“OH I DON’T KNOW THESE BUILDINGS, I THINK I’M LOST” reads the stencilled graffiti, eerily poignant given its setting.
For the building it adorns – on High Street towards the east of central Glasgow – is among the oldest in the city, but now lost amid a sea of plate glass and brushed metal – student halls, pre-fab office blocks and luxury housing developments – thrown up in the last two decades. Nearby are the bars and restaurants of the Merchant City, a textbook case of successful urban ‘regeneration’, transformed in the early 1990s from post-industrial semi-dereliction to a yuppified ghetto of fashion boutiques, expensive flats and low-paid service sector jobs.
Only a few streets away from this banal simulated grandiose, the building pictured above is nonetheless a world apart. Built sometime in the 16th century – 1515 says the sign above the door – it houses the Old College Bar, which has been serving continuously since 1812 and thus stakes its claim as the oldest pub in Glasgow.
But perhaps not for much longer. Plans have been submitted to Glasgow City Council to demolish the block in which it sits. The site has “prime real estate” written all over it – minutes away from the city centre and right beside an ever-expanding Strathclyde University. In fact it currently backs on to a building site where a new multi-storey ‘Business Engagement’ centre at the university is under construction (and indeed, what’s going on a city administration level is reflected at university level too, which has also experienced a neo-liberal realignment of its priorities over the past few years).
Take a walk further down High Street towards the Trongate, the historic centre of the city, and boarded up and empty shop fronts virtually outnumber those which are occupied. And not for want of tenants either – but with rents hiked up to an unaffordable level by City Property, the council-owned ‘arms length’ quango (ALEO) which owns much of the property in the area, few can afford it. Similarly, autonomous community centre the Kinning Park Complex, on the Southside of the city – saved from closure by a 55 day occupation in 1996 and now run by volunteers without council funding – is facing a 300,000 percent rent increase. Previously charged a token sum of £1.00 a year, City Property are attempting to implement a new commercial lease, initially at £3000 per year.
In unusually critical pieces, the Evening Times recently laid this bare. City Property, like Glasgow’s other ALEOs which now run many of the city’s public services, was set up at the height of untouchable, coke-guzzling, gangland-linked Steven Purcell’s reign in 2009. In a move which tests the term ‘creative accounting’ to its limits, the following year it purchased 2000 business premises from the council for £120m, taking out a mortgage to cover this cost. A time-honoured tradition of Glasgow Labour cronyism (much more in our round-up here) saw this cash used to give massive bungs to senior officials, ‘golden goodbyes’ to thank them for their, ahem, years of public service to the people of Glasgow. Meanwhile City Property – which as you might recall is 100% council-owned – is now having to pay off their massive (re)mortgage, plus interest, to Barclays Bank. With their primary source of income being business and voluntary sector rents – this means squeezing shop-owners in areas like High Street and the Saltmarket to cover their mortgage payments. Which you’ll remember they took out to pay back to themselves in order to get cash to give massive bonuses to er, themselves.
It makes your head hurt just thinking about it – and that’s how our city is run now, with a whole series of semi-accountable ALEOs who in turn outsource to ‘commercial partners’ and management structures intrinsically tied to the Glasgow Labour establishment but ‘arms length’ enough to do whatever the fuck they want and get away with it. (Just ask Ronnie Saez, the charity chief who walked off with £500k of ‘poor kids cash’. You’ll be shocked to hear that one was signed off by three councillors too, and despite being officially being ruled as ‘misconduct’ by the charity watchdog, no remedial action will be taken.)
But the simple economics of it (which don’t make any sense anyway) is not the end of the story – there’s a social dynamic to it as well. It’s been clear for a while that the local authorities seem intent on running certain areas of the city, quite literally, into the ground. (And then handing huge building contracts to their pals to ‘regenerate’ the area, probably by flattening it to build a Tesco or maybe a few nice cocktail bars run by G1 Group?) One shop owner on the High Street has described what’s happening there as ‘social cleansing’ – and she’s right. Whether it’s shutting down Paddy’s Market (a “crime ridden midden”) or announcing a ‘regeneration’ plan for the Barras (with its “seedy reputation”), the council’s efforts to drive out working class people to be replaced by a “better class of retail”, “an arts-led property strategy” or a “Camden style regeneration package” are hardly the subtlest attempts at gentrification. This is part and parcel of what City Property are engaging in just now on the Saltmarket and High Street – if the current tenants can’t afford rents then so be it. Drive them out, run the area down, pour development money in and then wait for that “better class of retail” to arrive. But there’ll be plenty of ‘job creation’ – someone has to clean those yuppie flats after all – so the old residents can still get the bus in everyday to work there. Everyone’s a winner!
It remains to be seen what will come of the Old College Bar – it seems unthinkable for any other city to set about demolishing its oldest pub, but then again, this is Glasgow and its built heritage is pretty far down the list of priorities, particularly vis-a-vis regeneration £££. And of course, if the bribes aren’t big enough for the planning committee to let it through, there’s always the option of the old Matchbox & Jerrycan Demolitions Ltd, a tried and tested tactic for getting rid of that inconveniently placed listed building.
Glasgow 2014 – whose legacy?
The (white) elephant in the room here is of course next year’s Commonwealth Games, an unstoppable juggernaut of gentrification, jobs for the boys and ‘jam tomorrow’ claims about the lasting legacy that the 14 day sporting jamboree will leave for the citizens of Glasgow. Headed up by anthropomorphised plant-man-thing, the completely terrifying ‘Clyde the Thistle™’, the reality of the ‘games legacy for Glasgow’ is becoming startlingly clear. There was the day centre for disabled people in Parkhead, bulldozed to make way for a bus park. The high-profile eviction – backed up by 100 cops – of the Jaconelli family from their home – which there’s an excellent short film on here. A sponsorship deal with ATOS, the controversial firm contracted by the government to carry out sham ‘work capability’ assessments on disabled claimants. The millions paid out of the public purse in overblown compensation packages to land speculators and developers – like major Labour donor Willie Haughey, given £17m for land needed for the M74 extension, despite an independent valuation putting it at£7.4 million. Or there was Charles Price, who bought up land at the site of the new Emirates Arena in Parkhead for £8m in 2005/6. In 2008, the council handed over £17m to him for it, meaning a £9m profit after three years – some ‘legacy’ for Price at least. The Jaconelli family, on the other hand, had to fight to the bitter end, enduring a Compulsory Purchase Order and eventual eviction just to secure the market price for their home, £90,000 – three times the council’s initial offer.
But hey, there’ll be a shiny new ‘Athletes Village’ in Dalmarnock encompassing 1500 homes – a whopping 20 percent of which have been assigned for future social rented use. Work by Games Monitor 2014 has revealed that in reality this will mean a net increase of 103 homes to the social housing sector in Glasgow – hardly a stunning rise given that the city has lost 60,000 socially rented homes since 1991, simultaneously gaining a similar number in the private sector. Not to mention all the new stadiums and sports venues – just take a look at these photos of dilapidated and decaying Olympic sites of yesteryear (like 2004 and 2008) to get a glimpse of the future.
What’s happening in the East End of Glasgow – and across the city – under the pretence of Commonwealth Games regeneration is a similar tale to what the arrival of big sporting tournaments has brought communities across the globe. Whatever the country, city or continent, the arrival of the Olympics, World Cup or similar has the same consequences – and the greater the poverty and inequality in said country, the greater the magnitude of this. As Glasgow 2014 Games Monitor put it:
Large-scale ‘mega-events’ and ‘regeneration’ are now routinely used for aggressive property development and gentriﬁcation, increasing property and tax bases, and inevitably forcing less well off people out of ‘regenerated areas’ through land speculation, rent increases and the cost of living. All this, of course, is justiﬁed with bullshit about the ‘common good’ and ‘legacy’.
The ‘redevelopment’ that has attracted by far the most column inches and controversy since Glasgow won the right to hold the 2014 Games has been the ongoing George Square saga, a familiar tale of council incompetency, kleptocracy and a stunning disregard for public opinion, public money and public space. Essentially a vanity project of council leader Gordon Matheson, the entire plan was scrapped just minutes after the design contest winner was announced – all because Matheson’s favoured entry had not been selected as the winner. Today it was revealed that Police Scotland’s Major Crimes and Public Protection division have dropped their investigation into Matheson’s interference in this process. The £15m redesign was supposed to be done in time for next summer’s games, and while there’s still talk of some sort of refit happening, there doesn’t seem to have been much movement on this. Whether there will be any concessions towards the overwhelming public demand for a return to the days when it actually resembled a public park rather than a glorified car park available for corporate hire 365 days a year is still to be seen. I wouldn’t put any money on it, because there isn’t any money in that – and if the above article should tell you anything, it’s this: it’s all about the money.
Vice recently asked whether yuppies are ruining London. It’s a question now worth asking closer to home: are the Commonwealth Games, council cronyism, unscrupulous developers and their joint agenda of gentrification tearing apart Glasgow?