COMMENT: '˜Glasgow' housing market needs clearer borders

David Alexander is managing director of DJ AlexanderDavid Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander
David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander

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No one knows exactly when Glasgow began to overtake Edinburgh in terms of population and commercial importance, but to say the situation has existed for around two centuries would not be too wide of the mark.

In recent years, however, there has been more than a whiff of change, indeed of a reversal of fortunes, in the air.

In one sense the respective airports could be seen as metaphors for the fortunes of the cities they serve. GLA has been doing well but EDI has been doing even better, and the latter, having played second fiddle to the former for most of its existence, is now Scotland’s busiest airport in terms of passenger numbers.

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The year I was born, the population of Glasgow (though already below its peak of over one million) was still roughly twice that of Edinburgh; while EU immigration has recently halted Glasgow’s half-century of consistent population decline, Edinburgh is fast catching up and statistics point to it being the more populous city by around 2030. In physical terms Edinburgh is already larger, the municipal area extending to 101 square miles, as opposed to Glasgow’s 68. But for the property sector, as for others, therein lies a problem: how does one define Glasgow?

It’s fairly easy to decipher the shape of Edinburgh – i.e. that tightly-packed, urban semi-circle hemmed in by the city bypass with South Queensferry, Kirkliston, Currie and Balerno added on.

Glasgow, however, is more enigmatic. For example, Bearsden is generally regarded as an upmarket suburb of Glasgow but comes under a different local authority, namely East Dunbartonshire, despite some parts being physically closer to the City Chambers in George Square than some outlying districts of Glasgow proper.

A similar situation exists on the city’s southern boundary, where it meets the middle-class hinterland of (separately-administered) East Renfrewshire, which includes Clarkston, Giffnock and Newton Mearns. And some miles to the east there is the special case of Bothwell. Often considered part of Glasgow in property terms, it is actually within the boundary of South Lanarkshire and so administered from Hamilton.

Consequently, any property-related business analysing Glasgow for investment or physical development needs to treat bare statistics about local demographics with a degree of caution. Healthcare provides a good analogy. In various surveys Glasgow regularly comes out as the “sick man of Britain”, in terms of smoking, alcohol consumption and unhealthy eating habits. While there is nothing to doubt their veracity, these surveys tend to be confined within the city boundary – add the middle-class areas beyond that and “Glasgow” might be just about average in any urban statistical account of urban health and well-being.

In similar terms, a residential property survey limited to the 68 square miles of the city proper would probably put Glasgow near the bottom of any house-price league table. However, include the “bungalow belts” on the other side of the boundary and the result would almost certainly be remarkably different.

Consequently, the time may be ripe for a standard and widely accepted residential property template for “Glasgow” to measure the true rate of prices, household movements, etc. A “Greater Glasgow” residential map could be achieved by drawing an artificial boundary that takes in the city council area plus those adjacent suburbs administered by separate local authorities. Or the template could be defined by the Glasgow G postal district map, albeit with the exclusion of some far flung rural areas that manage to come within it, such as Arrochar at the head of Loch Long.

Either of these formats would, I believe, reflect the Glasgow residential property market as it really is rather than the somewhat confusing message currently on the tin.