HOW do we reinvigorate Glasgow? How do we shake things up to get Glasgow back to being a world-class city?

Over the last few years, we’ve had countless council task force groups, commissions and a variety of talking shops, all of which has led to a panoply of reports. Many words, not so much action.

Visible signs of decay are apparent. Local communities have a growing list of gripes, from the declining state of our parks, streets, potholes, empty shops, ever-increasing parking charges and cuts to vital public services and amenities.

Yet there’s a deeper malaise that’s more profound. Economic decline and stagnation. Empty shops, ghost town properties and a dying nighttime economy.  

Council funding is a problem. The council has seen its income salami sliced year on year by the Scottish Government often with barely a squeak from the ruling administration.

Reform of local government in 1996 saw the disbandment of Strathclyde Regional Council and a smaller city redrawn. The ongoing inequity of millions of commuters and visitors to Glasgow using its public attractions and facilities for free while not contributing to their upkeep continues.

A lack of a proper 21st century integrated transport system means no rail links to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital or Glasgow Airport. People can’t get home from the city centre easily late at night. The subway system is essentially part-time and the bus service is patchy, problematic and expensive. 

We have a crisis-level lack of affordable housing in the city; people are living in unsuitable or temporary homeless accommodation for years on end waiting to find a decent home. Private renting is more expensive than buying a flat, but for people who can’t get a mortgage, sadly there’s no other choice.

How do we move forward? To identify successful solutions, it’s important to understand the history of the city – how we got here and what has worked well in the past.

Last week, my fellow solicitor advocate colleague John McGovern and I talked to Paul Sweeney, an MSP for the Glasgow region, on ideas to reinvigorate our city. You can hear our full discussion on The Ordinary Elite podcast – free on Spotify, iTunes or Amazon. 

For Paul, repopulating Glasgow is a key part of our way forward. The city’s population peaked at 1.2 million in the 1950s, it’s now barely half that number.

There were compelling reasons for depopulating Glasgow in the 1960s and 70s including sanitation and the poor state of housing but in reality, we lost a great deal in that massive social engineering exercise.

Manchester has added 200,000 people to its population since the turn of the millennium. Glasgow has only added 56,000 to its population, despite it losing half a million. We’ve only recovered 10% of the number lost to the New Towns, the overspill estates and new suburbs.

For Paul, we need to seriously change gear in terms of the restructuring of Glasgow and the repopulation of the city. Glasgow was seen as a city of heavy old-fashioned industries that were in decline, such as shipbuilding and railway engineering, and it was to be managed into a sort of terminal decline.

There were good interventions throughout the 1980s and 90s to try and rejuvenate the city. Glasgow’s Miles Better, the construction of the SEC, the City of Culture and the Commonwealth Games are just a few examples.

Have we done enough to reverse the scale of the damage done? There have been some good initiatives across Glasgow but it’s been agonisingly slow. For example, the Govan to Partick public bridge was a City Deal project announced in 2014 and next year we will finally see the bridge being built.

We’ve had some excellent success stories in the past. The Scottish Development Agency in the 1980s developed the Scottish Events Campus. The development of the Merchant City was one of the best urban regeneration projects in Europe, repopulating the old heart of Glasgow. Why haven’t we continued with these types of big successes?

More recently, rejuvenation has occurred as a result of the writing off of the council housing debt in 2003 which has enabled rapid investment and growth in our community housing associations.

Has there been a dearth of leadership and governance in the decline of Glasgow? What is beyond question is a lack of political ambition.

Promoting Glasgow as a city region of 1.7 million people should help us to lever in the major capital funding to invest in world-class amenities, tourist attractions and new economic and transport infrastructure.

That requires proper Scottish Government and Parliament support and a cross-party and inclusive approach to delivering and implementing successful projects. Why don’t we have that?