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February 12, 2014

Whose parks are they anyway?

Glasgow City Council’s approach to the management of its public parks is a curious one. There’s a long history of the Council dreaming up alternative uses for the parks which the denizens of Glasgow have consistently taken exception to. From trying (and failing) on three separate occasions to turn Glasgow Green into a coal mine back in the mid-19th century, to trying (and failing again) more recently to build a nightclub in the Botanics, you might think the Council would think twice before issuing a strict new code of conduct to park users.


Ken Smith, The Herald

MANY a parent has chided a child for disturbing a pet dog when it is quietly lying on the carpet sleeping, bothering no-one.

Sometimes Glasgow City Council seems to have an insatiable desire to poke the citizens of the city awake when they are bothering no-one, particularly over the city’s parks.

You would think the council would cut the grass, pick up the litter, paint the railings occasionally, and let everyone get on with using the parks for a bit of fresh air and exercise. But there is hardly a green space in the city where local citizens have not felt the need to set up committees to defend their parks from the council’s plans, whether it is zip-wires in Pollok Park, nightclubs in the Botanic Gardens, private sports clubs on Glasgow Green or even tree removal at Bellahouston.

Now, when things are a bit quiet in the parks, the council is busy again, drawing up draconian rules which have managed to anger swathes of park users.

These rules can be pretty effective. I remember reading the old rules on a noticeboard at Botanic Gardens which state that no-one can “beat, shake, sweep, brush or clean any carpet, rug or mat in the park without prior consent”. And I have never once seen anyone with a rolled up rug and carpet-beater in the park since the notice went up.

Of course the council has a bit of previous, as the police might say, stretching back more than 100 years. In 1858 Glasgow council planned to sell off most of Glasgow Green to be mined for coal. Only public opposition led to the plans being dropped, although the council tried twice again in years to come, hoping, presumably, that people had short memories.

More recently the Fleshers’ Haugh part of Glasgow Green was to be sold off to a private developer, provoking a public campaign to have it halted. You see, when the council goes hand-in-glove with a private developer, no matter how good the plans are, the public are suspicious. The same happened when entertainments group G1 wanted to build a nightclub in the Botanic Gardens. Inevitably a Save Our Botanics Group was convened to stop what they saw as a blight on the park, fearing drunks trampling the flower beds at all hours of the day and night.

Mind you, there had been a nightclub there before, the old Sgt Peppers – I don’t think the Beatles were ever paid royalties for that – in the old railway station at the park entrance. If my memory is correct, it later went the way of many a building which has outlived its usefulness in Glasgow. It accidentally burned down.

One of the stranger park protests was plans to remove trees in Bellahouston Park in the eighties for the Pope’s visit. Wild claims were made that 200 trees were to be chopped down. In the end only 12 trees were carefully uprooted and stored until after the visit then replanted.

A tabloid newspaper reporter told me they were keen to photograph the actual removal of the trees but did not know when it would happen. The paper eventually found a chap in a flat overlooking the park who had a portrait of King Billy on his wall. He readily agreed to become the paper’s tree watcher and phoned daily to report on what was going on.

One person who did protest at the Pope’s visit was the late Pastor Jack Glass, whose rigid Protestantism opposed all things Roman. The story was told that when Pastor Jack stood outside Bellahouston Park with his banner on the day of the Pope’s visit, Archbishop Tom Winning told him as he arrived: “Nice day for it Jack.”

The story I like about Bellahouston Park was when BBC reporter Alastair Smith covered the British Stunt Kiting Association’s event there. When he did his live broadcast you could hear a pin drop in the newsroom as colleagues gathered to see if he made any unfortunate spoonerisms.

Talking of trees, Glasgow’s Incorporation of Gardeners wanted to plant 2014 fruit trees in Glasgow parks for the Commmonwealth Games. They were told though that there were no fruit trees in Glasgow parks as the punters would eat the fruit. Presumably that sounded too healthy.

So far the council has managed to anger dog walkers, cyclists and nursery schools with its draft regulations, which is quite an achievement. The rules state you must always keep your dog at your heel or on a lead so presumably you wouldn’t be able to throw it a ball or a stick, which is the classic enjoyment of having a dog.

Still, one thing everyone agrees on is that you have to clean up after your dog. A reader in another town had to point out the sign “Dog fouling – maximum fine £100” to a chap who had ignored his dog’s toilet. His brusque reply – “My dog doesn’t play football” – didn’t help the situation.

Cyclists would only be allowed to go at 5mph – a fast walking pace and slower than runners. Trying to keep your balance at that speed is one for the trick cyclists.

Permission would also be needed for any group of nursery children going in the park for a walk. Goodness, even organising a game of football with your mates would seem to be against the new rules unless you have permission.

But sometimes the council does get it right. After trying to turn the disused bandstand in Kelvingrove Park into a nightclub, and being opposed, the council has finally decided simply to renovate it as a bandstand. A stroll through the park yesterday shows that work is well ahead. What will be more delightful than sitting in the outdoors this summer listening to some live music? Mind you, the new rules state you can’t play a musical instrument in the park, so it will be interesting to see how that works out.