Iconic Glasgow Council Flats Occupied in Protest Against Demolition

‘These buildings will not come down.’

by Simon Childs

20 January 2023

Protesters unfurl a banner and let off a smoke bomb from one of the blocks. Photo: @SavetheWyndford on Twitter.
Protesters unfurl a banner and let off a smoke bomb from one of the blocks. Photo: @SavetheWyndford on Twitter.

Campaigners have occupied four massive council housing blocks in protest at their planned demolition. The protesters unveiled a banner reading “Homes for people, not for profit” several floors up the high-rise blocks and let off a smoke bomb.

The protesters took over the iconic towers of the Wyndford estate in Glasgow on Monday in opposition to controversial plans to tear down 600 social homes, by Wheatley Homes Glasgow, Scotland’s largest social landlord.

In a statement, the Glasgow branch of the Young Communist League, which was involved in the occupation, called the proposed demolition an “attack on our class”.

It said: “According to Wheatley Homes, the working-class families of Wyndford will be best served by displacement. 600 affordable homes are to make way for 300 unaffordable ones. To anyone with the faintest grasp of numeracy, this ‘solution’ is patently ludicrous.”

Police made six arrests in connection with vandalism in two separate incidents as the occupation got underway on Monday.

A statement released by the Save the Wyndford Twitter account on Thursday evening said that despite the arrests, all four buildings remained occupied. “These buildings will not come down,” a spokesperson said.

Wheatley Homes Glasgow said the blocks have low occupancy rates and a high turnover.

“Over 250 of the new energy-efficient homes will be for social housing, and a large number will be much-needed homes for families,” a Wheatley Homes Glasgow spokesperson said.

No firm plans have been publicised, however.

Laura Jones from the Wyndford Residents Union said: “There has been nothing concrete. Part of our objection is that there is no plan.”

She said assurances that new social housing will be built are “not worth the paper [they’re] written on.”

Jones said: “They’re desperate to pull these flats down and to peddle this narrative that these are terrible flats, they’re an eyesore, everybody hates living in them and everyone hates looking at them.

“We’re right on the doorstep of the West End with all this beautiful green space. It’s hugely convenient in terms of amenities and all the rest of it. That’s why this is prime real estate for them.”

“It’s funny because they want to do that desperately at the same time that they’re telling us but nobody wants to live in the area, because it’s so terrible.”

Many of the residents have been moved out after accepting alternative accommodation, but some flats remain occupied. Jones said: “I have friends who lived in those flats. They’re lovely flats. I’ve seen the flats that people have moved into and none of them have gotten a bigger flat.”

Wheatley Homes Glasgow, formerly GHA, re-launched in 2022 promising that “the new organisation will continue to keep rents affordable and also give tenants an even louder voice in policy and decision-making.”

However, it has not spoken to the Wyndford Residents Union about its plans, Jones says. “They say they’ve consulted with people, but we’ve been trying to talk to them for two years and they’ve been completely stonewalling us.”

Wheatley Homes Glasgow said that 85% of residents who responded to a consultation are in favour of the plan to demolish the blocks.

But campaigners do not believe that the consultation was conducted fairly. Jones said: “They just count on their social tenants as being in favour. They haven’t asked all those people and all those people haven’t had a chance to give their opinions.”

Residents claim that a consultation brochure gave the impression that the demolition of the towers had already been decided. Architect Professor Alan Dunlop, who opposes the demolition, said no alternatives were offered in the consultation.

A Wheatley Homes Glasgow spokesperson said: “Every tenant in Wyndford was invited to give their views during an eight-week consultation period. Residents and businesses from the wider community were invited to attend drop-in sessions. This was overseen by TPAS Scotland, an independent body to support tenants, and was fair and robust.”

Dunlop is among several architects who have objected to the plans, saying that the existing structure should be retrofitted. He told the Architects’ Journal: “I can’t think of a similar site of such quality anywhere in Glasgow.” Historic Environment Scotland is considering listing the buildings.

The looming demolition has also been criticised by environmentalists including Friends of the Earth Scotland.

Gloria Lo from Architects Climate Action Network Scotland said: “The cycle of demolition and new build is wasteful and polluting the planet – it is never the right choice in a climate emergency and fuel poverty crisis.”

A report by not-for-profit construction consultancy EALA Impacts commissioned by the Wyndford Residents Union reported that “mixed tenure is achievable within the existing towers, with lower carbon impacts and positive social benefits by demonstrably investing in the existing community.”

Wheatley Homes Glasgow has dismissed the idea of retrofitting the blocks, however.

A leaflet put out by Wheatley Homes and Glasgow Council in December 2022 claimed that “it’s just not possible to redevelop the four blocks”, citing a report by a team of leading consultants commissioned by Wheatley Homes Glasgow.

The report, by AJ Balfour Associates, says that retrofitting proposals would be “particularly challenging” and “not feasible”. But the report also estimates the costs of a retrofit at just under £56m, only slightly more than the £54m cost of demolition and rebuilding the estate.

Miles Glendinning, a professor in architectural conservation at the University of Edinburgh and director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies, told the Architects’ Journal that the idea that Wyndford could not be retrofitted was “nonsense”.

Another of Glasgow’s post-war high-rise developments, Cedar Court, has been successfully refurbished, achieving an 80% reduction in energy demand.

Glasgow council controversially transferred its council housing stock to Glasgow Housing, a predecessor of Wheatley Homes Glasgow, in 2003.

Wheatley Homes Glasgow is part of Wheatley Group which boasts that it is named after John Wheatley, a Red Clydeside era Labour MP known as the “father of social housing”. The group’s CEO Martin Armstrong has seen his salary grow to £418k by 2022 as rent arrears grew to record levels in the cost of living crisis – twice as much as the leader of Glasgow City Council. The package was described as “obscene” by housing campaigners.

Simon Childs is a commissioning editor and reporter for Novara Media.

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