By Barry Dalgleish and Penny Cole
In a flashy online report launched in September 2021, Susan Aitkin told us that COP26 would be “staged against a backdrop of unprecedented threats to the future of our planet and clear warnings of the consequences of our shared failure to act.” With the buzz and attention that has come with hosting the conference, Glasgow City Council (GCC) has spent several months in PR overdrive, announcing ‘£30bn of investments and place-based development opportunities’. As you would expect from an investment prospectus, the report is business orientated. But what does it mean for the people of Glasgow, and will it achieve the goals it has set out for itself?
The report begins by covering Glasgow’s history and the role played by the city in shaping the industrial revolution – the process that sparked off global ecological decline – with familiar comments of building ‘resilience to climate change’ and ‘creating new jobs and economic opportunities.’ The legacy of that revolution crumbled in the 1980s, in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal revolution, and many of the social and physical legacies of this transition remain manifest in the city to this day. But today’s Glasgow is a ‘new frontier’.
In all fairness, Glasgow does have the potential to become a global cosmopolitan city and has already to a certain extent, made its mark. It has a solid higher education base with a considerable student population. As such, with the climate crisis upon us, what happens now sets the trends for the future.
Initial plans were laid out in the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan and the report builds on the general recommendations cited in the Plan. The report claims that the ‘Greenprint’:
“is a new and innovative approach, designed to unlock and scale investment. In doing so, it will ensure Glasgow is well positioned to thrive and help deliver our shared ambition to respond to the climate emergency and align with global ambitions for COP26“
It also claims that:
“Investment in climate action delivers significant economic and social benefits – improved productivity, competitiveness, new jobs, reduced disruption and better health and wellbeing.“
Glasgow then has laid out its stall, by committing to be a ‘a Net Zero Carbon city by 2030’, following the declaration of a climate and ecological emergency by Glasgow City Council in 2019. Some of the key proposals include expanding district heating schemes that have been piloted in the city, establishing an integrated transport system and consolidating a Circular Economy approach within the city.
A central plank in this plan is the The Clyde Mission, a Scottish Government initiative that aims to ‘drive sustainable and inclusive growth for the city, the region and Scotland.’ It covers development in the regions bordering the banks of the river. Without any irony, a key development here was the new Barclays Glasgow Campus, which will apparently:
“bring 2,500 new jobs and breathe new life into an area south of the river which despite its proximity to the city centre has suffered through de-industrialisation with the loss of much of its population and economic base”
Barclays is no poster child for sustainability or for breathing life into anything other than corruption, financial and environmental ruin. The bank played a role the 2008 financial crash. It was involved in the infamous LIBOR scandal and is a major investor in fossil fuel companies and other dubious entities.
“Basel-based Financial Stability Board (FSB) whose role, since its establishment in 2009 after the global financial crisis, is to promote international financial stability. The TCFD’s focus is reporting on the impact an organisation has on the global climate. It seeks to make firms’ climate-related disclosures more consistent and therefore more comparable. It believes that better information will allow companies to incorporate climate-related risks and opportunities into their risk management, strategic planning and decision-making processes.”
The main areas covered by the project are:
1: Glasgow Metro
2: Glasgow City Region Home Energy Retrofit Programme
3: Charing Cross: M8 Green Infrastructure Cap
4: Scottish Event Campus Expansion
5: Glasgow’s District Heating Network
6: Climate Neutral Innovation District
7: Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District Scotland
8: Green Regeneration and Innovation District
9: Clyde Climate Forest
Here’s a brief outline of some of the initiatives:
This is a plan to develop an integrated transport system within the Greater Glasgow area ‘where bus, train, metro, subway, active travel and new forms of mobility can co-exist.’ A feasibility study is currently being carried out. However, the only specific commitment to expanded public transport so far is the proposed rail link from Paisley to Glasgow Airport – a clear decision to promote and facilitate air travel. Currently, First Bus are riding roughshod over people’s needs in the City, providing a poor service with amongst the highest fares in the world. This is taking money from the poorest, who are known to be the main bus users, and putting it in the hands of a private company in the form of profits.
During the pandemic, the Scottish government gave bus operators an extra £78,626,343.33 but we have no control over what buses run and on what routes. To be successful in any way, the Glasgow Metro proposal must include taking the buses back under local authority control. And we urgently need a travelcard scheme that works, in other words, something like the Oyster card in London.
Get Glasgow Moving (GGM) is campaigning for buses to be free and this would definitely be one of the biggest blows against poverty in the City that you can imagine. Although GGM has initially welcomed the Metro scheme, they point out that only a publicly-owned bus company could achieve this.
Although the Scottish government is looking ahead to taking Scotrail back into government control in 2022, that is not stopping the current operator making big cuts to the service, with no guarantee these will be reinstated. Glasgow’s urban and suburban rail network has the potential to be world leading but at present it is being allowed to run down.
The proposed cycle network needs to be reviewed in light of methodology and practical issues. Glasgow’s cycle routes at present are random and confusing, often coming to an abrupt halt, rather than being “from” and “to”. And in this bright new active travel future it would be good if cycle route markings were logical and kept up. As “Go Bike” put it, paint is not a safety barrier. Go Bike has published a list of consultations related to cycling.
Glasgow City Region Home Energy Retrofit Programme
This will increase the energy efficiency of homes across the city. Some buildings run by Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) and other social landlords have been over-cladded. But the report cites around ‘428,000 properties that are currently in the Energy Performance Certificate D-G categories.’ These properties will be brought up to Energy Performance Certificate C level. This is a disgraceful situation, and the investment plan suggests that it would cost £10bn to rectify it. Unfortunately, there is no indication where that money will come from. So far the City has been given £6.2m to upgrade insulation.
Around 72,000 households in Glasgow are fuel poor, around 25% of homes in the city. The survey estimated around 11% of this group is in “extreme fuel poverty” — spending more than 20% of their income on fuel costs. This would definitely be the place to start, and it is crucial that local communities rally to ensure that those in fuel poverty are the top priority for the spending of this money.
The GHA has stated in a 2021 report (Para: 6.26) that:
“We have included an initial budget allocation of £7.5m to support innovative investment interventions over the next five years as we develop an investment approach and understand investment requirements and associated costs to achieve compliance with the ambitious target of all homes to have a ‘B’ EPC band by 2032. An early illustration of this innovation is the planned retrofitting of smarter controls to existing storage heating systems, as part of our warm, high quality homes theme, to provide customers with greater control of their heating and significant savings on their energy tariffs of around £300 per year. This innovation is expected to provide a 14-point improvement to EPC rating, which is more than is achieved by over-cladding or installing a gas boiler.“
It is not clear what benefits other social housing will receive or how this will extend to private rental and home ownership.
Charing Cross: M8 Green Infrastructure Cap
This will landscape the entire Charing Cross area through the building of a cap over the motorway. It will improve connections in the area, making it more pedestrian friendly.
Glasgow’s District Heating Network
GCC wants to expand a district heating network in two areas in the city, Polmadie and the Gorbals. The idea is to expand from the Recycling and Renewable Energy Centre (GRREC). The heat supply from the GRREC is apparently ‘50% renewable’ with a heat capacity of 38MWth.
Clyde Climate Forest
The Clyde Climate Forest (CCF) aims to plant 18 million trees in Glasgow City Region over the next decade (over 9,000 hectares of new woodlands). This will increase the forest and woodland cover in the region by 3%.
The environmental benefits from this will certainly be positive, from increased carbon sequestration to flood control and reduced overheating impacts. However with GCC cutting down trees linked to controversial developments, this raises questions on joined up thinking.
Overall there is much to be welcomed from this report. Any initiative that reduces the city’s carbon footprint is certainly positive. But equally it also raises some questions. Will this project filter through to the socially disadvantaged? Whether the legacy of COP26 produces a green Glasgow remains to be seen. £30 billion is a substantial sum of money and it isn’t clear how this will be raised. Its important that some of this investment helps to improve the lives of ordinary Glaswegians and that it isn’t all restricted to subsidies to the private sector.