Plans to demolish 600 social homes in Glasgow are “on the wrong side of history” as climate disaster approaches, a group of architects and experts has said.
Wheatley Homes Glasgow, Scotland’s largest social landlord, plans to demolish the four towers of the Wyndford estate in Glasgow. In January, the flats were occupied by protesters who unveiled a banner reading, “homes for people, not for profit” several floors up the high-rise blocks and let off a smoke bomb.
Wheatley Homes Glasgow, which was previously known as Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), say the blocks are unpopular, have low occupancy rates and a high turnover and that they will be replaced with new homes, over 250 of which will be for social housing and a large number will be homes for families. The regeneration was overwhelmingly backed by residents in a consultation, they say. However, local residents who spoke to Novara Media fear that the plans have come about because the area is “prime real estate”.
A number of reports commissioned by the social landlord have argued in favour of the £73m plans on grounds of environmental impact, the flats being too small and difficulties with a retrofit. However, a report released in March, called ‘In Praise of Sturdy Buildings’, aims to “carefully demolish” these arguments.
The report was compiled by Fraser Livingstone Architects, structural engineering consultants Narro and environmental consultancy EALA Impacts for the Wyndford Residents Union (WRU), which opposes the plans. It says that the demolition project amounts to dynamiting “47,000 tonnes of carbon and 600 social homes.”
“Wheatley’s recent stream of supportive reports, responding to the community’s defence of its home, are entirely to be expected from an organisation with immense power, patronage and financial muscle,” the authors say. “But they all seem built on an instruction to find for waste, so ignore evidence, manipulate data and steadfastly refuse to apply the least, teeny bit of imagination.”
The authors say that “sturdy building is the bedrock of sustainability, for they can be here in a hundred years, still providing sturdy and useful homes, while the new homes that Wheatley now propose will have long been slated by them for demolition again, without even the possibility of their fabric being recycled, it most likely being suffused by the toxic rot treatments and retardants we use today.”
In January, a report by architect Dr Richard Atkins commissioned by Wheatley claimed that “there is little or no basis on which to argue for the retention of the existing blocks on the grounds of either energy efficiency or CO2(e) emissions”.
In Praise of Sturdy Buildings criticises the Atkins’ carbon emissions report, saying that it “overplays the performance of the new build, downplays the performance of retrofitting, calculates embodied carbon incorrectly, and stays silent on every other facet of this debate.” The Atkins report is “vague throughout” and uses calculations which are “unrecognisable in the industry”, the authors say. The authors point out that in March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended retrofitting buildings in order to limit the climate disaster.
When asked about the criticisms of his report by Novara Media, Atkins stood by his findings, saying: “I have spent a large part of my professional life delivering, advocating for, and studying more environmental, social, and financially responsible approaches to interventions in the built environment. This includes retaining wherever possible existing buildings. It is disappointing therefore that the authors of the WRU report have criticised my report for simply answering the question I was asked.”
The WRU commissioned report also criticises a structural report from AJ Balfour Associates, commissioned by Wheatley, which stated that retrofitting the estate would be “particularly challenging” and “not feasible”. AJ Balfour’s report was the basis of a claim in a leaflet circulated by Wheatley to residents in December saying, “it’s just not possible to redevelop the four blocks”. However, ‘In Praise of Sturdy Buildings’ calls this conclusion “a leap that is not proven or justified by the paltry and partisan analysis”.
AJ Balfour Associates said that it stands by its conclusions “and notes that further investigation was discussed if there was a real prospect of the works being feasible.”
Nick Drury from the WRU said: “What we see from our consolidated report is that whichever way you look at it, from structural analysis, to carbon analysis, to a cost analysis, to the built environment, GHA’s bum’s oot the windae. They are exposed as the monomaniacal bombers they are, and we will be sending this report to every decision maker in the land, because this demolition must be stopped.”
Aythan Lewes from EALA Impacts which contributed to the report said: “The Wyndford is emblematic of everyone trying to promote new buildings as being the answers to climate crisis, whereas actually, new buildings are incredibly polluting in their construction and take decades to earn their carbon back – decades that we don’t have.”
A Wheatley Homes Glasgow spokesperson said: “The reports by highly-respected leaders in their field confirm conclusively that demolition of the four blocks and the £73m regeneration of Wyndford, including the building of 300 new energy-efficient affordable homes, is the best option for both the community and the environment.”
At the beginning of March, Glasgow city council was criticised for inviting a representative from Wheatley to give opening remarks at Glasgow’s third retrofitting conference, despite the social landlord consistently demolishing its old housing stock.
Carmen Lean, a spokesperson for Architects Climate Action Network Scotland and a member of the Wyndford Residents Union, said: “Glasgow city council hosting a retrofit summit is about as respectable as Shell hosting a fuel poverty conference.”