IN a previous life it was a muddy, water-filled hole where horses were taken for slaughter.

George Square has also been the focus of public meetings, political gathering, riots, protests, celebrations, parades and concerts.

But today it is showing its age, with many insisting it needs a radical facelift.

That view is shared by city council leader Gordon Matheson, who is determined the square should be transformed into an area of international significance.

But he insists it must be up to the people of Glasgow to decide what they want to see happen to the civic heart of the city.

Mr Matheson is open to any and all ideas with one exception – the Cenotaph must stay where it is.

Otherwise, he does not rule out moving the Scott Monument and the other 11 statues which have decorated the area for decades.

The last major facelift of George Square was 14 years ago when – without consultation – two flowerbeds were taken up, trees chopped down and a bright-red surface was laid.

It prompted the nickname Red Square and sparked public fury. Mr Matheson is determined not to repeat the errors of the past.

He says the red surface must now go and is open to all ideas.

The council boss said: "Glasgwegians regard George Square as the very heart of our city so whatever goes on there is very important to them. We deserve to have a square of international significance but currently it is tired.

"Competing demands are placed on the area and it is used by thousands of people for major events such as the arrival of the Olympic torch or the switch-on of the Christmas lights.

"It is also used as a place to sit watching life pass by when we get even half-decent weather but currently it is not equipped to perform either of those roles particularly well.

"I want to give the people of Glasgow the square they deserve so I am beginning a public consultation on a generational revamp of George Square.

"For this to succeed, the people of Glasgow need to feel they have been involved in the process and I would not dream of embarking on it without their involvement.

"The only part of the square I would regard as completely sacrosanct is the cenotaph and it will not be affected by these works.

Mr Matheson said ideas which may come up for discussion could include building a fountain, banning parking, extending the square so it ends seamlessly at the buildings which surround it, and introducing more grass, trees and floral arrangements.

He added: "Let's see what emerges and what the people have to say but let's not limit our horizons."

The consultation will run over the summer with community groups and organisations involved in urban design and architectural history asked to make their views known.

A design brief will then be prepared, an international competition will be launched and an expert panel will be set up to assess designs submitted.

Mr Matheson said: "Given the nature of this hugely prestigious project, we would expect dozens of submissions coming in from across the world.

"I think we could be in a position to be judging the winning design by the end of this year or early next year."

The cost of the work will depend on the design but the council leader expects the final bill to be between £10million and £15m – a drop in the ocean compared to the £140m plan to transform gardens in the centre of Aberdeen.

Mr Matheson is convinced the price of the work will be worth it, saying: "The economic benefit to Glasgow from the 2.3million visitors we had last year was £595m.

"We need to continue to invest in our city if we are going to drive business tourism and convention delegates and, above all others, create a space which Glaswegians can love and be proud of.

"The costs involved will be a fraction of the economic benefit which will accrue to the city. I will be looking for work to commence towards the second half of 2013 but it will need to be completed in two phases because we want the city to be looking its absolute best for the Commonwealth Games.

"By then, I would be looking for a striking, notable improvement in the quality of the square and it must be open and fully in use.

"Some people have said it is brave of me to take on this project, but what is the point of having power if you are not prepared to make decisions which are of benefit to the city?

"That is my job but I am keenly aware I can only succeed with the support of the people.

"The alternative is that we do nothing, and that is not good enough. We are more ambitious than that.

"This is part of the effort to create a cafe culture and to be proud of George Square. We can do it."