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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2006, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Moves to re-invent the river bank
By John Knox
BBC Scotland reporter

Since World War II, cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee have turned their backs on the sea.

The docklands became an embarrassment, the river estuaries a sewer. Now all that is changing as our towns and cities rediscover their river banks.

There are no fewer than 53 regeneration projects on the banks of the Clyde.

They include:

  • the new arena and hotel at the exhibition centre

  • the media village at Pacific Quay

  • the redevelopment of the Custom House

  • umpteen housing developments

  • and an athletes village at Dalmarnock - if Glasgow is chosen to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The artist George Wyllie lives high on a hill above the Clyde at Gourock and is delighted the river is being recognised again as an asset.

BBC Scotland's new headquarters in Glasgow

He said: "But they only seem to be interested in building flats, pretty horrible flats to my eye. We should be using the river for restaurants, cinemas, theatres, gardens, walkways and we should be putting in pontoons for river buses."

One of his current projects is to recreate a Para Handy steamer, to follow his famous paper boat and straw steam engine.

Mr Wylie said: "Rivers are a great source of energy.

"All great cities are built on rivers, yet we have turned our backs on our rivers for too long."

Housing development

Across in Edinburgh, the city's head of design, Riccardo Marini, is saying much the same.

He said: "The crazy thing is that Edinburgh is a seaside town but we rarely see the sea. The New Town in the 18th Century was built to allow those glimpses to happen, but we have forgotten about it."

He is planning a New Town of 33,000 people along the waterfront at Leith, Newhaven and Granton.

We've always seen the potential of opening up our waterfront but up to now we've lacked the political will
Councillor John Constable

It is a process that will take 25 years, but it has already started with the Scottish Executive building at Victoria Quay, the Ocean Terminal shopping centre and the multi-coloured flats at Newhaven.

Further up the firth at Bo'ness, plans have just been confirmed for a 200 house development around the old harbour.

It includes a marina and a hotel and the restoration of a number of important buildings in the town centre, notably the Hippodrome, Scotland's first purpose built cinema which opened in 1911.

Local councillor John Constable said: "We've always seen the potential of opening up our waterfront, but up to now we've lacked the political will. I think people are becoming more aware of their environment."

Ugly office block

Two other factors have helped. The Forth-Clyde canal has been reopened and Bo'ness is near its eastern end and there is huge pressure now for new housing anywhere on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Dundee is spending some 200m over the next 15 years reconnecting the city centre with its harbour.

The process started with Captain Scott's ship the Discovery being brought back to the waterfront.

Pacific Quay atrium
The new headquarters were designed by David Chipperfield
Roads around the station are being realigned to allow passengers to walk directly into the centre of town without having to climb through overhead walkways.

An ugly office block, Tayside House, is to be demolished, allowing easier access to the water and housing is being brought into the docklands area.

In Inverness, the harbour trust is building a 100-boat marina, hopefully to include a workshop and a restaurant for hungry yachtsmen.

At the other end of the Caledonian Canal, in Fort William, there are ambitious plans for 300 new houses on the water front, plus a marina, a conference centre and a hotel.

Down in Eyemouth, they have put in a series of pontoons for leisure boats and a refuelling facility and next year they hope to reopen the old fish market as a museum.

This rediscovery of the waterfront coincides with the rediscovery of many old and interesting buildings.

When you get people together to save a building and find a new use for it, you tap into what the community feel about their past
Jeremy Cross
Restoration programme producer

Jeremy Cross, producer of the BBC's television programme Restoration, said people were becoming more concerned about saving the physical evidence of their past.

"It's about people feeling that what they attach importance to is recognised and shared and passed on," he explained.

"When you get people together to save a building and find a new use for it, you tap into what the community feel about their past. They can then go on to making that place develop and become better in the future."

The Scottish episode of Restoration will be broadcast on Friday, 18 August at 2100 BST when viewers will be asked to vote on preserving three buildings; Greenlaw Town Hall in Berwickshire, Cromarty East Church in the Black Isle and Dennis Head Old Beacon in North Ronaldsay, Orkney.

There is still a lot to be done in this return to the past and the waterfront.

Many of the projects are still at the glossy brochure stage.

There is a fear, of course, that the new developments will be a repeat of the tower blocks fiasco of the 1960s, with the additional excitement of driving rain, mist and wind from the sea.

The town planners, the architects and building firms have certainly been thrown a challenge. Let us hope they can carry the vision through to a long-lasting reality.

Work ends on new BBC Scotland HQ
03 Aug 06 |  Scotland
STV given green light for new HQ
21 Sep 04 |  Scotland
Clyde project 'fails communities'
26 Jul 04 |  Scotland
Bridge boost for BBC HQ plan
07 Nov 02 |  Scotland
BBC Scotland unveils digital HQ
30 May 01 |  Scotland


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