Charrettes and Challenges in Pollokshields

Niall Murphy, Planning Convener of Pollokshields Community Council, Chair of Pollokshields Heritage & Vice Chair of Pollokshields Trust reflects on the motivations behind a community-led charrette and the challenges arising out of it.

Pollokshields, on Glasgow’s Southside, is the largest Victorian Garden Suburb in Scotland. It was feued in 1848 by Edinburgh Architect David Rhind on behalf of the Maxwell family who owned neighbouring Pollok Estate, with the family guiding its development for six decades.

Rhind’s plan split the suburb into two halves: West Pollokshields, with leafy avenues of large villas and East Pollokshields, with gridded blocks of sandstone tenements. Conscious of the appalling urban conditions in Glasgow at the time, the family insisted on broad streets and a 3-storey datum for tenements to ensure residents had good daylight and air. Flats incorporated bathrooms from the outset – well in advance of various Police Acts.

Today, East Pollokshields is the most multi-cultural area in Scotland with a BME population share of 52%.  Between 2001-2013 the population rose by 16%. More than a quarter of households are overcrowded, 33% of children live in poverty, 93.5% of people live within 500m of vacant or derelict land while East Pollokshields has one of the lowest SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) ranks in Scotland.

Though East Pollokshields became a conservation area in 1973 the Victorian tenements are aging and difficult to heat, while the mix of tenures and refuse issues means problems which resulted in the creation of the ‘Enhanced Enforcement Area’ in neighbouring Govanhill, also occurs here.

To help combat these issues in December 2014, Pollokshields Community Council, with support from our MSP, MP and local councillors, obtained agreement from Glasgow City Council that if we secured funding under the SSCI Charrette Mainstreaming Programme they would support us in the preparation of a planning study for the area – something which had been Glasgow City Council policy since the adoption of the City Plan 2 in 2008.

In February 2016, having obtained these funds, augmented by monies from Glasgow City Council, local businesses and amenity societies, we held the ‘Make Your Mark’ East Pollokshields and Port Eglinton Charrette – the first community led charrette in Glasgow – having recruited a consultant team led by Collective Architects.

The key objectives of our brief were how we could make the area a better place to live, to promote the contextual development of the large brownfield sites between Pollokshields and Glasgow city centre, so severance could be reduced and, most importantly, to ensure the charrette report was adopted.

The charrette outcomes were reported at a well-attended community meeting in late March 2016 with the vision publicly endorsed by Nicola Sturgeon MSP and Alison Thewliss MP. The finalised report was lodged with Glasgow City Council for their consideration in June 2016.

Since then, despite plenty of effort including the setting up of the Pollokshields Trust as a community anchor organisation to steer the vision forwards, repeated pre-application engagement with developers of the large brownfield sites to encourage them to take on board the charrette’s design code, to our frustration adoption by Glasgow City Council has still to occur.

Unfortunately, we are not unique. How to get community led charrettes adopted into policy by councils does seem to be the Achilles Heel of the process with the risk of thwarting community enthusiasm which could descend into cynicism and distrust – something sadly flagged up by the survey results for Barriers to Community Engagement in Planning – thereby undermining the efforts of the Scottish Government towards Local Place Plans.

Nevertheless, if we’ve learned anything it is tenacity! Therefore, we welcome a positive overture from Glasgow City Council, at a recent meeting hosted by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, to work collaboratively with us and the Scottish Government on a pilot scheme to ensure that community led charrettes can slot into the development plan process. Will we succeed? Watch this space…