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March 12, 2024

Would Wheatley approve?

John Wheatley was a socialist politician from the Red Clydeside era of Scottish politics. He lived in very different political times from today and although he’s often described as the founding father of social housing, one can’t help wondering how he would feel about his name and reputation having been appropriated by the housing behemoth, Wheatley Homes. Wheatley’s apparent disregard for the concerns of tenants on the Wyndford Estate in Glasgow whose homes they propose to demolish without even having carried out an environmental impact assessment, was laid bare in The Scottish Parliament recently. And all in the great man’s name.

Pam Yule, Wyndford Residents Union

The Wyndford Residents Union is fighting to save their home from one of Scotland’s biggest demolition projects proposed by Wheatley Homes Glasgow.

It is largely accepted that demolition and rebuilding have more negative environmental and climate impacts and cost more than retrofitting. Despite this, Glasgow City Council approved Wheatley Homes’s proposal without requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment.

In September 2023, the Residents Union won a judicial review which ruled that the Council’s decision was unlawful and ordered the demolition to be paused. However, after additional challenges from Wheatley Homes and the Council again deciding an Environmental Impact Assessment was not necessary, the Union is now pursuing a residents’ referendum and second judicial review

Wanting to save their homes, the Residents Union collaborated with architects and experts to offer more sustainable solutions for retrofitting the houses. You can read about their work in this report.

This is the speech that Pam Yule from the Wyndford Residents Union gave to the Cross-Party Group on Nature and Climate at the Scottish Parliament alongside our Chief Officer Shivali Fifield on 28 February 2024.

Pam’s story illustrates that it is often urban development in disadvantaged areas where residents are making the connections and leading the fight for social, environmental and climate justice. Reforming legal aid would empower more people to act and enforce our right to a healthy environment.

The Wyndford Estate

The Wyndford Estate in Glasgow was built in the 1960s at a time when architects thought deeply about social wellbeing and housing that supported and nurtured a person from cradle to grave.  

Our beautiful, Saltire Award-winning Wyndford has a range of housing from bedsits to 3-beds. Much of the housing is built in the courtyard style, with kitchen windows overlooking greens and cars banished out of sight. 

Neighbouring the River Kelvin wildlife corridor, the design of the estate included over 10 acres of beautiful parkland and mature trees, hosting badgers, otters, bats, kingfishers, a peregrine falcon roosting on one of the high flats, hedgehogs, weasels, tons of wildlife and biodiversity. I have seen a deer outside my kitchen window – just a two-minute walk away from the very busy A81. 

The threat of demolition with no Environmental Impact Assessment

In November 2021, Wheatley Homes notified all 600 tenants of four 26 storey high flats located on our beautiful greenspace that their flats were going to be blown up.

Their so-called “consultation” provided no alternatives to demolition.

Shockingly, since Wheatley Homes promised a bright new dawn for Wyndford we are suffering deepening neglect from them. Damp, mould, leaks, broken pavements, litter left on the ground for months, untended green spaces and rising crime are all going unaddressed whilst they ignore repeated repair requests and complaints.

Residents’ collective action to hold power to account

Due to a high level of resistance, Wheatley were unable to empty the buildings until September 2023 when they started demolition despite an ongoing judicial review brought by the Wyndford Residents Union and supported by the brilliant Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS). 

ERCS has supported and steered us through investigating the initial “consultation” which was deemed unlawful by a legal advocate, and have helped us with Freedom of Information requests.  Right now, they are supporting us through a judicial review (our second, we won the first) on Glasgow City Council’s refusal to have an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done on the demolitions.

We are extremely fortunate to have a union member eligible for legal aid.

Why are residents’ solutions for more inclusive and sustainable homes being ignored?

We have to ask – why do the council and Wheatley resist an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)?

I have a quote from one of Scotland’s most renowned architects, Malcolm Fraser – one of the many outstanding architects who support us – who says:

“I can’t get Planning Permission for a teeny wee Children’s Nursery without a detailed swathe of Environmental Assessments; so the idea that you can demolish four 26-storey social housing towers, adjacent to a residential neighbourhood and an important urban wildlife habitat without one is either a)  wrong, or  b) proves that, in Scotland, the rules only apply to the little people, and not to the powerful.”

The high flats represent the interconnection between social, climate and environmental crises that are affecting us all. Gentrification is not the answer.

We envisage a new life for the flats with a community supermarket and flexible working spaces on the ground floors. A catering school for local young people and a restaurant on the top floors with the gardens for the school and a restaurant as well as outdoor learning on the beautiful green space below. On the lower floors, small flats could be reconfigured to make 3- and 4-bed apartments and the upper floors already work beautifully for young people, students, support workers, refugees and the elderly with resident reps and communal spaces throughout. New housing could be built along Wyndford Road, and all this would be much cheaper and better – and avert the environmental catastrophe Wheatley’s current plans generate. 

But Wheatley refuse to even speak to us.

Voices for Justice

We are not nimbyists.

We are trying to ask the difficult questions about the future of our urban realm, but we are being failed by our representatives who seem to be powerless in the face of Wheatley’s might, either burying their heads in the sand or happily colluding with them. 

We need you to be asking the big questions: 

  • Why are bankers moving into the CEO positions of the biggest social housing providers in the UK?  
  • Why are these CEOs collecting salaries of over £300,000/pa? 
  • Why are they running at over 100 million pounds of reserves when desperate people need urgent repairs on their housing? 
  • Why are they hellbent on demolishing sturdy, quality buildings to replace them with rickety new builds at a social, environmental and climate cost? 
  • Why are decisions on the future of our housing and greenspaces made between councils and housing providers behind closed doors and before public consultations are carried out? 

If you look up and around you, you will see that a policy of managed decline is rampant in the housing sector all over the UK.

We need our representatives to be the voice for our marginalised urban and green spaces and the people who live on them and to listen to residents who are identifying the lack of concern in addressing our climate, housing, and nature emergencies.  

ERCS is working with communities, and together we know that we are not alone in caring about protecting our wildlife, our health and social realm. We know that communities want to work with their elected representatives, but many representatives – even though they have privately told us they support us, have feared to do so in public.

We are witnessing a crazed last hurrah of the wrecking ball and this a terrible indictment on the people who are supposed to be acting to protect us and future generations. How can we work together to protect us all now and shape healthy communities for future generations?