Wander just two miles south east of Glasgow’s city centre and the view looks like a warzone.
It’s quiet in Dalmarnock. The old factories along the banks of the River Clyde were abandoned many years ago. Much of the housing has been knocked down, but a few deserted tenements stand like rotten teeth among the piles of litter and patches of scrubland.
A couple of shops remain open, and over towards the city there’s an attractive new social housing development owned by local landlord the new Housing Association. But here, beside the river, the death of local industry 30 years ago has bequeathed a legacy of poisoned land and complete social and physical decline.
Now at last a brighter future beckons. On 9 November 2007, Glasgow won its bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Dalmarnock’s resuscitation was secured. In five years the derelict tenements and dead industrial sites will have been cleared to make way for the athletes’ village. When the games are over, the site will be converted into more than 1,000 units of private and social housing.
There is still local disbelief about the plans. ‘People still say to me: “Are you sure the games are coming here, son? Why would they?”,’ says Jim Clark, a senior manager at Clyde Gateway, the company directing the wider regeneration of Glasgow’s east end.
Local resident Joan Robb works in a special needs unit in Dalmarnock. She has hopes for the games and what they will bring, but she’s not brimming with optimism. ‘They are supposed to be building all these houses – I just hope they don’t walk away and they are left to end up like that,’ she says, gesturing at the derelict blocks over the road.
Scotland, it seems, has some history here. Its capital has hosted the Commonwealth Games twice previously, in 1970 and 1986. Their legacies persist in two of Edinburgh’s most famous sports facilities, the Commonwealth Pool and Meadowbank Stadium – but the latter is today under threat of demolition amid political wrangling and a public outcry.
In December 2006 Edinburgh Council, then with a Labour majority, launched a public consultation on its plans to sell the 25-acre complex, which sits on prime real estate close to the Scottish Parliament, to housing developers. A Save Meadowbank campaign began soon afterwards.
Its convener, Kevin Connor, believes the stadium had been allowed to deteriorate for years by local politicians who always intended to sell it off .
‘When the tennis courts burned down [in 1990], the council never replaced them,’ he says. ‘It turned them into a car park. That suggests there wasn’t a desire to keep this place going.’
At the same time as losing power in Holyrood, the Scottish Labour Party lost its long-held grip on the council in the 2008 local elections. Its successor – a Scottish National Party/Liberal Democrat coalition – voted in March 2008 to demolish the stadium, sell one-third of the site for housing and to build a smaller sports complex alongside it. Fifteen per cent of the proposed housing is to be affordable.
The council maintains that refurbishing the stadium is not an option. The facilities are not up to the standards demanded by modern sport, and the ‘concrete building does not lend itself to upgrading.’
But the failure at Meadowbank has not been structural but political, Mr Connor believes. ‘Any legacy requires political will,’ he says. ‘My advice to the people of Glasgow is to keep an eye on your leaders… At Meadowbank the political will wasn’t there.’
Keep right on
Dalmarnock today is already a testament to what can happen when political will falters. Forty or 50 years ago it was a different place entirely, as Mr Clark, who was born and grew up in the area, remembers. ‘You finished school at 14 or 15 and you got a job in one of the factories,’ he says. ‘You didn’t go into [Glasgow] town centre because you got your entertainment here.’ He says that today around half the area is either derelict or contaminated by industrial use – and looking around, it’s not hard to believe him.
Local councillor George Redmond was also born in Dalmarnock. ‘It was a thriving community,’ he says. ‘The population in the 1960s and early 1970s was about 10,000 – it must be about 1,500 now. There was lots of big industry – the steel industry was prominent. [London’s] Tower Bridge was built there. It’s got a proud history.’
The area’s decline began when an extension to the M74 motorway, which links Glasgow with the M6 and England, was agreed on. It was to run straight through Dalmarnock. Demolition of buildings and the relocation of businesses continued until 1975 – when the extension plans were shelved. ‘You’ve got 5,000 or 6,000 jobs taken out of the area. What an impact that had – it meant a slow death,’ says Mr Redmond. ‘It was an absolute disgrace.’
More than 30 years later, the local community is formed mainly of those who were unable to leave. ‘When the industries went, nobody had a reason to stay,’ says Mr Clark. ‘The people left behind were those who couldn’t use their skills elsewhere or who were too old and infirm to move.’
It is, he adds, an area that had been forgotten about – at least until the turn of this century. Dalmarnock is bang in the middle of the Clyde Gateway, a 2,000-acre area of Glasgow’s east end and, the city council claims, one of Europe’s largest regeneration projects. In December 2007, one month after the games were awarded to the city, Clyde Gateway Urban Regeneration Company, a partnership between Glasgow Council, South Lanarkshire Council, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government, was formed to administer the project. It aims to deliver 10,000 new houses and 21,000 jobs across the east end before 2027, and already £100 million of public money has been committed.
The 2014 games have been the catalyst. They may have been awarded to Glasgow in 2007, but for Mr Redmond the most important date was years earlier, when the Clyde Gateway was at the consultation stage. ‘On 4 December 2003 the master-planners for the Clyde Gateway told us we needed a big event to attract spending and to focus the different stakeholders and their resources on this area,’ he says. ‘Then it started to move politically.’
Momentum is certainly gathering. The M74 extension is now, finally, under construction and a proposed trunk road – the east end regeneration route – will run through the centre of Dalmarnock to connect with it.
Mr Redmond is not really sold on comparisons between the 2014 games and what is going on with Edinburgh at the moment. ‘In 1970 there was more or less full employment. It was a totally different era,’ he says. ‘The [intended] outcomes would have been different.’
He says he’d like to go back to the minister responsible for abandoning the motorway, and Dalmarnock with it, and ask them what they were thinking. ‘If you are elected on manifesto commitments about the economy, the quality of life through health and housing, you need to be ruthless about how you deal with that,’ he says.
‘Leadership is about agenda… once you agree on something, you go for it.’ This attitude has been absent in Edinburgh Council’s approach to its sporting legacy, Mr Connor believes. The current proposals for Meadowbank did not at first include a velodrome, he says.
‘Then Chris Hoy wins three gold medals [Olympic hero Hoy began his cycling career at Meadowbank] and now it has to be saved,’ he adds. ‘And that’s great, but we would say you need to base policy on long-term planning, not on snap decisions.’
What are the chances of Dalmarnock’s revival being derailed by political flip floppers? Very small, answers the local councillor.
‘The politics are always important,’ he admits. ‘Of course there is personal gain to be had – but there is a strong political steer here. There will always be people who want to tinker, but there has been very little concern about people wanting to pull away from the direction we’re going in.’
It may be rhetoric at the moment, but as he says, ‘what we have here is certainty’ – £1 billion of public money has already been budgeted for the games.
Even so, it’s hard to walk around Dalmarnock today with anything but a heavy heart. In the middle of describing the plans for one blighted area, Mr Clark stops and shrugs. ‘It’s a vision,’ he says. ‘You need to have that vision.’
Change has begun in the area. Three tower blocks between Dalmarnock and neighbouring Bridgeton have been refurbished recently by Glasgow Housing Association. Their bright new cladding is a highly visible glimpse of what the future may hold. Des Campbell, a local who lives in the blocks, is optimistic about the future.
‘It’ll be good for the young ones,’ he says of the games. ‘In my day we used to have wee snooker clubs and you had the football team that played on a Saturday. You don’t get that anymore. That’s why the young people are going aff their heids.’
The changes the games will bring to the east end of Glasgow are about more than physical appearance, however. Jobs, investment and new housing are all promised. Whether Edinburgh’s current problems are a bellwether remains to be seen, but there is, thankfully, precious little pessimism to be found among those driving Dalmarnock’s regeneration.
‘The east end of Glasgow is about opportunity,’ says Mr Redmond. ‘These are exciting times.’
Let the games begin.
The UK’s biggest sporting events of the 21st century share a bit of local geography. The 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games will take place in their cities’ east ends. The 2002 Commonwealth Games were located in east Manchester, where post-games regeneration continues seven years later.
It’s no coincidence that these three events – and the promises of regeneration and local investment they bring – share this characteristic. It’s all down to our weather.
Britain’s prevailing winds come from the west. After the industrial revolution, those winds carried the smog and dirt from houses and factories eastwards – and so naturally the west ends of cities attracted those who could afford to choose where they lived, while the poor were shunted in the opposite direction. Perhaps these sporting events will begin to redress the balance.