IT is demoralising and infuriating to witness the continued decline of Glasgow’s built heritage. Almost every month, it seems that a fire or structural collapse condemns another irreplaceable part of the city’s identity.

The famous poet and architectural conservation pioneer John Betjeman described Glasgow in the 1960s as “the greatest Victorian city in the world”. 

Despite the lacerating loss of thousands of Victorian buildings in the half century since, Glasgow still holds that title and continues to have some of the world’s most influential and architecturally significant buildings that have made a powerful impression on each of our lives – whether that be studying in the soaring library of Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building as a teenager or exploring the red sandstone wonder of Kelvingrove Art Gallery for the first time as a child, our built heritage is very much part of every Glaswegian’s sense of themselves. 

However, walking around Glasgow, it doesn’t take long before you come across a familiar building that is going to rack and ruin with signs of obvious long-term neglect.

For more than a year, I have been raising the sorry state of the listed India Buildings on Bridge Street with Glasgow City Council officials, encouraging them to serve a Compulsory Purchase Order on the former Sloan and Co drapery warehouse of 1876 and the three other listed buildings at risk on the block and to turn them over to a new owner with the resources to restore and convert them into housing. 

Unfortunately, the damage from the latest roof collapse is now so bad that demolition is all but inevitable, the best we can probably hope for is to salvage some of the stonework from the facade. 

The India Buildings – like the burned-out shell of the Mack – have imprinted numerous individual memories and personal milestones for Glaswegians; Alex Kapranos, lead singer and guitarist in the band Franz Ferdinand, noted that in their formative years, the India Buildings served as the band’s access to the old rooftop garment factory behind it that they called The Chateau, where they put on their legendary early gigs. 

The built environment is at the heart of what makes our city unique, but we seem to be incapable of rising to the scale of the challenge of ensuring it is protected. 

The impending demise of the India Buildings is not an isolated blow, Glasgow has more listed buildings on the Buildings at Risk Register than any other city in Scotland – around 100 such buildings across the city need urgent attention to secure their future, but it is like pulling teeth trying to get the council to step up and get a grip of the situation by using its statutory powers to enforce repairs, ironically as it is the single biggest owner of the city’s most at risk heritage buildings, and its planning department has borne the brunt of the decimation of the city’s budget by central government over the last decade. 

Many of the other buildings at risk have absentee overseas owners that are near impossible to track down or simply couldn’t care less that their derelict building is blighting our city, in fact they probably think that a demolished and cleared site is worth more to their property portfolio. 

Carlton Place terrace by the River Clyde, and just one block away from the India Buildings, is another grim example of what has come to be accepted in Glasgow – a row of Georgian townhouses that has spiralled into dereliction after the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice moved out five years ago, only narrowly escaping destruction by a fire three months ago.

A grand new town terrace like this in Edinburgh would be consulates or desirable homes but in Glasgow’s Laurieston it has been left to rot and no enforcement action is taken against the negligent owner. 

There is no lack of public and professional concern for the demise of the city’s architecture, I hear it all the time from constituents, but there is a lack of capacity in the council to use the powers at its disposal – whether that be Compulsory Purchase Orders or Listed Building Repairs Notices – at the scale necessary to halt the degradation of our built environment.

This is compounded by the failure of the Scottish Government to introduce an additional power to enforce Compulsory Sales Orders, which was first proposed a decade ago but has never materialised.  

Glasgow has the most complete Victorian street grid in the world – it is imperative we do not allow the seminal works of the likes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander Thomson to disappear.

We must also leverage the huge economic opportunity of bringing more than two million square feet of disused city centre floorspace back into productive use, which is enough to fill New York’s Empire State Building. 

Glasgow is in the midst of a housing emergency and retrofitting the 400 empty office buildings in the city centre is an obvious part of the solution to increase the city’s housing stock at pace.

We know what the solutions are, so it’s now time for all of us with leadership roles in the city and Parliament to put our collective shoulders to the wheel and make it a reality before we lose more of our city’s soul to the wrecking ball.