RESULTS OF THE 2022 HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT SURVEY
Over the spring of 2022 GCHT launched a public survey on perspectives towards Glasgow’s built heritage, receiving just under 500 response from members of the public to eight questions on Glasgow’s urban landscape. This is a fantastic response, demonstrating the important role our architectural inheritance holds in the lives of people who live and work in Glasgow today. It also provides important viewpoints going forward on how Glaswegians want their city to look and feel in the future.
The survey is part of GCHT’s Snapshot, an ongoing research project which gathers a city-wide perspective of Glasgow’s built historic environment. The aim is to provide a baseline of information, together in one place, to help provoke discussion, illustrate trends and inform decision making. More information about the project can be found here.
WHO TOOK THE SURVEY?
The survey captured the views of a diverse section of society. It does, though, vary from the demographics representative of Glasgow’s people, with 76% of respondents resident in the city. Almost 65% of respondents were over 45 years of age, this contrasts to the estimate of Glasgow’s population in 2020 of 47% within that age bracket, while those 44 and under, comprising 37% of the population, represents 34% of survey respondents. Only one respondent identified as under 16 (despite under 16s comprising 17% of the population).
Of the 498 responses, 27% identified as having a professional engagement with the heritage sector, while 60% felt the term “heritage enthusiast” best described themselves. In total, five elected officials responded.
HOW PEOPLE FEEL ABOUT GLASGOW’S BUILT HERITAGE
Understandably, those who responded to the survey are engaged with the value of heritage, 93% answering that Glasgow’s built heritage was very important for them.
Overwhelmingly, respondents felt that Glasgow’s architectural heritage was in an unacceptable condition (28% very poor and 49% quite poor). Worryingly, the trend identified by 79% of respondents was that the condition of the city’s historic urban fabric was “getting worse”, contrasted by only 5% who felt the status to be improving.
COMMENTS FROM PEOPLE SURVEYED
The survey provided an opportunity to leave comments, which 53% of those surveyed did. These comments have been analysed and can loosely be categorised into eight main themes:
- Call to action: Sentiments that expressed the need to take immediate action (e.g., specific buildings of concern)
- Wider context: Considerations need to be given to wider influences in society (e.g., deprivation, climate emergency, comparison with other cities):
- Criticism of planning: (e.g, council needs to act further on its responsibilities)
- Incorrect approach or philosophy of heritage sector: (e.g., in prioritisation of projects, variations across the city)
- Opposition to new buildings and commercial development: (e.g., demolition of older buildings instead of repair)
- Ways to enforce repair and restoration: (e.g., greater protection for architectural heritage)
- Need for broader political action: (e.g., national or city-wide policies)
- Lack of public interest: (e.g., ignorance of Glasgow’s architectural history)
“I’m saddened by the decline in Glasgow’s historic environment in recent years, and the general air of neglect that is growing in parts of the city. The Council needs to fight for funds to protect and preserve it. It’s Scotland’s biggest city with a glorious architectural heritage. It isn’t enough to have Edinburgh’s older architecture cared for. Scotland needs Glasgow to be better too.”
“(It is) very important to protect and enhance Glasgow’s historic environment to make it distinctive, exciting, dynamic, full of civic pride, and to address environmental issues of climate change.”
“Too much of our history is left to rot until safety is the excuse to demolish. We need to invest for our community, for jobs, for tourism and have a place we are proud of to call home. We are custodians, time we protected and promoted our built environment for future generations.”
“I think it’s very import to preserve the history of Glasgow for future generations to love and enjoy!”
VACANT AND DERELICT BUIDLINGS
Participants were also asked to indicate all the different ways they felt that vacant and derelict buildings impacted the surrounding communities. The negative impact to civic pride ranked foremost (92%) closely followed by negative impacts to a community’s wellbeing (76%) and an increase in anti-social behaviour (73%). 64% of respondents also thought vacant and derelict buildings lead to less community cohesion, though only 48% of people were concerned about an impact in property prices.
OBSTACLES TO IMPROVEMENT
Given these widely shared sentiments, it is important to understand what is considered to be the biggest barrier to improving the condition of Glasgow’s historic environment. Interestingly, lack of political will, not availability of investment, was identified as the main obstacle to improving the city’s architectural heritage, respectively 44% versus 36% with all other factors polling under 10%.
One aspect of this criticism of political will is better understood in the response received to the question “What do you think should be the main source of funding for the restoration of historic buildings?” The majority of the survey respondents supported the main source of financial support to be from public funds (54%), and setting aside both those without a fixed opinion and those who prioritised third-sector sources of funding (e.g., community or charitable grant funding), only 10% supported commercial development as a means to fund restoration works.
It is possible that negative perceptions of the private sector development of historic buildings and historic sites has partly influenced this response, namely, a lack of trust in the property development and construction sectors. This should also be coupled with an important civic tradition in Glasgow of providing funding for works when considered as public goods. Indeed, there was a strong sense that investment in historic building restoration has particular social value.
Given this need for public funds, and other priorities on local authority and government budgets, we asked respondents “Should the restoration of historic buildings be a priority for public funds?” almost half (47%) felt it should be a high priority and a further 48% thought it should be of some priority. This indicates that investment in built heritage was seen to have many benefits beyond just architectural preservation.
One other issue identified by the survey is the amount of awareness of current building conservation and renovation projects. Despite the high-level of interest in Glasgow’s historic built environment captured in the demographic section of the survey, 78% of respondents were aware of fewer than three active projects. Of which, 24% had no knowledge whatsoever of a current building conservation or renovation project in Glasgow.
This evidence shows that the heritage sector itself is not as successful as perhaps it needs to be to highlight the existence of individual projects or disseminate best practices and approaches to an already engaged audience who could channel their interest into more tangible support.
The survey demonstrates the strength of feeling regarding the city’s built heritage. While the survey provided an important outlet to criticise the status quo, it also outlined the level of passion and support. A call to action – that Glasgow’s architectural gems can and must be saved – was by the far the most common response. We must remember that 93% of respondents valued the city’s built heritage highly. The survey showed that Glasgow’s historic buildings are beautiful, they are something of which people are proud and above all, people want them to be loved, cared for, and appreciated by everyone.
Report compiled for GCHT by Sam Gallacher, independent consultant