Who really owns the River Clyde?
EVERY CITY WITH A MAJOR WATERWAY IN EUROPE HAS TURNED IT INTO A ‘RIVER OF GOLD’ – APART FROM GLASGOW. ONE OF THE BIG PROBLEMS PREVENTING THE REDEVELOPMENT OF THE CLYDE IS THAT NO-ONE REALLY KNOWS WHO OWNS THE RIVER. PETER SWINDON TRIES TO UNRAVEL THE RID
THE leader of Glasgow City Council has ordered a probe into who owns private land alongside the iconic River Clyde in a bid to redevelop the waterway and turn the city into a major European destination for tourists.
In a candid interview with the Sunday Herald, Susan Aitken admitted it is not fully known who owns some tracts of vacant land by the river which are thought to have been bought up by private investors keen to turn a profit when its value increases.
The SNP leader of Glasgow City Council intends to order her officials to “map” the land alongside the river so that she can begin talks with owners and regenerate the Clyde. Critics have asked why the Clyde is one of the few major waterways in Europe not used as a tourist hub and turned into a “river of gold” with bars, cafes, nightclubs and boat rides.
A director at Peel Land and Property Group, one of the biggest private owners of land alongside the Clyde, has welcomed the move but warned the project could be “challenging”.
However, Aitken is aware of what she described as “complexities” but insisted: “Our ultimate aim should be working towards the Clyde being a part of the city’s life and a tourist attraction. First of all we have to map who owns what. That’s a big job. We know quite a bit but we don’t know everything.”
Large swathes of land is owned by the city council, a 130-acre site in the west end known as Glasgow Harbour is owned by Peel, and other sections are controlled by Scotland’s economic development agency Scottish Enterprise, but there are areas where ownership is currently unclear.
Aitken said: “There are historical exchanges of property over the years that have to be traced so that we can find out who we need to have the conversation with and who we need to be working with to get this done and give us the ability to do more. I’ve never understood why the city centre stops at the Clyde. The Clyde is an artificial barrier, in a sense, and there are huge chunks that could be bustling, thriving city centre areas.”
Peel Land and Property Group has invested tens of millions of pounds in its Glasgow Harbour project which has regenerated former dockyards at Partick. More than 1,000 properties have been built and hundreds more are in the planning. Peel is majority-owned by billionaire English businessman John Whittaker, 75, who is based in the Isle of Man – a Saudi conglomerate owns around 25 per cent of the company. His company bought port operator Clydeport in 2003 and property director Euan Jamieson, who has worked at Clydeport for 30 years, is in charge of operations in Glasgow.
Peel has “about four or five hundred acres” on the Clyde, according to Jamieson, with a large part down river from the city which is leased to shipbuilder BAE Systems Maritime. Glasgow Harbour is 130 acres. Peel also has half an acre of land around the Finnieston Crane and a small car park on the south side of the river across from Peel’s offices in Robertson Street where the Sunday Herald met Jamieson. When asked if he could name other private owners of city centre land around the River Clyde, he said: “I don’t keep a register. I don’t have an interest.”
Asked if land around the Clyde is underdeveloped, he said: “I think it’s quite challenging in many areas because there are disconnection problems. It’s a common problem in waterfront developments throughout Europe. Urban areas have grown up around port activity. The world has moved on and port activity has generally moved down river chasing deeper water because there are bigger ships. That’s not just here, it’s everywhere.
“In the meantime, to serve that industry there’s been heavy infrastructure – rail and road – put in and the urban area has grown up around that. You’re then left with a waterfront area with a big infrastructure disconnect to get across.
“That has been part of the problem developing the Broomielaw and it’s certainly been part of the problem developing Glasgow Harbour, but we’ve invested a huge sum of money in dealing with that. We’ve still got work to do but we’ve come a long way.”
Jamieson, 61, urged the cashstrapped public sector to invest more in infrastructure to encourage private developers to put their hands in their pockets. He said: “The public sector should be spending a lot more investing in infrastructure and enabling works. The public sector has become increasingly reliant on private developers providing these things as ‘planning gain’ but times have changed since 2008 and to make things happen where there are challenges for development there has to be advanced infrastructure work put in.
“We have put more into public realm and public infrastructure in Glasgow than any other private developer. There is a lot of work to do. But I don’t think it’s effi- cient or sustainable to rely on the private sector. If the public sector wants to see that investment happening they need to create the circumstances to make that happen.”
Aitken said Peel is “a very important partner for the city council in terms of taking forward our ambitions for the Clyde” and said she will work with other private landowners. However, she warned there must be a “quid pro quo”. Aitken said: “One of the things we’ve agreed at committee is a quay walls investment strategy. One of the things that holds up development along the Clyde is the condition of the quay walls. A lot of them are owned by the council so we can repair and fix these. Quite a lot of them are not in a great state of repair and definitely need investment.
“But it’s very patchy and some of it isn’t owned by us. So, what we need to do is work with private owners to say ‘OK, we’ve got public money here to improve these quay walls, opening up the Clyde for development and growth and building homes and businesses, but in return we need you to work with us to make sure that, for example, we don’t have parts of the Clyde closed off so people can’t walk along because it’s private ground’.”
The Sunday Herald asked Glasgow City Council for a list of sites it owns but a spokesman said the “system is undergoing maintenance”.
We also contacted Scottish Enterprise but the economic development agency did not respond to a request to interview a representative about the land it controls.
The River Clyde is an ‘artificial barrier’ preventing large areas from thriving, according to new Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken