'Disruption is inevitable': Glasgow council leader defends state of city

Susan Aitken said 'disruption' was inevitable as the council looks to transform the city centre.

Glasgow council leader Susan Aitken grilled on state of city centre STV News

The leader of Scotland’s biggest council has defended the state of the city centre amid increasing shop closures and rising graffiti.

Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken said the city was in a “period of transition” as it looks to recover from the Covid pandemic.

Speaking to STV anchor John Mackay on Scotland Tonight, the SNP politician said “disruption” to one of Glasgow’s busiest streets was necessary to improve it.

It comes after the nearly £6m project to transform Sauchiehall Street was delayed by up to five months.

The Avenues Project has seen large parts of the street dug up to replace older trees, with fencing placed around a large stretch of the street.

Sauchiehall Street is undergoing a £5.7m transformation.Glasgow City Council

Asked about issues with rats, damaged pavements, graffiti and empty shops, Aitken said the council has increased investment in street cleansing to record levels, including 470 people cleaning the centre’s streets.

“Unfortunately if we want to get to a better and improved city centre there is going to be some disruption and that’s something we are going to need to work through,” she told STV.

Questioned on when the state of the city centre would improve, she said: “It’s not for want of trying on the part of the council.

“We are investing a huge amount and we are trying to work in partnership with businesses to address some of these issues.

“There has been a change in behaviour since the pandemic. There is no doubt about it.

“So we have seen a big increase in graffiti for example much more in Glasgow than we used to have. We are now much more like big European cities.”

She said that was partly due to empty units in the city centre. But she said filling those units was “much easier said than done”.

Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken was interviewed Scotland Tonight by John Mackay.STV News

She added: “For a start, we don’t own those empty units. We don’t have control of those empty units as a council and something I’ve been lobbying very hard for from government is the powers and the levers we need.

“Some of these empty units are owned offshore, they are part of big property portfolios, there is fragmented ownership.

“It’s very, very challenging for us with the powers we have to really move on getting those empty units taken over and if I were to just break open the doors of an empty unit and say I’m going to do something with this I am breaking the law and I am certainly not going to be asking my officers to do that.

“We have to be able to do this sustainably and well.”

She added: “The city is in a period of transition right now and there’s disruption as part of that transition. It’s inevitable.

“It is impossible for us to get to the other side without some disruption but I am confident that Glasgow city centre has a bright future ahead of it.”

Glasgow Conservative leader Thomas Kerr described Aitken’s comments as “utter delusion”.

He said: “Glaswegians will have been left none the wiser as to how Susan Aitken and the SNP council she leads are going to clean up our city.

“She has been in charge of our city for seven years but still cannot take any responsibility for the mess she has overseen.

“Businesses are on their knees and it is hard to find any local resident who talks positively about the state of Glasgow right now.

“That is on Susan Aitken to fix, yet astonishingly she was totally unwilling to even put a date on when she thinks things will finally improve.”

George Redmond, leader of the Labour group at the council, added: “It’s clear from Susan Aitken’s appearance last night that the SNP’s complacency and lack of responsibility are hindering Glasgow’s economy.

“There’s no comprehensive vision for our city.

“After enduring seven years of SNP mismanagement in the City Chambers, supported by the Glasgow Greens, Glasgow is left paying the price.”

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