End Of The Red Road: Residents Mourn Glasgow's High-rise Dream Gone Wrong
They were once the tallest residential structures in Europe and a beacon of hope for residents of Glasgow’s slums. Now, after becoming a byword for the failure of high-rise housing, and following a dramatic U-turn during the Commonwealth Games when a proposal to blow them up on live television caused an outcry, the remaining structures of the Red Road flats will, at last, be demolished.
Their demise, announced earlier this month, has been met with mixed emotions. Built in the 1960s on Glasgow’s north-eastern edge, the flats were intended to house almost 5,000 people as part of an effort to ease overcrowding and combat slum conditions. But in the decades that followed, they were plagued by a range of problems, social and structural.
Two of the original eight blocks were levelled in controlled explosions in 2012 and 2013. The six remaining structures are to be brought down simultaneously later this year.
In 2014, Glasgow’s council proposed to bring five of them down as a centrepiece of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. The plan sparked an outcry. Some former occupants argued that the spectacle would be undignified and disrespectful to those who had called the flats their homes.
At first it was great. But over time there were people with drug and alcohol problems moving inJohn Hood The first of the Red Road flats being demolished in 2012.
Others expressed concern for the welfare of asylum seekers, who would continue to be housed in the sole remaining building while rubble from the demolition was cleared – a process that would have taken around two years. After more than 17,000 people signed a petition calling for the buildings to be “demolished with dignity”, the plans were shelved.
One of the buildings’ first residents was John Hood. In 1969, he moved into a one-bedroom flat in one of the newly constructed blocks. Originally from Dennistoun in the east end of Glasgow, he said the flats had offered many people a dramatically improved standard of living.
“I grew up in a tenement with my brother, two sisters, and my mother and father. We were all crammed into two bedrooms, so it was very overcrowded,” he said.
“We lived there through the war years, when it was bad. The toilet was outside. There was no bath. If you wanted to get clean you could only have a wash in the sink.”
Hood’s flat was one of 312 in the 27-storey St Peter’s Court building. It was his home for more than three decades. He has many happy memories, but said that the buildings fell into decline.Two boys look at the newly constructed Red Road flats, then the highest in Europe, in November 1967. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty
“At first it was great,” he said. “But over time there were people with drug and alcohol problems moving in. The buildings started to fall into disrepair. If they’d been taken care of, then they could still be very good flats. But even though people made a lot of promises, when it came to actually doing anything the money was always too tight.”
Former residents have been dispersed into social housing across the city, but some, like Hood, continue to live in the shadow of the towers. He said he hoped to watch the demolition.
Another former resident said she’d be staying away. Catherine Gray shared one of the flats with her husband and two sons. She also said she had fond memories of her time in the buildings, but that conditions deteriorated drastically.
“When the flats were new, everybody knew their neighbours, your door was always open and you’d always stop for a blether when you passed someone on the stairs,” she said.
“But there were problems, too. The lift in our block was always breaking down, and I was on the 13th floor. For older people that was very difficult. And by the time I moved out the water was running straight through the bedroom wall every time it rained.”
She added that troublesome neighbours had exacerbated the area’s problems.
“You had people using drugs and urinating in the lifts,” she said.
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“And people would throw things out of windows. Sometimes it was buckets of water, but sometimes it was used nappies, even old televisions or cookers. And you had to be careful who your children went out to play with: a lot of boys would go out and get into fights.”
The flats acquired a grim reputation, and in 1977 a fire claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy. Many occupants demanded rehousing. The use of asbestos in the buildings’ construction was a further concern. One by one, the flats were removed from the housing pool as arrangements were made to demolish them.
The buildings’ last asylum-seeker residents were finally rehoused in February, a process that was slowed by objections to a plan to accommodate them in a backpackers’ hostel. Now the countdown to the flats’ destruction has begun. The demolition will leave a gap in Glasgow’s skyline, and people nearby will no longer look up at the the looming towers.
The future development of the site will be determined after a public consultation. Gray said she hoped to see more modern housing take the flats’ place. “I hope they’ll put in terrace rows,” she said. “It’s much better for old people.”
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