Guardian Readers’ – A conversation About Memories of Sixty Year’s of Glasgow’s Housing Under the Labour Party
High-rises of the 1960s and 70s built as a solution to slum conditions instead became a new form of slum housing that invited a fresh round of demolition. Who or what is to blame for the recurring housing failures? What has the experience been? Thoughts and memories of regeneration in a Labour Party run Glasgow:
Red StarTrout: The big problem with Scotland’s housing was the old rating system. Up to about 1960 the rates were split between the tenant and the landlord.
That extra cost to landlords meant there was no money to be made building houses to rent and no money available for repairs.
The result was overcrowded old buildings that were falling apart, and not much new building apart from council schemes after 1920.
The lack of building meant a lack of builders: why be a builder if you can’t get a job?
A lot of the old tenements could have been refurbished, but there weren’t enough skilled people and nowhere near enough money.
The only option was to flatten everything and put up the tower blocks. They could be built from factory produced concrete sections; low skill and low cost but also low quality, especially with low spending on maintenance and security.
If the rating system had been reformed earlier it might not have been so bad.
Labour represented the people in the slums, but by opposing any reform that would help landlords they only made things worse.
The Tory win in Scotland in 1955 finally got the Tories in Westminster to change the system but by then the only way out of the disaster was to flatten Glasgow and start again.
Both parties used housing for electoral gain, both helped cause the problem, neither did enough to solve it.
For what happens next, a question. If the Victorians and Georgians could build houses and flats that are still attractive places to live after a century or two, why do we find it so difficult? And why does Glasgow seem to find it impossible?
inconsolable: Thatcherism was to blame. Industry was stripped out of Glasgow in the 80’s. Damp and despair pervaded the flats and schemes. Drugs arrived and found an unhappy home
That was the environment of hopelessness and fear which characterised the Thatcher era for what had been the working classes.
ID0384694: These buildings were the results of a power-grab by the Labour run council that ran throughout the 1960s and carried on well into the 70s.
At the end of WWII the plan to rebuild Glasgow involved depopulating the city moving people out of city slums into new towns build around, but not in, Glasgow (Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Irvine
Pretty quickly Glasgow’s councillors realised this decrease in population was diminishing their standing within the UK, and they feared that Glasgow would drop out of that second-rung of British cities behind London that includes Manchester, Birmingham, etc.
Their response was to hastily increase the number of high-rise developments.
While the previous generation of high rises in Glasgow had been carefully planned, sited and designed, this new wave were thrown down anywhere there was space, and they were designed solely with the aim of increasing population density as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
EckGuavera: The decline of the estates with the high rises coincided with mass unemployment. When the jobs were gone there was nothing in the outlying areas and no money spent to develop or maintain them.
Tim Gray: Unfortunately the class structure of our society meant those buildings were never cared for by the governments (local and national) that built them.
Johannes56: My grandmother moved to Peel St when they were built. They were good flats, but only bricks and concrete, people make the difference, and after a few years the area looked and actually felt unsafe.
PeterGriffin: People realised there was no future for them and the present was so horrible that the only way to deal with it was to escape via drugs or drink. I don’t think people actually realise just how much Thatcherism destroyed people in the 80s unless you lived through it.
Dangermaus: I grew up there at the end of the 70s, and let’s not get all rose tinted about it:
With the shipyards closing, the Thatcher years about to rise, sectarian issues and the propensity for bevvy, glue, jellies and the junk that seems inherent it was perhaps the older generation who had it best in the flats and the tenements as they had a network.
But fundamentally these flats could have been refurbished and saved, as could several of the estates like Rutherglen or Hamilton, and it’s down to the people that moved in who tore it down from the inside, taking it away from everyone.
The Parkhead and Anderson I remember are gone, and the new Glasgow is not the same. These could have been homes for people who need them, but what comes next.
EricthePenguin: The concept of the 1960s vertical village so beloved of those who eschewed traditional buildings for it has been shown for what it was: a failed social experiment.
GerryT: beloved of photographers and architects, Bluevale and Whitevale icons,had another problem. I remember as a child walking down Millerston St with my pals aged 8 and 9 and watching these being built.
I lived in a tenement in Dennistoun and I looked forward to the prospect, with my pals, of playing on the lifts. It didn’t take us long to work out that these flats were going to be in the firing line of the most disgusting, smelly smoke that came out of a factory on the corner of Gallowgate and Millerston St.
Right enough, when they were opened and the wind blew from the south, this pongy, revolting coloured gas would drift up into the flats. How we, wee boys, laughed at the stupidity of the builders (we didn’t know much about planners and architects in those days).
DocR: Monuments to the failure of socialism in Scotland – massive clearance and replacement of housing that could have been rehabilitated in favour of inhuman blocks that would be at home in the outskirts of Bucharest. Typically Stalinist – but that was the old Scots Labour establishment.
dolcevitamyarse2: Having grown up in Maisonettes in Glasgow here’s my take on it.
1. The materials used for the building were substandard and not fit for purpose this meant that repairs were required which would have cost a fortune and thus were never done. Our house was riddled with dampness. Wallpaper put on a wall in September would be peeling off the wall in November. There was no heating in these flats that you could actually afford to use and the metal framed windows froze on the inside
2. The council housing staff’s approach to residents complaints or requests for repairs or simply maintenance or cleaning of the streets was rebuffed and ignored. One council housing official when my mum a member of the tenants association requested the council cut the grass in the common areas was to say it’s only Springburn you people don;’t deserve it. The grass remained uncut for 6 months through summer
3. The council’s approach to housing people was to put trouble families in areas where the residents maintained and took pride in the area. From experience it only takes one bad family to ruin an entire street
4. Once the decline sets in the families who took pride in the area move out and problem families move in
5. Heroin. Heroin hit Glasgow’s housing schemes (housing estates) in the early 80s and proceeded to make a worsening situation catastrophic. An entire generation became addicts house breaking rocketed. our house was broken into 5 times in 18 months. in this period.
6. Thatcherism wiped out virtually all the local employment. An area where fathers worked now had 8 out of 10 fathers unemployed. A lack of money circulating led to a steady decline
7. Vandalism went up the new problem families allowed their dogs to crap everywhere the council refused to even fix the lifts or change the bulbs in the common stairwell lighting, perfect rape and mugging locations
8. the areas and people were abandoned. Those that could leave did. Those that couldn’t were stuck on an incomprehensible housing points system that left you waiting for a different council house for years if not decades
That was quite simply the reality of my family during the 80s. When my grandfather died they had to carry his coffin down dark stairs as the lift was out of order again and the lighting hadn’t been repaired. Scum families kids spat on people as they walked past, junkies broke into our houses, muggers jumped us in the street, vandals wrecked the environment, the Labour council simply didn’t give a damn and the Tory government did their best to destroy what was left. Just knocking down and rebuilding houses didn’t solve anything in the 60s and wont solve anything now. Actively maintaining an area controlling who gets housing in an area and support for areas who start to show problems may actually work if given a chance.
kittymcguire: Your memories of the 80s in Glasgow are similar to mine. I had forgotten about the dog ah it everywhere.
Carolan99: That’s exactly how I remember it too. I grew up for a few years in the Queen Elizabeth Square flats in the Gorbals. Most of the families were poor but decent.
Some however managed to make their own lives and everyone else’s worse. They were very selfish and didn’t even notice how badly their behaviour impacted on anyone else.
The Council’s attitude was callous and they just treated everyone as if we were scum that deserved no better. I remember the walls being covered in damp and my dad painting it over and over only for the damp to come back through a week later. The flat was freezing and we were overcrowded.
I had a friend two floors down that lived with her grandparents and her cousins because her mum and aunties were addicted to heroin.
The lift often broke down and we had to walk down the back stairs to get to school. We were greeted with drug addicts. I walked past while they stuck a needle somewhere, often with their trousers round their ankles, they would even inject their groin for a hit.
The stairs stunk of vinegar and the bottles lay around, they used this to clean the needles.
My dad struggled to get work and it got to the stage he gave up, after all where is the incentive to work hard all week to live like that.
The cupboards were often bare and free school meals were the only decent meal we got. I can still remember the free milk until Margaret Thatcher the milk snatcher took it away.
Social problems are the biggest factor in destroying housing estates, no matter the type of accommodation someone has.
foyherald: Replied to the main article before I had read your comment, I worked in and around the Gorbals area in early 1990s and remember how bad it could be.
I’ll never forget having to take the stairs down from one of the top flats on Caledonia Road because of broken lifts and having to squeeze by junkies on the stairs.
Other problems included vandalism, security entry systems constantly broken and in the high rises people setting fires in the fire escapes stairwells.
Carolan99: There was no security back then. The door to the back stairs was open to the public and made a great shelter for the drug addicts.
There was blood squirted on the walls from them pulling needles out of their veins. The council’s ingenious idea was to spray the walls with a type of speckled paint. It was brown and red and hid the blood splatter if you didn’t look too close.
My friends and I thinking we were being responsible one day picked up all the discarded needles and took them to the police station (just down the road from the flats) we were turned away with the needles. We were about 9 years old. Nobody cared, we were just children of the poor scum.
Carolan99: I forgot to mention people pishing in the lifts. How could I forget that always a good start to the day.
My dad would polish my school shoes and then I would stand in a puddle of pish.
Nightmare when the lifts broke down and often did, you could be trapped for an hour or more, so sometimes I would just take the back stairs on purpose.
I remember somehow managing to have fun too, the other people that lived there were good people.
I got invited to parties and sleepovers and the kids were friendly.
Large concrete legs held up the flats, they used to generate a powerful wind and we would turn our jackets inside out and try and fly.
There was a walkway that took you over Ballater Street where we used to play on our skateboards.
kittymcguire: I’m from Drumchapel. During the 80s, many parts of Drumchapel was a dump.
All the housing looked awful. I used to hate going up a lot of the closes as they were smelly, and intimidating.
I was lucky to live up a clean close (having lots of old ladies as neighbours was wonderful.) There are still lots of social problems in the area. I firmly believe that these were caused by the decline of decent jobs during the 80s.
rt09: Having lived in tower blocks in Glasgow, the major problems were people who did not know how to live with their neighbours in high rises and poor original construction.
The majority of inhabitants viewed these flats as temp accommodation, until they could get a much nicer flat. Housing associations did a pretty good job of getting rid of the anti-socials, but flooders and chronic noise makers could make life hell.
foyherald: I had the pleasure of knowing Glasgow architect and author Frank Worsdall who was a campaigner for retaining the heritage of the Glasgow tenement. He and many others were quite vocal in their criticism of housing policy in post WWII years, some even saying that Glasgow City had dome more to destroy communities than the Luftwaffe.
It is now overwhelmingly acknowledged that the houses and high rise schemes built were sub-standard but not only from poor materials but also poor choice of design, building houses with flat roofs is not a good choice given the west of Scotland weather.
In the early 1990s I worked in and around the Gorbals area and the infamous Hutchesontown scheme, the now demolished Queen Elizabeth flats where almost deserted and generally the only tenants left were either extremely desperate and wanting to be re-housed, anti-social that could not be housed elsewhere or those with serious alcohol and/or drug problems.
Like many others I was not saddened to see them torn down. Many areas where the tenements were retained are now highly desirable, hopefully the housing being built to replace the high rises and surrounding schemes will not suffer the same problems that plagued those they have replaced or will be replacing.
plastikman2010: All this appalling planning and social decay happen when you have a one party state. In eastern Europe it was communism in Glasgow it was militant left wing labour!! Glasgow pre 90’s shared many features with East European cities.
MacBeat: There was far too much demolition in Glasgow city centre and very little attempt to refurbish the traditional tenement houses; some of them were past it – masses of single ends and tenements where there had been little or no maintenance for generations – but where there was refurbishment it worked and communities were not destroyed.
The biggest source of destruction was the motorway which led to communities all round the city centre being devastated.
Thankfully not all the tenements in the centre were reduced to rubble but it is agonising to see what might have been with more sensible and careful planning.
Even in the Gorbals it would have been possible to refurbish more of the traditional buildings with a bit of effort and imagination.
As for what replaced the tenements well you just have to look at any of the council housing estates in and around Glasgow to see what happened – poor design and construction, poor materials, families dumped on the edge of nowhere with no social cohesion and then combined with the economic problems which followed the collapse of the heavy traditional industries endemic generation after generation unemployment; gangs and drugs thrived in that environment.
political responsibility – which political party was elected there – labour – many of whose members contributed to the problem with captive electorates, nepotism and pretty well corrupt dealings with favourite contractors/architects.
The workmanship was often so shoddy that there was no waterproofing in the walls of the new tenements and no drainage so that, as I experienced in the Auchenback scheme in Barrhead – four storey tenement houses built for Glasgow overspill – when it rained heavily, not unusual in that part of the world, the water poured in a torrent off the hill behind the houses through the stair well and down the front steps.
notangry: The problem wasn’t master planners or even planners. Glasgow Council’s Housing Department, at that time the largest in Europe, was allowed to do precisely what it wanted, unfettered by any planning concerns.