Merchant City Park Would Be A Boost For Glasgow – The Herald Agenda

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Originally published on 15 April 2021 in The Herald’s Agenda column.

Glasgow is known for reinventing itself. The City now wants to create a people friendly, green, healthy, thriving environment which welcomes all – for a stay, work, to invest in, or live. The new vision sees a city centre “transformed with mini parks…creating more green space in the heart of Glasgow” (The Herald, March15). The Council’s innovative Green Covid Recovery budget includes “an improvement fund for local parks and green spaces” and “outdoor play for children”, according to the Glasgow City Council website. That sounds great – so where to start?

Fortunately there is an ideal site left over from the old Glasgow Comprehensive Redevelopment Programme of 50 or 60 years ago. After wreaking havoc on the city’s built environment one plot on Ingram Street remains vacant. A stand of mature trees gives the basis for a green oasis in the city centre. It also has a grand, much admired, mural on The Old Fruit Market wall featuring local nature. Currently the site is used for leaving motor vehicles.

After an inappropriate hotel plan was withdrawn in 2018, the local Merchant City and Trongate Community Council reimagined the area as a rare open space and park for locals and visitors alike. An action group tested local and visitor support, which proved overwhelmingly in favour. They set about using the encouraging Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 to achieve this. A business plan was produced with provisional design layout and visuals.

Glasgow City Council then made it difficult for this potential to be realised. Half way through the process the council, unannounced, sold its asset to its own arm’s-length City Property, which isn’t subject to the legislation. City Property has now sold the land, subject to planning permission, to the developer of the high rise surrounding the old Customs House by the Clyde.

Vigorous objection will undoubtedly follow any proposal for a block of flats and retail at this historic conservation area site. Large developments nearby for Candleriggs and King Street will supply residential accommodation and more shops. Businesses already benefit from the open, green aspect.

Loss of the trees, mural and breathing space to an overshadowing structure would be tragic. Alternatively adding trees, using the secured Woodland Trust funds (as reported in The Herald of March11), plus a pop up event space, would attract families, visitors and more tourists to this vibrant hospitality and entertainment quarter.

Studies keep highlighting how greening the city improves health and wellbeing, pollution control and climate resilience. Artworks, too, lift the spirit. A green gathering place, “breakout room”, for delegates to COP26 would enhance the host city’s credentials.

Now the council, which wholly owns City Property and governs planning permission, can make a strong statement about the sort of Glasgow to make for people. Positive figures for return on investment from urban parks justify GCC heeding calls to rebuild a nature based city.

Finally, after the long wait, redevelopment can be an iconic park and become a fitting legacy.

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