In 2014, Glasgow hosts the XXth Commonwealth Games. In total, Scotland will invest over £520m in the Games’ delivery bringing up to 6,500 athletes and officials from 71 countries to take part in 17 different sports over 11 days in July. This will be the largest sporting event ever held in Scotland and for Glasgow is the next milestone in its ongoing economic transformation. Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and one that has shared with so many other conurbations the post WW2 trauma of the collapse of its heavy industrial cluster. Once the centre of ‘Clydebuilt’ ships and railway engines, today the city thrives on light engineering , whisky, business conference tourism and a vigorous new financial services district. The rediscovery of its Victorian city centre architecture, the national role it plays in music, broadcasting, visual and performing arts and its lively enthusiasm for shopping and parties means that the XXth Games ought to be a perfect fit in the city’s long-term economic strategy.
To date, the Games are on time and within budget. Together with the senior management team of the BBC in Scotland, I toured the main physical sites in January many of which are in the East End where so much of the old lost industry was based. Take the East End regeneration challenge set out for this year’s London Olympics, scale it down to around the fifth of the size and you have a pretty good picture of what Glasgow faces with its own East End. Already the Games have had their impact. The final link in the city’s motorway system – in planning and financial dispute for nearly 50 years –was completed last year and now opens up access to the east end for commercial investment. An Urban Regeneration Company – Clyde Gateway – has been operating for four years promoting a long-term regeneration strategy for the area, gathering up and treating old contaminated industrial land ready for new industry to begin, making the local employment connections and acting as the lead attractor for investment. The Games undoubtedly helped protect the company from severe austerity budget cuts, and it is doing an excellent job. The Games on their own cannot transform the area but with a long-term commitment beyond 2014 and a highly competent URC, much can be achieved.
One of the assets in Glasgow’s bid to host the Games was the plan to draw on facilities that were mostly already in existence, and that has kept the overall capital budget down. But some new venues were needed. In the East End, a new national indoor sports arena and cycling velodrome will be finished two years ahead of the Games, the 700 houses of the Games Village are underway, and elsewhere a new 12,000 seat concert arena is in development next to the city’s exhibition and conference centre (SECC) on the edge of the city centre itself. It is very unlikely that Glasgow will stumble on its capital expenditure plans. The confirmed attraction of the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships is a tangible sign that these venues have taken Glasgow to a new level. There is also a deep appreciation of the way the Games can help evolve Glasgow’s strategy in building on its success in the business conference market. The new concert venue both releases existing space at the SECC for further conference sales and allows Glasgow to pitch for much larger conventions than it could before.
The city and national government both have legacy plans agreed and in delivery. These plans set out fairly wide-ranging ambitions for sports engagement and physical activity, cultural ties, physical regeneration and business benefit. Lessons have been learnt from previous Games’ hosts Manchester and Melbourne including for example the early establishment of a Games Business Club to ease the access of Scottish companies to Games contracts with the Scottish Government reporting over 80% of contract work worth £158m going to Scottish companies so far. Of course, this is not on its own a sustainable legacy; if Scottish companies can use the experience as a step up into the global events market then it becomes sustainable.
But there is a bigger prize to be won for Glasgow in the wider telling of its economic and cultural story; in communicating the strengths it has developed from its engineering heritage, its academic traditions and contemporary research capabilities, and its role as hub for Scottish media and creative industries. And here’s the rub. Whilst Glasgow is celebrating the Games, Scotland will be preparing for a constitutional referendum, voting in 2014 on whether it should become an independent state. What was therefore a fairly straightforward opportunity to sell Glasgow’s story to the world becomes a potentially complex story about Scotland as a nation. Unplanned for at the point when the Games were successfully secured, this is a communication challenge as yet unresolved with two and half years to go.
Find out more about the relationship between sports and urban development in this month’s Urban Intelligence newsletter, with new exclusive content from cities expert and blogger, Greg Clark.