolition

Wyndford tower blocks in Maryhill have been earmarked for demolition


Scottish Greens Councillor Martha Wardrop said the report makes a strong case for retrofitting.

Councillor Wardrop said: "The findings of carbon analysis enable the tenants of the Wyndford flats to make a strong case for investment in retrofitting of their homes. Support for a local programme of residential building retrofits maximises opportunities for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, health benefits, and employment creation. We have to unlock investment in the reuse and retrofit housing options to reduce the need for demolitions in the just transition to a net zero Glasgow.”

A Wheatley Homes Glasgow spokesperson said: “We commissioned a team of expert consultants and leading structural engineers to examine if there was a feasible and cost-effective way to redevelop these four blocks. The results showed the blocks are reinforced concrete structures, which makes them extremely difficult and costly to convert and would provide a poor mix of one and two-bed flats.

“The crucial point here is that tenants in Wyndford overwhelmingly support the plans to demolish these flats and for over £73 million to be invested in their community.

“Our plans will see £60m invested in building around 300 new homes, the vast majority for social housing, with the balance being affordable housing which will be below full market rent, there will be no land sold to developers or private housing for sale within the project. These new homes will be highly energy efficient, which will reduce heating bills, and include a mix of family homes which the community are telling us they want to see.

“We will also invest a further £13m in the community on issues tenants have told us they want to see improved, including CCTV, lighting and parking.”