In January 1968 one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history hit the central belt of Scotland.

Hurricane Low Q, which had started off around Bermuda on the other side of the Atlantic, built in intensity as it approached the British mainland. Funnelling up the Clyde estuary on the night of Sunday 14th January and into the small hours of the 15th it went on to wreak havoc as winds in excess of 100mph destroyed buildings and downed power lines.

By the time the storm had passed, 21 people were dead, 250,000 homes were damaged, and 2,000 people were left homeless. In Glasgow alone there were 9 fatalities and some 700 people lost their homes.

Tenement properties were particularly badly hit. Many were already in poor state of repair. Roofs were ripped off, chimney stacks collapsed and, in some instances, entire gable walls were ripped away. In response both local and national government came together to repair the immediate damage but also develop strategies to address the state of ageing housing stock. It also led to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1969. Government money was made available to local authorities and grants to private owners to bring properties back to safe and habitable standards.

All this is over 50 years ago and many of Glasgow’s tenemental properties have not seen significant investment since that time. There are over 68,000 tenement flats in 9,900 buildings across our city which were constructed before 1919. Glasgow City Council carried out a sample survey of 500 properties using drone technology and thermal imaging as well as more traditional basic surveys.

In a report to council in March this year it was stated that “5% of the buildings surveyed were found to be in a state of serious disrepair. Other properties require repair work in the short to medium term or further investigation.”

The same report went on to highlight that the cost of essential common repairs was often in excess of £250,000. That is more than £40,000 per flat in a 6 flat close. For some properties estimates nearer £700,000 have been reported. These are sums of money way beyond the means of the vast majority of private owners.

There are other problems which impact on our tenemental properties. Though there is a legal requirement for owners to have buildings insurance, there is no effective way of policing that. Many owners are woefully underinsured and some not insured at all. The quality and level of factoring is, to say the least, patchy.

A Scottish Parliamentary Working Group in 2019 recommended the urgent need for compulsory five yearly building inspections, compulsory owners associations and compulsory reserve funds to pay for common repairs.

There is widespread understanding and acceptance as to the scale of the problem we face here in Glasgow, and in other cities and towns across Scotland. It is a problem which is beyond the capacity of individual owners to solve without significant financial support. It requires all levels of government as well as housing associations and other partners to act in concert and act with some degree of urgency.

Our traditional sandstone tenements make up a hugely significant proportion of our housing stock, they are central to the very character of the city. We cannot afford to wait for another hurricane to rip through Glasgow before putting the essential finances and legislation in place.

For Glasgow City Council, whoever happens to be the political leadership, this has to be one of our greatest priorities.