Friday25 July 2014

Urban motorway divides Glasgow

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James Benedict Brown revisits the failed campaign to prevent the city’s M74 motorway extension

It has been more than a decade in development, but on Tuesday the Duke of Gloucester will finally declare open a project that has the dubious distinction of being the last urban motorway to be built in Europe.

The 8km M74 extension has been built to ease traffic on the M8 by offering a faster route from the west of Glasgow to the east by cutting through the Southside neighbourhoods of Govanhill, Toryglen and Cambuslang.

Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, claimed: “Its completion is vital to the future growth and success of Glasgow’s economy and of the whole country.”
Friends of the Earth has termed the ruling to build it “probably the worst environmental decision ever taken by the Scottish executive”.

A ring of motorways around the city centre was first proposed by Glasgow Corporation engineer Robert Bruce in his infamous 1945 report. Two sides of the ring were completed, but the ensuing demolition of large swathes of Anderston and Charing Cross proved so controversial that the eastern and southern sides of the ring road were never built.

However, it is the obsolete design standards of the M8 itself, and not the Bruce Plan, that have made the M74 extension necessary. The M8 features slip roads on both inside and outside lanes, and some junctions are less than a tenth of a mile apart.

Reflecting on the approval of the £445 million project in 2005, community activist and former MSP Rosie Kane said: “I felt that there was no way the folk making this decision could understand what they were doing to the communities affected.”

Kane had put herself at the centre of a campaign to raise public awareness of the proposed motorway, chaining herself inside Glasgow’s (pro-M74 extension) Chamber of Commerce. At a city council meeting about building the extension on disused industrial land, she dumped bags of “toxic waste” on the table, demanding to know why more work hadn’t been done to investigate the risks of such chemicals to local residents’ health. A bio-hazard alert was declared, until it was established it was just mud from Kane’s garden.

Also at the forefront of the campaign against the project was Glasgow Letters on Architecture (GLAS). The second issue of GLASpaper, published in 2001, centred on the M74 extension. It featured a prescient collage of what the motorway would be like for pedestrians in Govanhill and the Gorbals, depicting a woman pushing a pram beneath a motorway bridge, passing roadsigns to a distant swimming pool.

Ironically, the greatest impact will be on those areas that use cars the least

For Jude Barber, former member of GLAS and now director of Glasgow-based Collective Architecture, it is an image that strikes close to home.

“I was walking with my daughter Isabelle in the buggy last year, going into town from Pollokshields,” she recalls. “It was the day that the big blue steelwork went up. Walking underneath it with the buggy, I suddenly thought ’oh my god, that’s me!’ Ten years on, this horrific image has come true.”

The steelwork that Barber refers to has – in a bizarre gesture to the immediately adjacent houses on Devon Street – been painted a benign shade of sky blue. It is here that the M74 crosses Pollokshaws Road, Eglinton Street, Kilbirnie Street and the West Coast Mainline railway in a 750m viaduct, where one span reaches 138m. The bridge is visible along the length of Eglinton Street and Victoria Road, and from as far away as Queen’s Park.

It is a cruel irony that the motorway’s greatest aesthetic and acoustic impact will be on the neighbourhoods of Glasgow that use cars the least: at the 2001 census, nearly 60% of households in Govanhill had no access to a car.

While the argument for the M74 emphasised reducing congestion, it is now apparent that Scottish businesses are eager for it to generate new traffic.


The extension was built to offer a faster link from west to east.

Amanda McMillan, managing director of Glasgow Airport (eight miles west of Glasgow), said the airport could now attract passengers from as far away as Dumfries and Galloway and northern England. She added: “We will be actively encouraging business and leisure travellers in those areas to use Glasgow Airport as their airport of choice.”

Likewise, when contacted by BD, a spokesman for Edinburgh Airport (40 miles east of Glasgow) was similarly positive about the effect of the motorway on its business. He said: “We welcome any investment that allows passengers from Glasgow to access Edinburgh Airport more easily.”

Jude Barber reflects that “it flies in the face of all the policy made lately about the use of public transport, walking, cycling, or taking the train. It just feels like 1970s planning decisions being implemented in 2011.”


Readers' comments (7)

  • Although there are clearly issues of community division this is a major construction that we cannot move but could alter, perhaps we could see Glasgow developing and utilizing the under belly of the motorway in a positive intervention. We cannot change where it is but could change what it does.

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  • The motorway passes through several areas and to use a Govanhill for a census of car ownership was always going to provide skewed figures. The real issue is congestion and this new motorway will remove the rush-hour traffic jams, caused by single-car commuters outwith Glasgow, from the surface streets...... most likely with the help of other traffic 'calming' measures.

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  • More mindless road bashing … in my experience mostly everyone who has serious objections to one scheme (say a road) happily and mindlessly uses another scheme (say an airport) when it is convenient to them...People will rabidly object to almost anything in their own backyard through a hopelessly myopic lens of self interest and virtuous delusion; yet the same people will demand that electricity arrives cheaply, sustainably and easily in their own homes and never give a moments thought to the failed public enquiry 5 years previously and 200 miles away against a windfarm/powerstation/pylons etc. just because they can’t see it.

    It strikes me as unusual that the tone of this article is pointedly and specifically anti development – and specifically a development with a clear and demonstrable social and economic gain – especially curious from a magazine that endlessly fetishizes socially useless building projects week after week just ‘cos they look nice!

    - and I’m sure that Jude Barber walks to the airport when she’s flying off on holiday and she certainly took the bus last time she went to Ikea. Roads are necessary and by their very definition need to connect (and therefore go very close to!) where people live and work - this also applies to rail (see HSR2’s current problems). And we’ll not mention Edinburgh’s trams…

    In fact if we do wish to reclaim our city’s streets for bikes and pedestrians then the arterial roads such as the M74 and their distributor servants will become ever more vital to make this possible. Radical thinking is really easy(just ask a radical!) – Pragmatically trying to find solutions is a damn sight more difficult

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  • Sarah - My colleague Chris Stewart led a studio unit with Lori McEvoy at the Department of Architecture in Strathclyde a few years ago which looked at pragmatic solutions to reduce the impact of the M74 extension and harness opportunities. Chris and another colleague Michael Dougall would be worth talking to if this was something the team at Icecream Architecture were pursuing further.

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  • Sceptic - Glasgow City Council's website states that 'The 2001 Census of Population indicated that 56% of households in Glasgow have no car. This compares to 34% for Scotland as a whole. Recent Scottish Household Surveys have suggested that this situation has not altered and that Glasgow residents remain dependant on public transport'.

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  • AD Crawford - An integrated approach to our transport system and built environment is necessary and there are some enlightening international examples of this.
    It is possible to be intensely critical of the horrific M74 extension process and its devastating social and physical impact whilst also acknowledging that a transport network is necessary and engage with positive alternatives.
    Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership in association with various Councils (including Glasgow) and stakeholders (SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage) have carried out some positive studies addressing this issue in Scotland.
    Collective Architecture contributed to this work by working closely with an proactive team, project managed by Glasgow City Council, to develop a series of studies called Integrated Urban Infrastructure for four existing neighbourhoods in the region - http://gcvgreennetwork.gov.uk/component/option,com_docman/Itemid,53/gid,185/task,cat_view/

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  • Mike Duriez

    This will strengthen the 1960s aesthetic of the city. Elevated motorways on concrete colums with windswept public spaces below, and a few more cheaply built tower blocks will complete the picture. A future World Heritage site to rival Edinburgh's New Town.

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