Controversial housing plan for Govan Graving Docks moves forward

Govan Graving Docks, built in stages from 1869, was used for ship repairs when Glasgow was one of the world's busiest ports. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
Govan Graving Docks, built in stages from 1869, was used for ship repairs when Glasgow was one of the world's busiest ports. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
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More than 700 homes could be built on a Grade A-listed dock complex described by heritage experts as “unique in Scotland” if councillors approve a controversial plan.

Developers New City Vision this week applied for planning permission in principle to transform Govan Graving Docks, a huge site built to service ships when Glasgow was one of the world’s major ports.

Image: New City Vision

Image: New City Vision

Campaigners fear the development would radically alter one of the Clyde’s few remaining reminders of its shipping heritage, but owners say it would allow the public to return to a site that has lain derelict for more than 25 years.

An online poll has called for the docks - a short distance downstream from the city’s Riverside Museum - to be preserved as a maritime heritage park, but developers have promised to retain public access to the site if their plans win approval.

READ MORE: Campaign to preserve Glasgow’s maritime history heats up

Harry O’Donnell, chairman of New City Vision, said: “The rejuvenation of the proposed public space will embrace the proud shipbuilding history of the Graving Docks. The new spaces will extend the Clyde walkway for walkers and cyclists and open up the riverside in Govan after being inaccessible to the public and the local community for more than four decades.

“The plans also feature a heritage centre that will tell the story of the iconic docks, which was a key part of Clydeside shipbuilding from the 1860s right up until the late 1980s.”

A series of apartment blocks - ranging from five to 14 floors in height - would be built on the docks. They would stand on six individual podiums to mitigate the threat posed by flooding.

Peter Richardson, director of ZM Architecture, which drew up the plans, said: “It’s a real privilege to work on the development of one of the most historic and iconic sites on the River Clyde. The Graving Docks were once a thriving part of the Clydeside and our proposal builds on that heritage and will totally transform this into a great place to live, work and relax.”

The huge site, comprising three dry docks and associated piers, is lined with massive whinstone setts, topped by handcarved granite blocks.

It was ordered by the Clyde Navigation Trust to satisfy the then huge demand for ship repair services.

The term graving refers to the now obsolete process of coating the bottom of boats with pitch. At its peak, more than 500 men were employed to prepare ships for another gruelling season of crossing the oceans.

The Buildings at Risk Register describes it as an “outstanding complex, unique in Scotland,” but its future remains uncertain.

Although the Clyde remains a working river - with BAE operating two yards at nearby Fairfield and Scotstoun - there is concern that too much of the waterway’s heritage has already been lost.

A campaign group, the Clyde Docks Preservation Initiative, was established in 2016. Its members believe the Govan site should be preserved as a maritime heritage park.

“It’s Glasgow’s last remaining historic dock complex, so to cover it with bland waterfront flats you see elsewhere would be unfortunate,” trust founder Iain McGillivray told The Scotsman.

He continued: “A prominent site that sticks out like a sore thumb on the city’s waterfront, the graving docks represents the perfect opportunity for Glasgow City Council to send out a clear message that it is committed to protecting the city’s heritage and demonstrate that it is prepared to make an example of owners and developers who do not comply with regulations on care of listed buildings.”

The plans will now go before Glasgow City Council.