LEVELLING UP, TALKING DOWN: GREENWASHING, GENTRIFICATION AND GATEKEEPING IN GLASGOW CITY COUNCIL’S APPLICATION TO THE LEVELLING UP FUND.
Glasgow City Council is submitting seven bids for projects in the city to the UK Government’s flagship ‘Levelling Up’ fund, a competitive fund for local authorities designed at supporting “smaller transport schemes that will make a genuine difference in local areas; town centre and high street regeneration; and support for the maintenance and expansion of cultural and heritage assets.”
A true flagship Tory policy, the Levelling Up Fund has already been criticised from a range of angles, ranging from the exclusionary to the farcical. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has come under fire from MPs for implementing a demonstrably biassed selection process for awarding the funds, and prioritising ‘shovel-ready’ projects at the expense of other realistic bids. The Tories pledged “significant collaboration with the devolved administrations” but Westminster’s Public Accounts Committee was “not yet convinced that this collaboration will be effective in ensuring priorities of the devolved administrations are adequately taken on board”. In June this year, The New Statesman found that in the first round of Levelling Up funding, “Constituencies with Tory MPs have received significantly more levelling-up funding than other similarly deprived areas; with many relatively well-off Conservative-held seats receiving more funding per person than far more deprived Labour areas”. With DLUHC Secretary Michael Gove making indications of a successful bid from Conservative held Grimsby ahead of the deadline, it would appear that this same strategy will be applied to this second round of funding. In the past week, the DLUHC have been forced to postpone the deadline for applications after it was discovered that they had failed to launch their online application portal in time for the original deadline of noon on 06 July. And of course, by July 07, the fund was leaderless, with the sacking of Michael Gove.
Here in Glasgow, the process for selecting projects to be included in our bid has been criticised as similarly undemocratic, with one MSP telling the Glasgow Against Closures campaign earlier this month that the Council’s discussion around selecting projects for the bid was a ‘small paragraph on the agenda’ with ‘no real discussion at all’. The projects selected therefore, were most likely cherry-picked by the previous administration and ushered through in order to meet this month’s deadline. If successful, the following seven projects included in the Council’s bid could receive up to £20million each in funds from the UK Government.
1. M8 Garden Cap and Public Realm improvements
This project would see a complete reconfiguration of the Charing Cross area in terms of transport and public realm, through a transformational project that would see the construction of a garden cap over the M8 between Sauchiehall Street and Bath Street; creating a peaceful green space offering a new community asset to residents, visitors and local businesses. The space would reconnect the city centre with the West End, extending the impact of – and connecting to – the Avenues Programme (Sauchiehall, Elmbank, and St Vincent Streets), as well as the Connecting Woodside project.
The term ‘transformational’ to describe the proposal to create a relatively small ‘green’ space (the ‘green-ness’ of which seems indeterminate considering the implication that the space will also be offered out commercially) on top of a carbon emitting motorway is perhaps one of the most cartoon-like examples of green-washing we have seen from Glasgow City Council to date. This proposal is green only in the sense that it may involve grass. A few more trees dotted about the city does not equal climate justice. Are we to expect that this ‘peaceful, green space’ will be populated by local community enterprises with sustainable practices? Or can we expect another Starbucks? Further, we have seen how the City Council treats its ‘green-spaces’ when the funds run out to sustain them. What guarantees are in place that this peaceful garden will not meet the same fate as the plants housed in Glasgow Green’s Winter Gardens? Within the fund’s criteria, the money could be put towards the reregulation of Glasgow’s bus network and have a far greater impact on not only the city’s emissions, but on the everyday lives of Glaswegians. In 2022, building a glorified lid over the top of the bubbling pot of road emissions is simply not enough.
2. People’s Palace & Winter Gardens
This project would refurbish both the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens to restore the building’s potential to play its pivotal role as a local amenity in one of Glasgow’s most deprived neighbourhoods, as Glasgow’s Local History Museum and as an integrated part of Glasgow’s events infrastructure. The restoration would ensure this invaluable heritage asset can be maintained and preserved for future generations, paving the way for its sustainable future.
The People’s Palace is leased by Glasgow City Council, but the Winter Gardens are a part of Glasgow’s Common Good Fund. The appeal to the Levelling Up fund to take responsibility for the management of the Winter Gardens denies not only the Council’s responsibility for its sustained management (and accountability for the damage sustained to the gardens over the past two years), but by extension, the public ownership over the space. While their commitment to the restoration of the People’s Palace is a positive one, the ‘sustainable future’ described must be paved with the recommendations of those who have been fighting to save the People’s Palace since lockdown began; chiefly, to bring the management of assets currently operated by Glasgow Life back under public, democratic control. As staffing costs do not appear to be covered by the parameters of the Levelling Up Fund, it also will be important to ascertain the Council’s plan to ensure job security in this ‘sustainable future’.
3 / 4 / 5 / 6 Town Centre Regeneration of Drumchapel, Easterhouse and Maryhill, and Possilpark Livable Neighbourhood:
These proposals would deliver the regeneration of the core of the designated Drumchapel Town Centre, Easterhouse Town Centre and Maryhill Town Centre and the adjacent Transformational Regeneration Area. The proposals include enhancement of shopping centres and active improvements to car parks, travel and transport, to increase patronage and accessibility within the local town centres and other local developments. The proposal for Possilpark would deliver a step change in the regeneration of Possilpark, which provides an accessible mix of shops and services and has significant potential for growth and place improvement.
These proposals very much appear to be the latest in a long line of initiatives over the years aimed at addressing the poverty and inequality in these areas – Urban Aid, Areas for Priority treatment, Social Inclusion Partnerships, Local Community Planning partnerships – all of which have singularly failed to address the root causes of these problems. Critically, these proposals, which aim to regenerate communities, do not seek to do so by anchoring that wealth within those communities, but rather by pouring millions into the hands of construction companies, developers, architects and other consultants, with an overarching aim to make each town centre more attractive to outside investment and development. We know that tens of thousands of pounds have been earmarked by the Council for community consultation on these plans, and that this has felt largely like a box-ticking exercise, or – at least in the case of Maryhill – no such consultation has taken place. It is highly unlikely that more than 5 percent of the people living in Drumchapel, Easterhouse, Maryhill or Possilpark are aware that these bids are going ahead.
7. Clyde Connectivity
This proposal combines work packages that provide a people focus by removing the barriers of 1960s-style highway infrastructure and connecting the community with the QEUH, SEC and Glasgow city centre to the wider West of Scotland economic area. This will include new active travel infrastructure, placemaking measures, green infrastructure, development opportunities and parking controls in the G51 area that will unlock multiple sites for increased connectivity and investment.
Although irritatingly devoid of detail, this bid proposes new connectivity between the G51 area and Glasgow’s West End – as has been exemplified elsewhere by the new bridge between Partick and Govan being financed by the City Deal. Will this bid improve quality of life for those currently living in G51 and other areas on the south of the Clydeside, or simply clear space for the development of pricey offices and student accommodation complexes? The commercialisation and gentrification of the Clydeside was characteristic of the last administration’s agenda for the city, and talk here of ‘unlocking’ sites for investment seems to sing to the same tune.
Each of these bids contain cause for concern for anyone dreaming of a greener, fairer city. Indeed they seem to remain faithful for the strategy of the ‘three Gs’ that we have come to expect from Glasgow City Council policies – greenwashing, gentrification and gatekeeping.
The proposals contain vague references to ‘opportunities for the development of green infrastructure’ without either commitment to that development or clarity on what that infrastructure might look like, and how it plays into the city’s plans for tackling the climate crisis. Considering the much higher number of planning and development opportunities referenced in the proposals, and the volume of embodied carbon present in new concrete structures, has the Council considered the scale required of any ‘green’ initiatives to offset the negative environmental impact that fulfilling these proposals will have? It seems highly unlikely that this bid has been subject to a green-stress-test, but rather has been infused with unclear and performative references to ‘green’ initiatives.
The proposals each claim to support a vague concept of ‘community’ by creating spaces that are more attractive for outside development and investment, rather than investment in the community itself. We should remember that of the new housing built in Dalmarnock as part of the CommonWealth Games 2014 regeneration project, just 13 percent of the owner-occupiers had any prior connection to the area. As Glasgow’s residents continue to be impacted by the health and cost-of-living crises, plans to ‘regenerate’ communities by out-pricing the existing residents should be met with stark opposition.
Like many such moves made by the Council, these plans have been put into place with little or hollow consultation from Glasgow’s residents (and in this case, without proper consultation of the current city Councillors). The only information available publicly has been a Council report on the bids which has provided the descriptions used here. The application itself – which presumably contains far more detailed breakdowns of the activity and budgets within each proposal – has not been made publicly available for scrutiny. It is unclear whether a copy will be made available once the application has been submitted.
With its current IT difficulties and lack of leadership, the immediate future of the Levelling Up Fund is uncertain. It is unlikely that all seven – if any – of Glasgow City Council’s bids will be successful. We could argue that Glasgow falls far short of the required number of Tories in positions of local authority for Westminsters grace to fall on the likes of us, particularly in the wake of recent national developments. If however, we are granted funds to deliver these proposals, our challenge will be to ensure that the Council’s delivery of these projects is managed with the appropriate degrees of consultation, transparency and environmental caution that the application process was denied.