Business Interview: Mike Galloway, Dundee City Council

URBAN planning like “real-life SimCity” to the man who is spearheading Dundee’s waterfront development

Mike Galloway in the Slessor Gardens at the centre of the waterfront redevelopment in Dundee. Picture: Alan Richardson

Like so many students in the City of Discovery, Mike Galloway immediately left town after earning his degree from Dundee University. His next 18 years as an urban planner included various stints in Glasgow, London and Manchester before eventually returning to Dundee, where he is now working to create a community that will encourage more of today’s graduates to stay put.

Homes for young professionals are currently among the top priorities for Galloway, who has been spearheading Dundee’s massive £1 billion waterfront redevelopment since its inception in 1997. With anchor projects such as the V&A design museum and a new railway station now coming out of the ground, he wants to channel further investment into offices, creative space, hotels and housing.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We need flats for young professionals filling the growing number and variety of jobs available, so they don’t feel they have to leave to pursue their career or have the lifestyle they desire,” he says.

“I got all of that out of my system, but I would like to make the decision easier for today’s graduates to either come back or even stay in Dundee.”

Raised in Glasgow’s east end, his family later moved to Perth, Galloway says he had no particular ambitions at school, but was eventually drawn to town planning because it’s like “real-life SimCity”.

Ironically, he prefers the series to Minecraft, whose local connections include Dundee tech entrepreneur Chris van der Kuyl’s 4J Studios, which worked on console editions of the outrageously popular 3D cuboid game. Last year, 4J Studios also released a Minecraft version of what Dundee’s waterfront will look like when the regeneration project is complete.

“I don’t actually rate Minecraft, but of course the links to Dundee, and what they’ve done with the waterfront project, are fantastic.”

The regeneration of Glasgow’s Crown Street was nearing its end in 1997 when Galloway, the city council’s director on the project, was starting to consider his next career move. Around that same time, he and wife Joyce were looking for a venue to host a major family celebration, and for a variety of reasons decided to opt for Discovery Point in Dundee.

“I had always liked the city as a student, and Joyce and I both left that night with a really upbeat feeling about the place,” Galloway sats. “A couple of weeks later I saw the ad for a director of planning in Dundee, and I applied for it.”

Part of the application process included forming proposals to better integrate various parts of the city to boost economic activity. Galloway chose to focus on the waterfront, a failed planning experiment from the 1960s that left a poor first impression on anyone arriving by road or rail. He was hired, and after three years of extensive consultations, a preferred master plan was approved in 2000.

Initially more limited in scope than its current purview covering eight kilometres of waterfront across five project areas, the scheme got a significant boost with the launch of the Scottish Government’s Cities Growth Fund. Allocated in proportion to the local population, money from the fund was targeted at promoting growth and wider city development.

Dundee was successful in securing funding for the extensive infrastructure work required along the waterfront, which included obtaining small parcels of land, clearing existing areas, plotting a new roadwork system and so forth. This came to a total cost of about £83m, which was split between the council – supported by the City Growth Fund – and Scottish Enterprise.

The project cranked up another few notches following a chance meeting at a conference in New York with a delegation of planners from Canada that included a number of ex-pat Scots. They were nearing the end of a large waterfront project in Toronto.

“It made us more ambitious in what we felt we could deliver here in Dundee,” Galloway says.

Various elements have been adapted from Toronto, including plans to create Scotland’s only urban beach – “if they can have one with the kind of winters they have, there is no reason we can’t do it in Dundee as well”.

The funding drive for the project in Dundee topped the £600m mark in October, with about £130m of that coming from a combination of public sources. The remainder is private investment which is expected to rise further when Galloway takes some additional proposals to the council next month. He is confident of reaching the ultimate target of £1bn, particularly as major funds and even international investors are now taking an active interest. For Galloway, it will represent the culmination of both his professional and personal ambitions

30-second CV

Born: Aberfeldy, 1957

Raised: Glasgow’s east end

Education: Perth Academy, Dundee University, Oxford Brookes University

First job: A tyre-fitter

Ambition at school: I didn’t really have an ambition until I met the person who is now my wife. She kind of gave me a boot up the backside

Can’t live without: My spare time and my family. I try to make a clear distinction between work and home life

Kindle or book: Kindle

Favourite city: Toronto

Preferred mode of transport: The train.

What car do you drive: An electric hybrid Outlander Mitsubishi

What makes you angry: Laziness – people that don’t apply themselves

What inspires you: People that go against the flow

Best thing about your job: It is real-life SimCity