Sighthill storms loom
September 12, 2012 by Grace Franklin
By any measure, it was an extraordinary meeting in Sighthill’s KATS centre on Tuesday 11 September.
One woman in the audience of around 100 agitated people, was warned for belligerently interrupting and was eventually ejected from the room by two police officers. Glasgow City Council’s Leader, Gordon Matheson faced the angry crowd, fenced off awkward questions but answered others. And MSP Bob Doris missed a certain football match when he was asked, at short notice, to chair the rumbustious meeting where he did an adept job at holding the jackets.
At stake is the future of two high rise blocks which are earmarked for demolition in the newly announced £250million redevelopment of the area. The plan was announced suddenly on Friday 7 September by Glasgow City Council as part of their pitch to win the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
The Pinkston flats are home to around 400 households where people say they were promised the buildings would be refurbished. With the sudden announcement of demolition instead, they are angry and distressed especially as there was no prior warning or consultation.
‘I’ve lived in Sighthill for 35 years,’ said one pensioner. ‘Where will I go?’ This question was echoed by others. The unfairness on home owners planning for promised refurbishment but being suddenly presented with demolition, was also voiced. ‘What are the promises being made here tonight, worth, if previous promises have been broken,’ said another resident. The future of the primary schools and of the St Rollox church was also raised. The schools are to be merged into one new combined campus with the local nursery and the church remains on site in the plan.
But as a long-time local resident, Anne Marie Sinclair, pointed out: ‘I’m happy for £250 million to be invested in regenerating Sighthill. But I wonder when the plans were actually made – and I don’t think it was overnight last week.’
When Councillor Matheson (Labour Group Leader) and local Councillor Bailie Phil Greene (SNP) clashed, one irate local person said: ‘This is about us and our community. It shouldn’t be a bunfight between politicians.’
Councillor Matheson explained that the £250 million plan was only announced last week because both the Scottish Cabinet and the Executive of Glasgow City Council had just approved Sighthill as a location for the 2018 athletes’ village that week. ‘We made it public so as not to lead you local residents up the garden path.’ But he did not give an answer to the question raised by Community Council Chair, Elaine Ellis: ‘Was demolition of the flats a stipulation for approval of funding?’
The GHA (Glasgow Housing Association) stated they had started individual consultations to find out who wants to stay and who would be interested in the 135-140 new houses being built with back and front doors. It was anticipated those houses would be on site by July or August of next year.
Sean Clerkin a housing and community activist who had fought alongside the community to retain the Pinkston blocks said: ‘The local people should be involved in the decision making process. The two tower blocks should stay and be refurbished as promised. But what is happening is local people are being told ‘this is what will happen.’ Instead they should be asked: ‘What do you want to happen?’ ‘ Later he added: ‘This is a policy of gentrification. Only middle class, middle income people will be able to afford the rents. People who’ve lived here all their lives will be dispersed to the four corners of the city. And how can you get 400 families who are currently in the hi flats into the 150 houses for rent in this new plan?’
An incandescent Bailie Phil Greene told the meeting that the least the City Council could have done was consult Sighthill’s elected representatives such as himself. ‘I’m on the education committee but it was through a letter from the schools to parents about the plans to demolish the schools that I found out.’
At the end of the meeting MSP Patricia Ferguson said she’d arranged to meet Martin Armstrong, Chief Executive of GHA first thing in the morning. ‘This could be a fantastic opportunity for Sighhill but there are real concerns which have to be discussed with residents, GHA, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government. The number of social rented houses has to be looked at. How many local people want to remain here has to be established before things can move forward.’
She urged residents to attend the meetings being set up by GHA. ‘Only then can we begin to tailor the plan to suit the people. We can do it; but we are all going to have to work hard at it.’
She emphasised: ‘This is a SIGHTHILL project. Not a GHA/Glasgow City Council/ Scottish Government project. I’m with you all the way on this, I promise – and I don’t break my promises.’