COMMONWEALTH Games organisers have scrapped controversial plans to demolish the Red Road flats as part of the Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony, in the face of what has been decribed as “very focussed opposition”.
Games chiefs had intended to raze five of the six remaining 1960s Red Road tower blocks at the event on 23 July, with the footage beamed into Celtic Park, where the ceremony will take place, and to an estimated global TV audience of more than one billion.
Organisers said the plan, unveiled on 3 April, would mark an important part of the city’s social history. But it attracted fierce opposition from critics, who said it was inappropriate and insensitive to former residents and to the asylum seekers who occupy the sixth block. A petition calling for the plans to be dropped attracted more than 17,000 signatures.
Glasgow 2014 chief executive David Grevemberg said today the decision to cancel the demolition had been taken because of “very focussed opposition” to the plans.
Mr Grevemberg said: “Our intentions from the beginning were to very much showcase the social history, commemorate the social history of Glasgow but also signify in a very bold way where Glasgow is going in terms of regeneration but we’ve always mentioned as part of this initiative that safety first.
“The nature of some of the debate and discussion and also some of the opposition to these ideas certainly became very, very focused and also we made a very very clear assessment over the past few days where that was going with our partners and had recommendations from Police Scotland that the nature of some of that opposition would make this not a commemorative event but would start moving this on to a potential protest and that’s not what the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games is about and it’s something we needed to reconsider and abort yesterday.”
He added: “It was always seen as a bold statement of regeneration and as a bold statement of commemoration of this is where we’ve come from, this is a point of time and this is a bold statement of moving forward, as has been a major running theme of part of the Commonwealth Games.”
Those who opposed the proposal castigated it as “crass and insensitive” in using the demolition of homes as entertainment and an “insult” to asylum seekers who will continue to live in the sixth block. Some residents living in the “exclusion zone” surrounding the flats were expected to try to halt the demolition by refusing to leave their homes for the detonation.
Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen, security director for the Games, said he had asked organisers to consider scrapping the spectacle. He said: “Police Scotland support for this element of the Games was based upon an environment in which the plan had widespread public support.
“Since that announcement, it became clear that the plan generated a range of strong opinions which changed the safety and security context.
“I asked the chairman of the board to reconsider its decision in order to take account of the resources and scale of the operation that would now be required, and one which would be out of proportion to the friendly atmosphere sought by the board for the Commonwealth Games.”
Former Scottish Socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie, who began the public petition against the demolition, said she was “relieved and extremely pleased”.
She said: “I think the 17,000 people who expressed their views in the petition – making a lot of sensible comments, some of which were also based on safety – will be relieved.”
Mr Grevemberg said the demolition was a matter for the GHA and will take place as part of the association’s regeneration programme.
The plan had been backed publicly by Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson and Deputy First Minister and Govan MSP Nicola Sturgeon.
Yesterday’s U-turn was welcomed by residents in the Red Road area. Cathy Collins, 56, said: “I think doing it during the Games was a farce. I think it was a load of rubbish – what regeneration is going on here? They didn’t talk to anybody before they came up with the idea.”
Michelle Ronald, 33, of Broomfield Crescent, was one of the residents who would have refused to leave her home for the planned demolition. She said: “It was crass to do this. The people who came up with the idea should apologise.”
Local Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson, who grew up in the Red Road flats, said: “It was becoming increasingly clear that it would be extremely difficult to ensure that the proposal could go forward in a way that would guarantee the safety of my constituents.” The Scottish Conservatives said the move was “a victory for common sense”.
First Minister Alex Salmond also welcomed the U-turn, saying: “I think it’s a sensible decision that will be widely welcomed.” He also rejected suggestions that the decision was a face-saving exercise by organisers, saying the safety issue was “very important”.
Despite having backed the plans from the start, Commonwealth Games Minister Shona Robison said she now supported the decision to withdraw them.
A GHA spokesman said: “As we have stated all along, public safety is our absolute priority.
“The demolitions will be rescheduled and we will continue to liaise and take the advice of the police and our demolition contractor.”