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

Sunday Herald - - NEWS -

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.

Pho­to­graph: Martin Shields

The River Clyde is an ‘ar­ti­fi­cial bar­rier’ pre­vent­ing large ar­eas from thriv­ing, ac­cord­ing to new Glas­gow City Coun­cil leader Su­san Aitken

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