By Barry Dalgleish
This blog was originally produced in 2021 for the SANE Collective
Glasgow City Council’s marketing department has been working overtime of late. The local authority has been producing some rather impressive presentation documents – impressive in appearance that is. The content of these publications may be debatable. Here we look at Glasgow’s Liveable Neighbourhoods, published by the Council in June 2021.
What’s it all about?
Its purpose is apparently to serve as a toolkit, which ‘provides a community and place based approach,’ but there’s a lack of clarity in the report. The general gist appears to be the encouragement of a more community spirit with the City by improving neighbourhoods and making them a more accessible and pleasant place to live in, through improved transport infrastructure and landscaping. The vision is that ‘Neighbourhoods will be accessible and healthy places’ that ‘maximises the social, economic and environmental benefits’ through reducing ‘the city’s dependency on cars by making walking, cycling and public transport first choice.’
These are issues that are already covered in other Glasgow City Council (GCC) publications. The emphasis here revolves around recovery from COVID and tapping into a Scottish Government (SG) initiative based on the themes of the ‘20 minute neighbourhood and the Place Principle’. Much of the key information that is summarised in this document is provided by external links. But the important reference points here are the SG’s fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) and the Place Standard Tool.
National Planning Framework
The GCC report refers to the NPF4 position paper. But the SG has now published its final consultation document outlining the NPF4 in more detail. The remit of the NPF4 is to set up a planning framework that projects towards 2050. It contributes to a series of six outcomes:
- improving the health and wellbeing of our people;
- increasing the population of rural areas;
- meeting housing needs;
- improving equality and eliminating discrimination;
- meeting targets for emissions of greenhouse gases;
- and securing positive effects for biodiversity.
The consultation is open for contributions from interested parties. The six outcomes are derived from four key themes, which will be highlighted below.
This will focus on energy efficient buildings, sustainable land use, reducing unsustainable travel and expanding renewable energy generation:
We will secure positive effects for biodiversity, creating and strengthening nature networks and investing in nature-based solutions to support nature recovery and create multiple benefits for our natural capital, health, wellbeing, resilience and jobs. And we will encourage sustainable design and use of resources, including circular economy approaches to construction and development.
The key point here is recovering from COVID and building on an opportunity to establish ‘better places to create the conditions for lifelong health and wellbeing for all, restore biodiversity and strengthen our future resilience.’ This pulls in the concept of 20 minute neighbourhoods through improving homes and amenities in close proximity to each other, generally improving community cohesion.
This is a more business focused area with the aim of attracting investment and establishing work places that can fit into a future 20 minute neighbourhood.
This ties in with local heritage, biodiversity areas and just generally greening and improving the overall environment:
We will reshape future city and town centres, reuse vacant and derelict land and buildings, enhance our natural and cultural heritage, and create new rural opportunities.
From Glasgow’s perspective, this will involve ‘work to diversify the city centre and invest in maintaining and reusing existing buildings so that it can evolve to be a more carbon conscious place.’ This will also involve greening areas around the city. And further afield, the creation of the Clyde Climate Forest. Crucially, ‘Around 40% of Scotland’s vacant and derelict land is concentrated in the Glasgow city region and its redevelopment is a key priority.’
The report elaborates further on 20 minute neighbourhoods. The underlying principle is that neighbourhoods are ‘designed in such a way that all people can meet the majority of their daily needs within a reasonable walk, wheel or cycle (within approx. 800m) of their home.’ Effectively work, play, services, schools etc. will be all locally connected. This will reduce the need to travel long distances, thus improving transport infrastructure and increasing sustainability.
The Place Standard Tool
A key element within the NPF4 is the Place Standard tool (PST). It states on the website:
The Place Standard tool provides a simple framework to structure conversations about place. It allows you to think about the physical elements of a place (for example its buildings, spaces, and transport links) as well as the social aspects (for example whether people feel they have a say in decision making).To feed into the NPF4, the Scottish Government published the Place Standard tool Strategic Plan 2020-2023. As is typical of national and local Government planning in this area, there is a strong emphasis on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Here, the emphasis is on tackling inequality and how the PST can help with the ‘complex drivers of inequality’ and providing ‘a strong foundation to address inequalities and improve the wellbeing of communities,’ as the document explores the key themes underpinning the PST. The following infographic outlines the key elements:
Part of this process involves ‘greening’ areas. This feeds into ‘place and the climate’ but also recognises the benefits of generating social areas and making neighbourhoods more attractive. This can be coupled with home insulation initiatives and improved air quality and ‘provide opportunities for local food growing, helping to build social connections and increase physical activity.’ This leads to the importance of health. The report notes:
Planning has always been central to efforts to improve public health, from the redevelopment of poor quality housing, to improving sanitation, water and air quality, and ensuring that we have access to health facilities.
Underpinning this is the public health agenda, outlined in a SG report Scotland’s Public Health Priorities. This is an issue that is featured prominently in the ‘Neighbourhoods’ report and links into the Glasgow Indicators Project from Understanding Glasgow, a project from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health. Its remit is to:
create an accessible resource that informs a wide audience about the wellbeing of Glasgow’s population across a range of domains (e.g. health, poverty, education, environment), allows progress to be monitored and encourages civic engagement in the cross-cutting issues that face the city.
According to the PST, this is supposed to lead to increased prosperity. It emphasises a ‘thriving
local economy’ that will have ‘resilience to wider economic change and adapt to changing circumstances.’ But this begs an important question. How will it be possible to create a ‘thriving local economy’ with an economic strategy that involves bringing in external business entities that will ultimately syphon off wealth out of the local economy? As SANE’s Ben Wray put it in his Glasgow’s Alchemy report, these are companies ‘that seek maximum profit from projects and extract wealth from the city.’ Whether the PST will prove itself remains to be seen. As the report admits:
there is a need to increase the breadth and depth of engagement. We will seek to work across organisations and directly with communities to embed place-based working in policy and practice throughout Scotland. This work will be focused in particular on engaging with people and places experiencing disadvantage and inequality.
This then is the basic drive behind GCC’s strategy. But it is difficult to see how the Council can contend with the inherent contradictions of improving the local economy and tackling inequality whilst embedding the City into a deeper neoliberal culture.
Indeed this initiative follows years of implementing similar programs to improve the City’s lot, especially in deprived areas. Greater Easterhouse is a case in point, which includes Easterhouse and surrounding areas.
Typical of the ‘schemes’ that were built during the post war years, large areas of social housing were built. But there was no social outlets or anything for people to do. The result was the emergence of gang culture and other social problems. Many of these issues have been dealt with to some extent. As Glasgow Live reported in 2016, the ‘Young Team’ has been in decline over the last 15 years, thanks to an initiative called the violence reduction unit (VRU), ‘borrowed from anti-gang violence initiatives spearheaded in Boston in the 1990s.’ In 2011, ‘David Cameron hailed Strathclyde Police as a shining example of success in tackling gang culture and violence, such was the progress being made in Glasgow.’ According to a survey:
A Glasgow Live survey of 400 people aged 16-80 showed that 97% of those in areas such Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Dennistoun and The Gorbals think that there are less gangs than ever. 71% of those surveyed also say their local area is a lot safer than it was a decade ago.
A GCC report from the same year outlined an ‘exciting vision of the future transformation of Easterhouse,’ over a period of 20 years. The report notes that:
The Greater Easterhouse area has attracted over £400 million of public and private sector investment over the past two decades to regenerate the area, with 3,000 new homes being constructed and the creation of the outstandingly successful Glasgow Fort shopping centre, which attracts around 14.5 million annual visits.
This then is fairly typical of what’s been going on to improve the situation in the schemes. Basically the neighbourhood report is just a continuation of what is already going on – or to put it another way – its a new label on an old bottle.
But with post-COVID cutbacks and the increased inequalities, there is the risk that what has been achieved over the years could be undone. GCC doubtless will not want to see Glasgow return back to the top of league tables representing violence and crime. Glasgow today is a better place than what it was back in the 1960’s and 70’s. We want to keep it that way.