Cop26 climate summit's legacy can help turn Glasgow's SEC into one of world's best and greenest places for major events – Peter Duthie

For decades it has occupied a treasured position on the banks of the River Clyde, creating memories for generations of Scots and hosting millions of music-lovers, business representatives and global superstars.

The Scottish Events Campus, which includes the Armadillo building, is planning to upgrade, expand and become carbon neutral (Picture: John Devlin)
The Scottish Events Campus, which includes the Armadillo building, is planning to upgrade, expand and become carbon neutral (Picture: John Devlin)

From its famous red walls of the 1980s and 1990s to the development of the eye-catching Armadillo and world-leading Hydro arena, the SEC holds a unique position in Scottish culture and heritage.

An icon of our skyline, it has catered for every section of society, from fans of Rod Stewart, Bruno Mars and Beyoncé to political conference delegates and sports fans.

After playing a proud role as an emergency healthcare space during the Covid pandemic, the SEC is ready to go again.

And it’s not just those looking for entertainment who will reap the benefits – the campus stands ready to deliver a major economic boost for the Scottish and UK economy.

With pent-up demand from 18 months of lockdown restrictions and a raft of fresh bookings, 2022 is set to be the Hydro’s busiest ever year, with 180 performances in the diary.

Before then, the campus will host the United Nations’ Cop26 climate summit in November, welcoming the world to our city.

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Now more than ever, the SEC is central to Glasgow’s economic fortunes, and the city itself is critical for Scotland’s financial outlook.

That’s why we can’t afford to stand still, and a major shovel-ready project for expansion of the SEC will boost things further.

Outline planning permission for this work has already been secured – all that is required now is the funding drive to make this vision a reality.

The SEC is already among the top conference and event venues in the world and contributed more than £431 million to Glasgow’s economy in 2019/20. In the Hydro, it has the fifth busiest live entertainment arena in the world.

But we need to keep up – major expansions have already taken place in Hamburg, Paris, Copenhagen and Vancouver, while new venues have also opened in Sydney and Rome.

These are cities which will rival Glasgow for global events, and if they have newer, larger and more technologically advanced settings, Scotland will lose out on major business.

We need to make sure the SEC upgrade is a legacy of Cop26, expanding Scotland and the UK’s capability, thereby ensuring future events on the same scale choose Glasgow.

The expansion can be both a physical legacy and an environmental one.

Over the last few years, we have put in place a wide range of measures to reduce our carbon footprint.

Since February 2020, 100 per cent of the electricity we use is from renewable sources, we are reducing energy and water wastage, employing energy efficiency technologies and increasing recycling rates. We constantly maintain and upgrade our plant and machinery to make sure it’s as energy efficient as possible and employ a dedicated environment and waste manager.

Earlier this year we launched a best-in-class food strategy, sourcing at least 80 per cent of our food from Scotland and making a commitment that all packaging used will be reusable or recyclable by 2023.

As part of the expansion plans, a multi-faceted energy installation will ensure the venue is carbon neutral, making it not just one of the best event spaces in the world, but one of the greenest too.

The ambitious zero-carbon energy strategy aims to maximise the natural energy sources that the campus location benefits from, such as the River Clyde, as well as using our footprint for solar generation.

The Cop26 preparation has included an upgrade to the campus electrical infrastructure allowing the installation of electrical vehicle charging points post-Cop26. The campus will be 5G ready this year.

The proposals involve a new conference building featuring multi-purpose, sub-divisible large-scale rooms, breakout rooms, exhibition space, banqueting space, outdoor eating space and VIP suite, along with a world-class new arrivals and reception entrance.

This will provide more spectacular transformation for a part of the city which is already visually impressive, and one of the most eclectic in the UK.

The government grant or funding required to make this plan a reality would very soon be paid back into our economy through the bounce that major events bring.

We estimate an upgrade would bring an additional gross-value-added contribution of £67 million to Scotland.

Further analysis shows that it would result in £25 million in extra taxation revenue between Holyrood and Westminster every single year, which can be invested in public services.

Our proposals already have the support of the city council – which owns a 91 per cent stake in the SEC – as well as Glasgow Airport, which would benefit from the increased footfall resulting from a bolstered events space attractive to delegates around the world.

Edinburgh Airport is in favour too, for the same reasons, as is Glasgow Life, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Glasgow Economic Leadership.

The direct and indirect windfall would be enormous, from the jobs created in construction and maintenance to the huge boost for hotels, cafes, bars, shops and restaurants.

With more optimistic projections for economic recovery in the years ahead, the SEC expansion plan is a perfect opportunity for both the Scottish and UK governments to stimulate the economy and showcase our assets to the world.

Glasgow is already the best place to do business and the best place to entertain. And it can be even better.

One of the great strengths of the SEC since its development in 1985 has been its ability to change and adapt. It has served the public, businesses and the city.

As we enter a new phase, it is essential that evolution continues, enabling the SEC to provide significant economic dividends – and priceless memories – for generations to come.

Peter Duthie is chief executive of the Scottish Event Campus (SEC)

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