Will the promised legacy from the Commonwealth Games materialise for Glasgow, asks Dani Garavelli
IT’S 10am and the sun is bouncing off the sloping roofs of the white marquees outside the new National Hockey Centre on Glasgow Green. Somewhere beyond the fences it is just possible to make out a row of flags fluttering in the breeze, their colourful stripes and symbols heralding the arrival of the Commonwealth Games, which begin on Wednesday. On the other side of the road, the annual fun fair is being set up and the security guards and stewards milling about outside seem in fine fettle.
Further into the east end, however, the atmosphere is markedly less festive. As you approach the main Commonwealth hub through what was once Dalmarnock, you hit road closures, diversions and checkpoints. The predominant features are no waiting and permit only signs and forbidding metal fences.
Everywhere you look – alongside patches of rubbish-strewn wasteland and sites that have been cleared, levelled and decontaminated, even across the top of giant office blocks – you are assailed by giant purple hoardings which proclaim: “Building the Legacy”.
Ever since the city first decided to bid for the 2014 Games, the weasel word “legacy” has wangled its way into every conversation. To those involved in delivering them, it bequeaths a sense of moral purpose. The Games are not merely a showcase for the Commonwealth’s best sportsmen and women, they say, but a catalyst for lasting change.
While accepting they have caused a great deal of disruption for residents, Glasgow 2014, the city council and the Scottish Government believe they will continue to yield economic and social dividends for the city long after the medal-winners have gone home.
But for critics of Glasgow 2014 – and particularly for those who have seen their community bulldozed to make way for car parks and bus depots – the word is an insulting reminder of all they have lost, a hollow pledge used to justify the investment in a jamboree from which they feel excluded. Having been decanted and seen most of their amenities demolished, they are understandably suspicious.
Will the “affordable” housing planned for the site of the athletes’ village really be within the grasp of the low-paid? Is the Legacy Hub, which will house a community centre, a GP surgery, a pharmacy and a convenience store, more than just a sop to keep them quiet? Scepticism over the organisers’ sincerity, aroused by the appointment of Atos (the company that carries out the government’s controversial fitness-to-work tests) as a sponsor has been heightened by recent events such as the erection of an eight-foot fence along some streets around the athletes’ village and the threat to impound residents’ cars if they didn’t move them from outside their own homes.
Yet, some good has already come from the Games: the city has new, state-of-the-art sports facilities, such as the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and the Emirates Arena, the long-awaited M74 extension has been completed, Bridgeton, the area next to Dalmarnock, has been given a makeover (its long-neglected Olympia building revamped as a library, boxing centre and cafe) and 15 hectares of waste ground is being transformed into the Cuningar Loop Riverside Park.
So will short-term pain bring long-term gain? A quarter of a century from now, will the city still be reaping the rewards, or will Glasgow 2014, like the Garden Festival of 1988, be remembered as a golden opportunity squandered?
The problem with assessing the legacy of Commonwealth Games is that it can only be done with hindsight and previous experience differs greatly from place to place. It is only four years since Delhi staged its Games, but already its costly stadia appear to have become white elephants. Its legacy pledges were remarkably similar to Glasgow’s – urban regeneration, improved transport networks, more people engaged in sport – but photographs of the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies were held, and the Indira Gandhi stadium, which was renovated at a cost of £20 million, show them neglected, with broken seats and weeds growing over the pathways.
Manchester, which staged the Commonwealth Games in 2002, appears to have fared better. There, organisers drew up long-term plans for the venues. After the Games were over, the temporary stand and running track in the £112m City of Manchester stadium was removed so Manchester City FC could move in. The venue has also staged several major events such as the 2008 Uefa Cup Final, Ricky Hatton’s defeat of Juan Lazcano and pop concerts. The £32m Aquatics Centre is open to the public but has also staged international swimming and diving events including at the Paralympic World Cup, and the £3m Belle Vue Leisure centre has hosted hockey internationals and houses the training base for England’s under-16 and under-18 hockey squads.
The Games were also supposed to kick-start the regeneration of Beswick and Clayton in Manchester’s east end – areas which, like Dalmarnock in Glasgow, lay in the shadow of the City of Manchester stadium and other venues (known collectively as Sportscity). City council leader Sir Richard Leese is adamant they succeeded. “What the Commonwealth Games gave us was a focus for regeneration, it gave people pride in the area, it gave people a belief that the area had a future. And we see that 12 years later, notwithstanding the recession, regeneration is still taking place,” he has said. The city’s St Peter’s Square recently underwent a refurbishment and a new tram stop is being built as part of a £44m revamp at Victoria Station.
Of course, the Games weren’t a panacea. Beswick and Clayton still have their problems with drugs, crime and unemployment. But overall the consensus seems to be that Manchester has managed to capitalise on the opportunities the Games brought and that the cash injection has paid off.
Given how much the two cities have in common, it was natural that those tasked with delivering Glasgow 2014 should seek to draw on Manchester’s expertise. “Right from the outset there was a determination that legacy would be at the heart of Glasgow’s bid for the Games and we looked to Manchester and then later to the London boroughs of Newham and Hackney, for advice as to what worked well,” says Paul Zealey, head of engagement and legacy for Glasgow 2014.
Though many of the longer-term hopes for the city – such as the creation of a significant number of permanent jobs – remain little more than a glint in the organisers’ eyes, Zealey says the Games are already having an impact.
“Plans for the regeneration of the east end were well-established but what the Games enabled was a speeding up of that process. For example, before the Games there was a desire to improve the infrastructure – the completion of the M74 and the installation of the relief road now called the Clyde Gateway – but the budget hadn’t been made available. That’s now a central piece of the transport infrastructure, but it’s not just roads. There has been a major upgrade of Dalmarnock station and lots of investment in cycle paths and walkways.”
Of the residents’ hostility he says: “I don’t think it’s going to change overnight. But what I am told is that they do see green shoots; they see the Legacy Hub being built, they see the plans for the athletes’ village and a new park that’s going to improve their environment so the seeds of long-term regeneration for those communities closest to the Games are beginning to grow.”
The Games have brought contracts for local firms – such as Glasgow-based RSBi, which has provided a logistics workforce and curtains for the athletes village – and created 30,000 temporary jobs, but Zealey says the city’s high profile and the fact the east end is now well connected to the rest of the city also makes inward investment and permanent jobs more likely.
To back this up, he cites the Westfield Centre at Stratford near the Olympic Village in London, which has brought 10,500 permanent jobs to Newham (2,000 of them filled by local long-term unemployed people).
Zealey talks enthusiastically about the Scots who have qualified as security guards and stewards (and so will be able to work at other events) and says host broadcaster Sunset & Vine Global Television has trained up students to work beside established crews on TV coverage. He also points to the upskilling of thousands of volunteers who are helping to ensure the Games run smoothly.
Zealey is passionate about his role and convinced Glasgow 2014 can deliver long-term benefits. Still, not everyone is convinced. Ever since the city won its bid, the Glasgow Games Monitor 2014 has been trying to provide a counterbalance to corporate spin, charting the rising expenditure – which now stands at around £563m – and challenging the organisers’ wilder claims about the Games’ impact.
In particular, activist Iain MacInnes objects to what he regards as empty promises over future employment prospects. “For about the last 30 years I have been hearing about what a lowly place Glasgow is, the lack of work and poverty and how people need to go on courses to build up their confidence. But it’s confidence being built up just to be knocked down again because the new jobs have never come,” he says.
Meanwhile, cycling lobby group Pedal on Parliament has complained that not enough is being invested in cycle paths. “Bringing the Commonwealth Games to the city should be a chance to build a lasting legacy, but, despite the appointment of a cycling czar and some high-profile but isolated cycling facilities that opportunity has largely been squandered,” it has said.
Where Glasgow does have the edge over other cities is that two thirds of its Commonwealth venues already existed and those that were built from scratch were completed more than a year early and have been in use by local residents ever since. Much thought has been put into the future of the venues, most of which have a packed calendar of events for several years.
More nebulous is the hope the Games will bring about a rise in sports participation. Zealey says bodies such as Glasgow Life and Sportscotland have worked hard to boost physical activity in schools and local communities with particular attention paid to increasing capacity at clubs.
“In the past other cities have failed to plan for the short-term bounce the Games bring,” says Leigh Robinson, professor of sports management at Stirling University. “After an event like this, you would expect to see a spike in the sports in which Scotland has won medals. So maybe everyone wants all of a sudden to play badminton, but the badminton clubs aren’t geared up for that or there aren’t enough facilities. You want to play, but you can’t, so you lose interest. Since the Games were awarded, Glasgow has been building capacity at club level so that may not be such a big problem here.”
Even so, Robinson is far from convinced the Commonwealth Games will revolutionise the country’s health. “The problem is it’s difficult to commit to ongoing sports participation unless you are interested in ongoing sports participation,” she says. “Seeing someone win a gold medal won’t change your attitude to physical activity in the long-term.”
Although she sees little evidence of long-term jobs either, Robinson believes Glasgow has done its best to maximise the benefits and is looking forward to watching world records being set on Scottish soil.
In the end, however, the success of the Games won’t be judged either by flash-in the-pan controversies over our parade uniforms or the number of medals our athletes win. No, it will be judged on whether or not they improved the lives of ordinary people. Will the hosts of the 2026 Games – wherever they are – try to follow our lead? Only then will we know for certain Glasgow 2014 has achieved its goal.