Scotland’s two great cities may only be 46 miles apart, but their different fortunes put them in different worlds. As post-devolution Edinburgh turns itself into a proper capital city, post-industrial Glasgow is still grappling with long-term decline.
Now, two years on from devolution, the cities are locked in fresh rivalry, this time over the regeneration of their mouldering waterfronts. Edinburgh got there first with its plans for Leith and Granton on the Firth of Forth. Glasgow is playing catch-up, with ambitious plans for Glasgow Harbour and Clydebank Riverside, both on the River Clyde. The Glasgow Science Centre, the city’s landmark lottery project, is also taking shape across the river from the city centre (pages 42-47). But whereas Edinburgh’s plans feel like the natural expansion of a city in its prime, Glasgow’s smack more of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
A year ago, things were looking rosy for Glasgow. The title of UK City of Architecture and Design, snatched with great satisfaction from its eastern neighbour, brought optimism and media attention. That achievement also coincided with a boom in retail, leisure and hotel schemes, turning the compact city centre into Scotland’s most fashionable urban destination.
But you only have to walk a couple of blocks beyond the vibrant heart to find shocking deprivation. Vast areas of abandoned land await redevelopment, and gloomy social housing projects stretch as far as the eye can see. Glasgow, after all, has the highest death rate in the UK, and the worst heart disease record in Europe.
The population is in decline. Here, urban renaissance seems as distant as ever – particularly because Lord Rogers’ urban taskforce prescriptions do not apply to Scotland, and the Scottish Executive’s lofty promises of an architectural policy have so far come to nothing.
Glasgow City Council, saddled with a £1bn housing debt and a £1.2bn repairs backlog, is preoccupied with the mammoth task of transferring its 94 000 homes to housing associations. And in its most recent blueprint for the city, the Glasgow Structural Plan, the council has set out a framework for managing decline.
Scottish Building, which represents 1200 contractors and housebuilders, is critical of the council for failing to address regeneration. “This is something we are trying to fight against,” says Scottish Building spokesman Grahame Barn. “They are not making provision for new housing, nor releasing suitable land.”
Barn claims that the heavily polluted former industrial sites the council wants to see redeveloped are unviable without serious investment. “The infrastructure has to go in and it has to be cleaned up first,” he says.
Glasgow Harbour, a joint venture between Clydeport and Bank of Scotland, is planning to do just that on a stretch of riverfront just west of the city centre. The company intends to pump up to £30m into infrastructure on the 40 ha site to speed its transformation into a leisure and retail quarter including 2000 upmarket homes.
The flight of the middle classes to the suburbs and beyond has hit Glasgow hard, and the project hopes to reverse this trend. “There’s no shortage of social housing here,” says Glasgow Harbour property director Euan Jamieson. “What we need is quality housing in the city centre.”
Forty-six miles to the east, Edinburgh is booming. “I think maybe nine months ago Glasgow was busier, but Edinburgh is busier now,” says John Brennan, director at Tozer Capita. “When the parliament came along, we thought everything would suddenly explode. Nothing happened for a while, but now it’s taking off.”
Ian McAndie, partner in Davis Langdon & Everest’s Edinburgh office, agrees. “The parliament [in Edinburgh] has led to a lot of peripheral construction such as hotel and residential accommodation. But I would say Glasgow has peaked.”
Edinburgh is beginning to show the classic symptoms of a boom town. The streets are crowded with traffic. House prices are going through the roof. An office lease recently went for a record £30/ft2. Benson & Forsyth’s critically acclaimed extension to the Museum of Scotland and the late Enric Miralles’ parliament have at long last brought some contemporary architectural gravitas to the city – one arena in which Glasgow has traditionally been stronger. “The Museum of Scotland is probably the most important new building in Scotland,” admits Paul Clarke of up-and-coming Glasgow architect Clarke & Devine. “And the parliament is incredibly ambitious. That marked an incredible step forward – a new international outlook.”
Edinburgh’s most visibly dynamic area is Leith. “There’s work for everybody down there,” says Brennan. With its new £100m Ocean Terminal nearing completion, Edinburgh will soon benefit from the lucrative global cruise market, with high-spending passengers disembarking for whirlwind shopping sprees. Glasgow can only dream of such easy pickings.
Andrew Burrell, of upmarket residential developer Burrell Company, admits that Edinburgh has it easy. “The Edinburgh scene is much simpler – in many cases, it’s just market forces. Glasgow has huge sites, but there’s so much regeneration required it doesn’t know where to start.”