City council in the firing line

Venues on Glasgow street are at risk of closing down 

Sauchiehall Street labelled a “disaster”

By Jonathan Watt

OPERATORS on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street have criticised the city council for a lack of information as the demolition of Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building gets underway.

In addition to devastating the art school, a major fire on June 15 caused serious damage to neighbouring venues, the O2 ABC and Campus.

Since then a large section of the street has been shut off, causing a decline in footfall and forcing a number of outlets in the surrounding exclusion zone to close for an undetermined period of time.

The problems coincided with major regeneration works, which were already taking place on the street as part of the Sauchiehall Street Business Improvement District (BID) plans. The works are not set to be completed until mid-2019.

And a separate section of the street was already shut after a fire at Victoria’s nightclub in March; it is yet to reopen.

All of this disruption has led to licensees predicting permanent business closures before the street is back to normal.

Andy Fairgrieve, general manager of Life Glasgow, which is located near the exclusion zone, said: “The whole street from Charing Cross to Buchanan Galleries is a disaster. Everyone is just getting vague information from the council on what’s happening, no one is being given set dates for things.

“Our worry is that this will be a lovely street when all the work is finished next year but how many of these businesses are still going to be here?

“The improvements needed to happen but it’s been bad luck for it to coincide with two fires. We need information and more access in the area as soon as possible to get people up.”

Neil Douglas, owner of Antipasti, an Italian restaurant that has had to close as a result of being in the exclusion zone, also bemoaned the council’s handling of the situation. He has banded together with other operators to form an action group.

He said: “After weeks of speaking to the council, we kind of feel like we haven’t got anywhere. The help the council has provided has generally been pretty lacklustre. Fundamentally, it’s just the flow of information that we want. I think a lot of people are going to be done before the exclusion zone is removed.”

The owner of Campus, Gavin McGreish, has yet to be allowed access to the venue but said legitimate safety concerns have held things up for businesses based on the street.

He added: “Now the council have to inform interested parties as much as they can every step of the way.”

While Paul Cardow, owner of live music venue Broadcast and a minor shareholder in the O2 ABC, told SLTN he has called upon the council to complete works as soon as possible so some parts of the street “do not resemble a warzone,” but has yet to receive an official response.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said the local authority had taken a number of steps to help those affected by the disruption, including suspending business rates for firms based within the exclusion zone, and had taken operators’ contact information at meetings.

He added that the “day to day updates” requested by some operators were “unrealistic” and at this stage there was “not a clear timeline as to when the [art school] cordon would be reduced or lifted” as the council did not want to create “false expectations” and anticipated that the cordon erected as a result of the fire at Victoria’s nightclub would remain in place for “a few weeks yet”.

Glasgow School of Art confirmed in a statement last week that work had began on a “brick by brick” demolition of the Mackintosh building that was expected to take “several weeks” with Glasgow City Council Building Standards assessing whether it was possible to reduce the size of the exclusion cordon while various phases are completed.