What next for Glasgow’s George Square?

Glasgow's George Square in 2013, before the red surface was removed. Picture: Robert Perry
Glasgow's George Square in 2013, before the red surface was removed. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE future of Glasgow’s best known civic space is set to become a battle ground in the 2017 local authority elections.

George Sqaure is known for its public benches, statues, Cenotaph, and as the venue for political gatherings dating back more than a century.

George Square in 1954. Picture: TSPL

George Square in 1954. Picture: TSPL

In recent years it has also become the centre of a debate on possible improvements to its fabric and how best to balance its historic setting with a need to stage public events in the city centre.

A 2012 proposal to refurbish the square, promoted by then council leader Gordon Matheson, was dropped following a public backlash against the plans, which would have included the removal of some or all of the statues.

Modest improvements were carried out the following year, which included the removal of the widely-derided red concrete surface.

Now the opposition SNP group of councillors has proposed moving the numerous commercial events that are hosted in the square each year to an alternative venue in the city centre.

Any future decisions about George Square and the city centre have to be taken in conversation with the citizens of Glasgow

Susan Aitken

It has also started an online survey to ask residents their thoughts on how the area can be improved.

“The SNP wants to restore George Square as a public and civic space that the people of Glasgow can be proud of, with greatly improved physical condition and enhanced public access and use,” said Susan Aitken, leader of the SNP group on Glasgow City Council.

“As part of that, we’ve proposed identifying an alternative event space in the city centre that could accommodate some of the larger commercial events that put pressure on the fabric of George Square and can block access. This is part of our wider strategy for a more imaginative and inclusive approach to the city’s public spaces, with people, their quality of life and their wellbeing at its heart.”

“Any future decisions about George Square and the city centre have to be taken in conversation with the citizens of Glasgow. Our city’s public spaces belong to the people and they should have their say about its future.”

Crowds gather in George Square for a royal visit in 1953. Picture: TSPL

Crowds gather in George Square for a royal visit in 1953. Picture: TSPL

The ruling Labour group believes that many of the public events staged at George Square, such as the popular Christmas festivities, should remain.

At a meeting of the full council last week, a motion by Councillor Alistair Watson backing the continuation of events in the square was passed.

“Council agrees that George Square is one of Glasgow’s most important open civic spaces and is loved and valued by residents of and visitors to the city alike,” it stated.

“It recognises the importance of George Square as a place for civic events, including the hugely popular ‘Glasgow Loves Christmas’ and the Christmas lights switch on, which is significantly oversubscribed each year, with over 250,000 ticket requests in 2014.”

A Hope Over Fear rally in George Square in September 2015. Picture: John Devlin

A Hope Over Fear rally in George Square in September 2015. Picture: John Devlin

Cllr Watson also welcomed “the on-going work of Development and Regeneration Services to produce a framework for George Square that seeks to balance the public’s use and enjoyment of George Square with its unique position as a high-profile event location.”

Several social media platforms have sprung up in recent years debating the future of the civic space. One, Restore George Square, has more than 5000 likes on Facebook. Its page description states “Glasgow’s principal public space, George Square, belongs to the people of Glasgow not to pop-up businesses and events.”