Owners of vacant buildings in Glasgow city centre could be forced to sell if they do not invest, repair or restore properties under radical council plans.

Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, said Compulsory Sales Orders (CSOs) were used in New York City and a measure the Scottish Government was keen to explore.

Speaking exclusively to The Herald, Cllr Aitken addressed concerns, which have escalated in recent weeks, that Glasgow city centre is down on its heel.

She said the city was attracting more private investment than it had in decades and weekend and evening footfall is now higher than pre-pandemic levels.

She said some of the problems were outwith the council's control including rising numbers of vacant buildings that give the appearance of a dilapidated city centre.

She said local authorities can face difficulties establishing the owners of buildings, who "could be sitting on a property portfolio in the Cayman Islands" and are unlikely to care if they have a dozen buildings lying empty in Glasgow city centre.

"It is very challenging," said the council leader.

"What we have got at the moment is buildings that we don't own and we have very little power in terms of being able to compel owners to do something.

"We don't own those buildings, we don't have legal rights to do anything with them.

The Herald:

"We use Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) much more now for empty homes but they can take a long, long time, they end up in court and they are expensive to use.

"One of the things we have been very keen to get for land and vacant building is Compulsary Sales Orders, which don't exist in law right now.

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"It would be quite a radical approach and Scottish Government is open to it.

"It's flipping CPOs on its head.

"We would say to the owner of a building or a piece of land that has been neglected, that they are not investing in: either do something with it or sell it.

"They are used in New York and it would be very much a radical approach.

"I think there has been some nervousness around the legality of it but the mood music I am getting from Scottish Government is that they too are frustrated and they also see the need for cities to be able to be more empowered to deliver post-pandemic city recovery and that's one of the tools that could help us to do that."

The Scottish Government has said it is committed to the reform of compulsory purchase order legislation. 

Cllr Aitken said much of the criticism of the city centre levelled at the current administration was "ill-informed" and some of it was political.

"I'm certain there is an element of that," said the council leader.

"It was quite convenient for some of my political opponents in the run-up to the council elections to completely ignore the fact that we had been through a global pandemic

"This isn't new. There's been negativity about the city centre for as long as I can remember.

"What I will resist is when claims are made that somehow Glasgow is worse than anywhere else, that we are uniquely bad or that our city centre is on a path of inevitable decline because that is simply not true.

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"Glasgow has had a hollowed-out population - a deliberate decision made a long time ago - which was incredibly short-sighted and has left us falling behind in that regard ever since.

"There was an over-concentration on too few sectors, particularly retail and office, too much domination by traffic and a kind of fractured ownership of buildings and land with not enough power sitting with the local authority to be able to respond when vacancies occur.

"We early on, when we formed the administration, started to put plans and strategies together.

"There had always been a city centre strategy but it was by and large doing more of the same.

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"It was very much focussed on retail and even then retail was going through massive changes, the internet wasn't going to be un-invented.

"It felt short-sighted."

She said the legacy of previous strategy around Glasgow city centre was in part to blame for it being more adversely affected by the pandemic than any other UK city outside London. She said work that had started in 2019 to attract residential development hadn't been underway long enough to counter the devastating effects of the pandemic.

"What that did do was really focus minds on a transformation of the centre," said the council leader, who lives in Glasgow's south side.

She said investor confidence in the area was higher than it has been in decades, referencing plans by the owners of Buchanan Galleries and St Enoch Centre to demolish both malls and create a mix of retail, hospitality and leisure and homes. A £30 million plan for the 'People Make Glasgow' building to become a tech hub has also been unveiled.

"The investment that is coming is phenomenal and it's private sector," said Cllr Aitken.

"The owners of Buchanan Galleries...they came to us with their plan to say we want to get ahead of the game before this now quite dated urban mall - which dated quite quickly - before that becomes obsolete, we want to get ahead and do something different.

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"That's over a billion pounds of investment and there's something similar coming from the owners of St Enoch Centre."

She said the day-to-day running of the city centre was as important to the council as long-term plans to create a greener, more family-friendly area with a wider range of 'experiences'.

"We could invest every penny that the council has in cleaning it up but that in itself doesn't address the long-term structural challenges," said Cllr Aitken.

"That's not going to save Glasgow city centre but can I be clear, I don't think Glasgow city centre needs saving, I think it's a great city centre.

"It's vibrant, it has patches where there are issues around cleanliness.

"If people think that the city centre still isn't as clean as it should be, it's not for want of trying and it's not for want of investment either.

"It's largely connected to commercial waste and this is a challenge that all cities share.

"One of my colleagues is on holiday in Madrid and shared a photograph of their waste problem.I saw the very same issue on a trip to Paris recently.

She added: "How far do we go as a council in terms of throwing more and more resource at this and following people around Glasgow and picking up what they drop. 

"Having said that we have invested a lot.

"The only way we are going to have a pristine city centre is to have nobody in it and we don't want that."