The Fight is on for Govan’s Graving Docks, but is Anyone Listening to the Local Community?


A guest post by Éminence Grease

The battle over the future of the historic graving docks in Govan moved into full swing this weekend, with the unveiling of detailed proposals from developer New City Vision at an event on Saturday. Their plans are for between 700-750 flats at heights of up to 15 storeys, with “some” affordable housing, likely to be around 100 units.

The most expensive of these would come in at “around 15% cheaper than Glasgow Harbour”, the Partick development where flats go for anything between £125k and £300k. The “affordable” housing would be set at “mid-market rent” levels and offered privately. Also mooted are a combination of bars, shops, restaurants, offices and the possibility of a hotel, with the A-listed dry docks restored, although exactly what purpose they’ll then serve is less clear. 


a 15-storey tower beside one of the docks

New City Vision – who have ultimately owned the derelict site for the best part of 20 years – seem to be exclusively attracted to controversial locations, having had their housing plans for North Kelvin Meadow rejected by the Scottish Government late last year, despite initial approval from Glasgow City Council. This came after a long-running campaign to preserve the site as a community meadow and childrens’ wood. NCV are also behind the redevelopment of the Gartloch Hospital site on the eastern edge of the city, which has seen listed structures demolished. 

Rallying against the housing proposals is the Clyde Docks Preservation Initiative, who want to see the docks restored as a working maritime heritage museum and ecological park, echoing a similar proposal floated in the 1980s. The CDPI was founded in 2015 by photographer Iain McGillivray, who appears to stay outside of the area, flanked by a small team of directors. The Herald have previously reported difficulties between some of those involved and other community groups in Govan, notably a fall-out over the running of the annual Govan Fair, although they have recently brought a new director with experience in the Falkirk Kelpies project on board in a bid to boost the team. The CDPI recently crowdfunded nearly £3,000 to make a documentary about the Graving Docks – which will be made by a production company run by one of the organisation’s directors. 


With council elections approaching in May, local Green candidate Allan Young has latched on to the CDPI’s proposals as a campaign issue, and called a meeting on Thursday evening in Govan. Intended as a platform to drum up local support for the maritime park vision and boost Young’s electoral chances, the meeting was addressed by the council candidate, as well as Patrick Harvie MSP and McGillivray. However, it was also gatecrashed by Labour-to-SNP switcheroo councillor, Stephen Dornan, who had come to settle some scores with the CDPI.

Dornan, a long-serving Govan councillor whose father worked in the shipyards, accused the campaign group of refusing to meet with the council and of misrepresenting answers to FOI requests, through which they had tried to obtain any email correspondence which Dornan has had with New City Vision in the last two years, which he says stands at zero. Dornan said that he wanted to see the docks preserved, with the opinions of the local community central to its future, rather than those of the “intelligentsia”. He added that he doesn’t want the site used “as a cash cow” by the volunteer-led CDPI, although was less forthcoming on what he would brand the sale of 750 luxury flats. The campaign group has accused Dornan of favouring NCV’s development. 

So what does the local community actually think? Well, the few members of the public in attendance on Thursday night broadly voiced support for the maritime park vision, but above all it seemed like most people have little idea of either set of proposals for the site. Many were also unaware of Saturday’s meeting organised by the developers, including some who live in the adjacent houses.

But it was clear that none of the locals want to see expensive, towering flats on the site – one woman outside Saturday’s exhibition got straight to the point, describing them as “shite” – and that the idea of restoring the docks and providing jobs and training locally, whatever the feasibility of those plans in their current form, would be welcomed. It was the first many in the room were hearing about these proposals too, which begs the question – who is planning for Govan and why?


The docks as they currently stand, with Glasgow Harbour visible in the background

On Thursday evening, one audience member challenged prospective councillor Young when he encouraged them to “tell your friends, tell your family,” asking what he was going to do to meaningfully engage the community, leaving him at something of a loss. The extent of the CDPI’s real engagement with ordinary people in Govan could also be questioned – while they were handing out some flyers in Govan on Saturday, the bulk of their activity appears to be  online surveys which, inevitably, come out strongly in favour of their own proposals.

The graving docks site is unique in Scotland and the debate over its future is important for Glasgow. With developers now bringing forward plans for a towering residential development, it would be a shame if the debate over the pros and cons of that becomes dominated by a few vested interests, competing egos, and the motions of an electoral cycle.


Further reading:

Will the Barras Survive Regeneration?

Motorways make Glasgow? Another £70m road set to tear through the East End

Revealed: Glasgow’s Oldest Pub Set to be Levelled for More Student Flats—————————————————————————

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