THERE was a hint of hyperbole to the press release, though perhaps it was merited.

Developers announced earlier this week that a planning application promising a “once in a lifetime”, £250 million transformation of Charing Cross in Glasgow had been lodged with the city council.

The bold plans, submitted by CXG Glasgow, propose the removal of the imposing Tay House bridge which straddles the M8 motorway to open up a “new gateway” into Sauciehall Street from the west end, and, over two phases, develop new student accommodation, a healthcare facility, homes, offices, and a hotel.

It promises to be biggest shake-up of the area since the construction of the Kingston Bridge in the 1960s.

Those who keep a close eye on the fortunes of Glasgow may now be inured to grand announcements by commercial property developers pledging to transform the city centre with ambitious, long-term infrastructure projects, given the frequency with which they seem to come along. There will be plenty of people who would rather things were done more urgently to address the many problems which are plaguing the city centre in the here and now.

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Nowhere are these challenges more evident than in Sauchiehall Street. The famous thoroughfare has for many years been blighted by vacant units and a very poor state of repair. That major development work is taking place to upgrade the landscape of the street for the long term, as part of The Avenues project, is welcome, but the process is proving to be painful, creating disruption and fostering the impression of even more decline in the short term. In that respect, the council probably cannot win.

There is also concern within the business community over council proposals to extend car parking restrictions in the city centre, amid fears it will undermine footfall.

But, while there appears to be little cause for cheer at present, it is sometimes helpful to take a longer-term view.

In this regard, the plans disclosed this week for Charing Cross can be viewed as encouraging, albeit the proposals are still very much in their infancy, and it is likely to be some time before city planners pass their verdict on them.

The plans certainly received a warm welcome from the chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, Stuart Patrick, who has long supported a strategy to encourage more residential development in the city centre as a means of spurring its regeneration. As part of this, the chamber is keen to see further student accommodation built in the city.

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“The city’s three main universities have confirmed a strategic aim to grow their student numbers in the years ahead and accommodation has to expand in line with that, especially when you consider how limited the options are at the moment,” Mr Patrick said.

“A development like this [Charing Cross] caters for that need while plugging into ongoing plans to transform a key part of the city’s traditional retail and hospitality artery.

“It’s no secret that Sauchiehall Street has seen better days, and this application presents an opportunity to galvanise an iconic area of the city and re-establish it as a dynamic accommodation and business hub.”

It is certainly possible to see the attractions of CXG Glasgow’s proposals for Charing Cross. Computer-generated images of the proposed development illustrate the visual appeal of removing the Tay House bridge and opening up the busy crossroads, allowing the west end to connect more seamlessly with the top of Sauchiehall Street.

And, of course, there are strong cases to be made for the provision of not just more student flats to support the growth ambitions of the city's universities, but for further residential accommodation too, providing it is financially accessible.

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There is also likely to be demand for new office space, given the lack of high-quality space under development in the city. Glasgow city centre has no shortage of offices, but many are old and require significant investment to update their environmental credentials, leading many occupiers to prefer new developments.

CXG Glasgow, a subsidiary of Tracey Investments which is developing the proposals in conjunction with the owner of 300 Bath Street, said its plans support The City Centre Living Strategy and would link Charing Cross with The Avenues project, adding that they would enable investment in the public realm and safe pedestrian routes. Such investment would certainly be welcome at a junction that is not especially straightforward to navigate, and currently feels like a barrier separating the west end from the city centre.

Without wishing to get carried away with the potential major infrastructure projects offer, it has been interesting, too, to see the company hoping to build new student accommodation on the site of the former Marks & Spencer store in the heart of Sauchiehall Street launch a new attempt to secure planning permission for its project.

Fusion Students saw its initial plans rejected by the city council in November, amid concerns it would be “harmful” to the surrounding conservation area and “contribute to an over-provision of student accommodation in the city relative to mainstream residential accommodation”.

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Mr Patrick described that decision as his biggest disappointment of 2023 in an interview with The Herald's business editor Ian McConnell in December, given aspirations to “transition” more empty spaces in the city centre into residential use. He was concerned the decision to refuse the initial application would undermine efforts to revitalise Sauchiehall Street and deter other investors from backing projects in Glasgow, so it will be interesting to see what the council make of Fusion’s amended plans.

Fusion's refreshed plans involve demolishing most of the existing building while retaining its 1930s façade, and reducing the height of the proposed structure. 

Taken alongside Land Securities’ radical plans to knock down Buchanan Galleries at the foot of Sauchiehall Street and replace it with a new mixed-use development, the proposals for Charing Cross and the Marks & Spencer site offer reasons to be hopeful about the future of this benighted area.

However, that is certainly not to diminish the challenges facing Sauchiehall Street at present, which continue to be a source of acute concern for people and businesses in the centre of Glasgow.