We must do better to protect our City Centre now and for its future | Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
Stuart Patrick, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
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We must do better to protect our City Centre now and for its future

By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce

Nothing quite stimulates fierce debate among Chamber members as much as the condition of our City Centre.  The empty shop units and derelict sites, the run-down pavements and road surfaces, the damaged street furniture and the constant graffiti all add up to a grim sense of decline that we all want to see reversed and as quickly as possible.  

So much of the transformation we have seen in Glasgow’s economy over the past three decades started in the City Centre in the arts and culture sector, in tourism, in education and most visibly in the expansion of the International Financial Services District (IFSD). 

At the beginning of this century, half the new jobs in Glasgow City Region were being created inside the G1 and G2 post codes and the creation of wealth and jobs within the City Centre continues. Last week, I heard from two of the largest banking companies in the IFSD explaining how successful their decisions to develop global technology hubs in Glasgow had been and how many new jobs are still in prospect.

That is why the Chamber remains so determined to champion our City Centre and why we have chosen to work in partnership with Glasgow City Council to help turn it around.

Earlier in the month, I co-chaired the last meeting of the City Centre Task Force with Councillor Angus Millar. Set up in late 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the Task Force sought to co-ordinate a response to mitigate the damage the crisis was causing.  Three years later, we now better understand what has happened and what now needs to be actioned.  A new City Centre Strategy Board is being set up to oversee the delivery of a fresh action plan.  Empty units need to be converted to new, often residential uses, pavement and road surfaces need to be renewed and fresh investment must be attracted into the most prominent derelict sites.  

The final pieces of study evidence are due in shortly, including data on employer policies on hybrid working, consumer views on the availability of nighttime transport and the evolving impact of changed consumer habits on the nighttime economy. We want to know whether Glasgow’s relatively slow return to the office is likely to change in the year ahead, whether and how we need to change the choices available for travelling into and out of the city centre at night and to fully assess just how damaged our nighttime economy has become.

We are operating in very difficult economic and policy conditions.  Both the cost of living and the cost of doing business have risen dramatically.  Both the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council are struggling with their budgets.  Decisions are being made which are making the recovery of the City Centre even more tenuous.  It is hard to argue that increasing city centre business rates, adding yet further to parking charges or taking an axe to public transport budgets are choices we would make to regenerate our city centre. And yet these are all decisions that have been made in the last three months.  We need to appreciate the cumulative, damaging impact of these decisions on the businesses fighting to survive in our city centre and we need to do better.

I see businesses every week that are keen to invest in the city and its people. They know that local authorities are very short of planning resources, but they remain determined to work together with officials to get projects off the ground.  At the moment, many of those investments are for new student accommodation and Glasgow is short of student accommodation. Next year it may be offices or build to rent homes. The Chamber will argue long and hard in favour of those businesses that are trying to invest. And we will argue strenuously against any further decisions putting barriers in the way of that investment.

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