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9 Jan 2008

This year voters selected Coatbridge as the Most Dismal Place in Scotland. But Coatbridge’s problems are shared by many Scottish towns

This year voters selected Coatbridge as the Most Dismal Place in Scotland. But Coatbridge’s problems are shared by many Scottish towns

The Carbuncle awards were established in 2001 following a discussion about why policy initiatives to improve the quality of the built environment seem to be having so little impact beyond the centres of Scotland’s key cities.

The Carbuncles are an antidote to the more self-congratulatory award schemes, with a serious purpose: the aim of raising debate about how Scotland’s towns, cities and rural environments can be improved. In the first year it was won
by Airdrie in North Lanarkshire and the subsequent two awards went to Cumbernauld Town centre. This year the award was again given to a North Lanarkshire town, Coatbridge, Airdrie’s neighbour.

Although there were a lot of public nominations for Paisley, the panel looked around Paisley and thought that it could not really be described as dismal. Paisley has an overly complicated traffic management system, the planners have neglected the river and there is far too much of that public art that gives art a bad name, but despite all of this, and its reputation for being risky at night, its heritage wins out. Paisley is not without charm.

Travelling around the country we came across evidence that the idea of pace marketing or branding has taken on a rather obscene Orwellian life of its own. En route from Paisley to Wishaw we travelled down the Nitshill Corridor and were rather shocked to find that the local authority had thought it appropriate to market the extremely dismal stretch of road, and miserable run down housing strung out alongside it, as a ‘Corridor of Opportunity’. This kind of branding is an insult to the locals, and local authorities that partake in this kind of activity should be named and shamed. If there are opportunities in Nitshill then perhaps the authors of the silly sign should deliver them.

The judging panel for the awards were Alan Taylor from the Sunday Herald and Scottish Review of Books; Gordon Young, Publisher; Tom Mower, designer and author of Attention Please: A walk interrupted by safety signage; Adrian Welch, architect and director of website; Colette Brodrick, receptionist; and Penny Lewis, Prospect’s editor. The purpose of the judges’ visit was to try and weed out any nominations that were undeserving and to provide comment on the failings of the place or buildings. The judges’ not-so-grand-tour tended to confirm the nominations made by the public online but the panel were pleasantly surprise by their visit to Paisley.

The shortlist for the Plook on the Plinth award included Glasgow Springfield Quay; Glasgow Oatlands; Coatbridge Town Centre; Cumbernauld Town Centre; Granton Harbour and Cumnock. The challenge to find the most disappointing building ended with a contest between the Casino and the new Etap Hotel at Glasgow’s Springfield Quay, a new Morrisons beside the regenerated mill in Paisley; the Antonine Centre in Cumbernauld; and the Shields Road car park, opposite CRM’s Scotland Street School in Glasgow.

The Carbuncles also includes an award for poor planning decisions. The nominees in this category were Silverburn in Pollok, Glasgow Harbour, Ravenscraig, Granton, the Hoover factory in Cambuslang and Tesco in Partick.


The Plook on the Plinth

Scotland's most dismal place

Coatbridge is like many small towns in Scotland, blighted by economic decline, traffic management policies and the collapse of high street retail in favour of retail parks. There was once a canal running through the town but it’s been converted into a miserable linear park, and in some places a swampy rubbish tip.

Coatbridge could be a great place. Many people live in walking distance of the town centre; despite the fact that the main street’s shops have a high turnover rate, the street it is still busy. However, like many other main streets across Scotland, it has been turned from tarmac into setts in an effort to create a ‘pedestrian friendly’ area. It’s the kind of approach featured in Scottish Government guidance PAN59 and PAN52, but as the document makes clear, passing car-borne trade can be important for small towns, while hard landscaping needs to be handled carefully to prevent the creation of windswept precincts.

The new pedestrian friendly surface at Coatbridge may represent a considerable investment by the council but that doesn’t mean it is good design. The street is made of a fussy design of setts that attract more than their fair share of gum and fag ends, and the road built to bypass the main street is a mess. Anyone passing through Coatbridge only ever gets to see the back end of the town. They can study the back of ASDA and the dilapidated public toilets because the so-called relief road is usually congested as it now serves a retail park. Fortunately, the ASDA is located next to the main street and it can be accessed through a run-down precinct but it’s in desperate need of a facelift.

If you make it to the main street, Coatbridge’s Quadrant shopping centre looks like is was lifted directly from the set of Camberwick Green. A new clock tower, which looks as if it was designed on the back of a beer mat, marks the town centre, a throw-away gesture compounded by the addition of some ill-conceived public art-cum street furniture. Directly opposite, the visitor is confronted with a dark and dingy public square and a derelict swimming pool. To be fair, planning proposals have been submitted to pull down the pool and replace it with a NHS centre-cum-library centre designed by Keppie Design. However, there are some serious question to be raise about the new public facility, not least whether the current fad among public clients for lumping together public services into single buildings on the ‘pools-cum-libraries’ model, but more importantly, the scale of the new four and five-storey building seems to dwarf the main street. Given that North Lanarkshire recently commissioned a report on design quality, produced by Anderson Bell Christie, which talks about the importance of recognising the importance of built heritage, you might have thought the architects would have explained why they didn’t feel it appropriate to retain the simple but elegant sandstone building on the site.    

Glasgow Springfield Quay

The Zit Award

Scotland’s most disappointing building

Springfield Quay is an important resource for Glasgow’s south-siders. It could be Glasgow’s answer to London’s South Bank, or even capture the excitement of Las Vegas, but instead it has all the charm of failing retail park; it’s dismal in the day and one big traffic junction at night. In line with the council’s planning policy the new Casino at Springfield Quay could have been used to establish a good strong link between the entertainment park and the river. The new development should have been a catalyst for opening up paths along the waterfront, but instead the big inarticulate silver box blocks views to the river. There does not appear to have been any thought devoted to how the very large new building might relate to the river. The car parking needs to be organised properly in multi-stories or underground. Recent developments have reduced pedestrian access to the site rather than improving it.

Silverburn Shopping Centre

The Pock Mark

Scotland’s worst planning decision

Silverburn Shopping Centre has been built in place of Pollok’s old town centre and represents a significant investment in a very deprived area. Most of the nominations for Silverburn were from people objecting to out-of-town developments. Others complained about the external cladding. The carbuncle judges expressed concern that the centrepiece of many of these new shopping centres seems to be the car park rather than public space. It’s hard to see why, in the context of Silverburn, more parking wasn’t located in multi-storeys rather than eating up the entire frontage of the development.

The Antonine Centre, Cumbernauld

Cumbernauld town centre, dubbed a ‘rabbit warren on stilts’ by past Carbuncle judges, has now hidden its stilts but it’s hardly raised its game. The new shopping centre is cheap, over-illuminated and it links into the existing shopping in a particularly boorish fashion, cutting of the tops of some of the original signage. The exterior of the Antonine is about as unimaginative as they come. The facades look as it they have been lifted straight from a suppliers’ catalogue and they provide a hostile frontage to the public buildings to the south. So much for a new town centre; the panel wasn’t even allowed to take photographs – it’s certainly not a public space.

Oatlands, Glasgow

The regeneration of the Gorbals is held up as an exemplary piece of urban design and development. So what happened to its neighbour in Oatlands? Glasgow City Council decided to give the entire area to one developer, Betts Homes, now Gladedale. In return for the land, Betts must build more than 1,000 homes, a new road, a pub, shops, a public hall, social housing and refurbish Richmond Park. The Council clearly felt Betts was offering a good deal but it may have been a false economy. Even though the urban design approach is endorsed in the Scottish Executive’s Advice note 67 on Housing Quality, so far the process has produced a dismal result.  

Cumnock, East Ayrshire

Cumnock in East Ayrshire has a rich history, steeped in the religious turmoil of the Scottish Reformation. One of the leaders of the Covenant movement, Alexander Peden, was born not far from Cumnock and is buried in the town’s cemetery. He died on the run from the authorities; his body was exhumed and brought back to Cumnock. Despite its rich history and attractive surrounding countryside, today it’s a sorry, unlovely, neglected and forgotten place. The main street has become so neglected the shops can’t cater for locals’ everyday needs. No effort appears to have been made to halt the process of desertion. There are no real public places – even the local cafe is unwelcoming.

Paisley Town Centre

Art Although Paisley received several nominations on the Carbuncles’ website, the judging panel felt that it was not sufficiently dismal to justify a place on the shortlist. They were, however, shocked by the outcome of a series of public art commissions, which clearly added nothing to the quality of public space. In one case, where the shadow of a tree was cast in setts into the pavement, the quality of the material and workmanship was so underwhelming that the tree itself had started to die!

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