10 Feb 2016
Fresh from a Chamber partner dinner with the senior team at Scottish Canals, I am now buoyed by the prospects for yet another district in Glasgow.
We spent an evening with Andrew Thin and Steve Dunlop, Chair and CEO of Scottish Canals respectively, and I can now see just what the potential is for the neighbourhood just north of the M8 from the city centre.
The East End of the city has its own urban regeneration company in Clyde Gateway and the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, the West End has been hugely stimulated by the SSE Hydro and both the wider SECC complex and Pacific Quay. To the North however a slightly quieter revolution has been underway and I, for one, had not quite grasped the scale of what is being done.
I had certainly picked up on the gathering momentum around Speirs Lock with Scottish Opera’s opera building factory, the emergence of the Whisky Bond as a hub for small creative companies, the Sculpture Studios and the development of the new base for the National Theatre for Scotland.
Slightly to the east is the Pinkston Basin with the Glasgow Watersports Centre, which the Chamber previously spent some time exploring just before it opened, and Scottish Canals also owns the 100 Borron Street industrial estate with a growing list of tenants on the site. A little further east still and you enter the Sighthill Regeneration Area that is a centrepiece of the Glasgow City Council programme for City Deal.
Throw in the former Diageo plant which could soon be owned and developed by Scottish Canals’ joint venture regeneration partnership with Aviva, and you have a very substantial property holding just north of the city centre.
Of course, the basic challenge for the district is the perceived barrier of the M8. It’s really not much more than a 10 minute walk from George Square to the centre of the sites I’ve mentioned, but many don’t think of it that way.
The M8 creates a classic mental barrier to the urban landscape. That’s why the Council’s Sighthill project includes a large new pedestrian bridge across the motorway to improve access, and which reminds me a bit of the High Line in New York.
An early attempt to create a feeling of a link with the city centre were the big bright sculptured flowers that decorate the main underpass just north of Cowcaddens on Garscube Road. There may yet be scope for more to be done to knit the North into the city centre as Scottish Canals develops its plan for the whole area.
It’s easy to forget that Scottish Canals is a relatively new organisation born out of the British Waterways Board, to become a body wholly owned by the Scottish Government in 2012. It has developed a deserved reputation and a track record for pretty dramatic thinking - not least with the Falkirk Wheel and sculptor Andy Scott’s Kelpies. Imagine what they could come up with on top of the hill where the whisky distillery once operated.
Unlocking the potential though needs capital and Scottish Canals are also keen to spread the message that they are a willing partner for private investors. That’s the opportunity we will be talking more about in the months ahead.