As cities face a perfect storm of adversity in a post-pandemic world now hit by a soaring cost of living crisis, a major new academic report – Scotland's Urban AGE 2022 - comes at a pivotal time. With offices in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh – and clients operating across all of Scotland's key sectors – we have witnessed first-hand the challenges outlined in the report.
But there are still good stories to be told, and Glasgow is no exception. One only needs to count the number of cranes visible in the Glasgow skyline to know that development is happening, across various sectors. And, notwithstanding that new build activity, the continuing scarcity of Grade A stock and the growing focus on the ESG agenda (accelerated in part by Glasgow's hosting of COP26) are combining to create a meaningful repurposing agenda and in certain instances a deep retrofit of the existing built environment.
Taking the residential sector first, the authors of the report highlight 'living locally' as a move away from thinking of our city centres as single entities, to become ecosystems where residents can have their everyday needs served within 20-minutes of their home.
We can already see examples of new living models in the form of build to rent arriving in various quarters of the city centre, from the Moda scheme at Pitt Street, to Drum's mixed-use development at Candleriggs, to Delancey's Get Living at the east end of the High Street. And there is a significant build to rent element at Buchanan Wharf, a particularly exciting mixed-use regeneration scheme for the city, located on the previously under developed south bank of the River Clyde. These upcoming developments will contribute to Glasgow's economic growth and in the delivery of the social benefits outlined in Scotland's Urban Age (SUA2).
The viability of these schemes is also bolstered by current planning policy in Glasgow, with no requirement on developers to deliver an affordable housing element. That policy is, however, currently under review and we do consider that if such a policy is introduced, it needs to be flexible in its terms and in its application so as not to threaten development viability.
Whilst the story of development is a positive one, and real-life examples of the 20-minute neighbourhood are coming to fruition, Glasgow faces the same challenges as all other cities. And that challenge is how do we encourage those who live in the surrounding areas and who have local amenities and the ability to work from home – those living in East Renfrewshire or South Lanarkshire, for example – to visit Glasgow city centre?
One way of doing that has to be in the reimagination of the office. At Brodies, we are already seeing demand for quality buildings that satisfy the requirements of larger occupiers. That includes more flexible space, more collaboration space, and strong ESG credentials – all designed to encourage people back into the office and into the office community - something that simply can't be replicated at home. Offices have to be more now than just bricks and mortar; they need to be communities for office workers in both a micro and macro way.
But this has to be matched with the decarbonisation and comprehensive refurbishment of the older office buildings within the city to meet these occupational needs, for which – as SUA2 highlights – both political will and fiscal impetus are required to facilitate that repurposing and redevelopment agenda.
Glasgow is currently reinventing itself from a post-regeneration city to a proto knowledge city – and it is a city that is in the very fortunate position of having direct access to a significantly well-educated and highly skilled workforce. The city is in the enviable position of having three universities situated around the city core, with innovation districts being promoted by both Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities.
We also have Caledonian University and once you add into the mix the fantastic entities of the Conservatoire, The Glasgow School of Art and the Queen Elizabeth University Teaching Hospital, the knowledge and innovation that we can tap into right in the heart of our city, is really quite astonishing. According to a recent report from CBRE, Glasgow is now recognised as one of the three leading tech hubs in the UK outside of London.
We have an exceptional opportunity on which to, quite literally, build. The last few years have disrupted many areas of our lives, challenging established ways in which we work, spend our leisure time and access goods and services. SUA2 provides a framework for how we can work together to ensure the economic recovery of our city centres and ongoing success of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the wider city regions.
As part of the business community, at Brodies we are acutely aware not only of the challenges faced by each of the AGE cities, but also the importance of their success to the national economy. The AGE cities need to be vibrant places for people to live, work and visit. There is now a collective responsibility to implement the recommendations of SUA2 and through collaboration, investment and commitment, reimagine our cities for the next generation.
This article first appeared in The Herald on 30 June 2022