Glasgow ‘Golden Z’ plan set for approval by councillors

Plans to transform Glasgow city centre over the next few decades will be decided this week
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Glasgow City Council’s vision for the heart of the city — Sauchiehall, Buchanan and Argyle streets — over the next few decades will go before councillors for approval this week.

There is a need to “rebalance the city core”, the comprehensive plan suggests, as it is under “clear stress from the closures of department stores, devastating fires, the retreat of national chains and the acceleration of change brought on by the covid pandemic”. Increased home working “denies the city centre the lifeblood of workers previously relied on for the success of shops, restaurants and bars”.

In response, the Vision for the ‘Golden Z’ has been developed, which sets out proposals to create a greater mix of uses on key streets, including more residential — supporting a policy to double the city centre population by 2035.

Here’s what the former M&S on Sauchiehall Street will look like after it’s been redeveloped into student accomodationHere’s what the former M&S on Sauchiehall Street will look like after it’s been redeveloped into student accomodation
Here’s what the former M&S on Sauchiehall Street will look like after it’s been redeveloped into student accomodation

Cllr Angus Millar, SNP, the council’s convener for city centre recovery, said the vision aims to “ensure buildings, sites and spaces in the area are fully used to contribute to its attractiveness as a place for everyone who uses it to live, work, visit and invest in”.

Cllr Soryia Siddique, Glasgow Labour’s deputy leader, said an economic impact assessment is required to assess whether the proposals are viable.

What is envisaged over the next 20 to 30 years for Glasgow city centre?

More city centre living is a key focus of the vision, particularly increased use of the upper levels of existing buildings. Potential to provide over 1,300 homes is identified in the plan. Office use will also be considered for upper floors, with the document adding there is “growing demand for ‘smaller but better’ characterful office space”.

It suggests a school, or primary care centre, could be opened on the ‘Golden Z’, which would be “a powerful and visible reinforcement of the city’s ambition to double the population by growing real, functional neighbourhoods”. Stretches of “dead zone” in the evening, once shops are shut, could be addressed by new food and drink or leisure uses at “key corners and junctions”, with outdoor seating, to “extend activity into the evening”.

The document acknowledges Glasgow has a “healthy evening and weekend economy”, as footfall within the city centre is “now exceeding the levels witnessed in 2019”. However, it adds the ‘Golden Z’ should have “a more prominent role within the night life of the city centre”. Recommendations include enhancing Glasgow’s reputation as a ‘City of Music’ through the “potential introduction of new venues such as a replacement for the ABC and a Scottish Music Hall of Fame”.

The O2 ABC on Sauchiehall Street has been empty for a number of years.  The O2 ABC on Sauchiehall Street has been empty for a number of years.
The O2 ABC on Sauchiehall Street has been empty for a number of years.

A European-style food hall is also suggested as they can be “important attractors, stimulating footfall, creating vibrancy both day and night, and incubating and supporting business”. The plan states lanes could be reinvigorated to “realise their potential as vibrant public spaces”.

With long-term vacancies, such as the BHS and Victoria’s nightclub sites, continuing to “blight large sections of the ‘Golden Z’”, the vision adds “direct intervention” is needed from the council. It is hoped that “collaboration with the private sector” can unlock key sites.

Recommendations included in the document suggest a “package of fiscal incentives” for residential conversions should be identified. This could include VAT exemptions, tax allowance schemes, reduced developer planning contributions and public grant subsidies, and would, where necessary, involve lobbying governments.

Plans to redevelop both Buchanan Galleries and the St Enoch’s are already being progressed by the owners of the two shopping centres. The retail offer should be diversified, with more “local independent retailers”, the vision adds. It is proposed that the council works with education establishments to respond to the need for student accommodation in the city centre, as there is an “acute shortage”.

Car parking levels are set to reduce by up to 30% over 10 years, the document adds, supported by the proposed expansion of car clubs, the implementation of the Low Emission Zone, and improved cycle networks.

Introducing greenery and green space for “amenity, pollution mitigation, flood resilience and biodiversity” is also suggested, with a recommendation that St Enoch Square should be prioritised for “public realm investment”. The vision was funded by city centre recovery funding from the Scottish Government. A stakeholder event on August 14 was attended by around 200 people from a range of sectors, including residents, property owners, businesses, developers and investors.

Buchanan Street is one of Glasgow’s most recognisable streets.  Buchanan Street is one of Glasgow’s most recognisable streets.
Buchanan Street is one of Glasgow’s most recognisable streets.

Cllr Millar said the “key thoroughfares of Sauchiehall, Buchanan and Argyle Streets have long been an important part of our city centre and Glasgow’s economy. But with huge global and structural changes in the retail and office sectors in recent years, accelerated by the pandemic, these traditional shopping streets have been particularly affected by these economic shifts and require a particular ongoing focus.

“As part of our wider efforts to guide centre recovery and support investment in Glasgow, the vision and delivery plan for the Golden Z looks in depth at this key part of Glasgow city centre to help ensure it thrives in future as it adapts to face challenges and take the opportunities coming its way.”

Cllr Siddique said there is “a need to regenerate the Golden Z” but the plan “must be viable to attract adequate funding and be sustainable”.

She added it was “concerning” that an economic impact assessment had not been conducted. “Without the economic Impact assessment there is a risk that the plan will not be seen as viable to investors. There is also a need for powers from the Scottish Government for compulsory sales orders and streamlining compulsory purchase orders. Glasgow needs urgent action.”