The historic harbourside building in Partick that was gutted by fire on Friday evening is set to be surrounded by a major new development. Planning documents submitted to Glasgow City Council last summer, and viewed by A Thousand Flowers, show the listed Scotway House building, which dates from the late nineteenth century and was a drawing office for nearby shipyards, towered over by a 13-storey block of student flats. Various leisure units including a cinema, and a large surface level car park, also feature.
The historic building itself, currently the only structure on this area of vacant land near the Riverside Museum, was due to be turned into a bar and restaurant, acting as a “gateway” to the new flats. The developers noted that while they have “every intention to retain its structure as a key component of the development”, they would be guided by a report by a civil engineering contractor into the condition of the building.
However, since the planning application was submitted, the building has been hit by two fires. In January, a fire destroyed much of the roof and upper floor. On Friday evening, a huge blaze broke out that has left the building decimated. Both are believed to have been set deliberately. It is unclear how much of the building facade can now be retained as part of the development.
The building acted as an important reminder of the area’s once thriving industry which has now virtually all but disappeared. When news of the fire broke after 9pm on Friday, many were quick to comment that it’s not the first case of a prominent listed building in the city, on a site primed for development, going up in flames. “Somewhere in the city, developers are popping the champagne corks, and rubbing their hands with glee” commented the popular Lost Glasgow page on Facebook.
The model of development which has been pursued relentlessly in Glasgow over the past few decades has often been unsympathetic to the city’s built heritage. Far too many buildings have been to rot – indeed, the Buildings at Risk Register, comprised of listed or conservation area buildings which have fallen into neglect or decay, has 170 entries for Glasgow. It makes for a depressing browse, from the derelict sandstone schools which litter the city to abandoned cinemas and industrial buildings.
The proposed development at Partick waterfront by Peel Group, who are one of the largest property investors in the UK, is a fitting analogy for the current direction of Glasgow. This is a city where “investment” comes in the form of an ugly triumvirate of crap service sector jobs, road building and resulting vast car parks, and badly designed (and built) psuedo-“luxury” housing developments. That Glasgow’s high profile buy-to-let newbuilds of a decade earlier are now mouldy eyesores built with substandard materials and where no one wants to live rarely seems to matter when it comes to promoting the newest one. Just recently, a study by architects at Glasgow School of Art found that the poor level of ventilation in badly built modern housing is causing health problems.
Bringing vacant land at the heart of the city back into use is a welcome move, and the (publicly funded) new bridge between Govan and Partick is long overdue. But it’s also right to question what the motives of those behind the development really are – and who it is really for the benefit of (which Kirsteen Paton has an excellent body of work on). It may be the case that Scotway House is now levelled to make way for (an even bigger) car park, or it may be that some of its facade is saved. Whatever the case, it was always a pretty token concession by the developers and their primary motivation which, it’s surely not controversial to say, is turning a quick profit.
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