The Red Road Flats are a high-rise housing complex which lies between the districts of Balornock and Barmulloch in the north east of the city of Glasgow, Scotland. It consists of eight multi-storey blocks. Two are "slabs", much wider in cross-section than they are deep. Six are "points" â more of a traditional tower block shape. The slabs have 25-32 floors, the points 30, and taken together they were designed for a population of 4,700 people. After two blocks in the Gallowgate area, which also have 30 floors, the point blocks are the tallest buildings in Glasgow at 89 metres (292 ft). Views from the upper floors draw the eye along the Campsie Fells to Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps, then west past the Erskine Bridge and out to Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran continuing south over Glasgow and East towards Edinburgh.
Construction and new hope
Designed in 1962 by architect Sam Bunton for Glasgow Corporation Housing Department, the flats were constructed between 1964 and 1969. They were of unusual construction, being the only steel-framed residential high-rise structures in Glasgow. Built to house a population of 4,700 people, the 25 and 32 storey tower blocks were at the time the highest in Europe.
From the time they were built until recent years, they were owned by the local authority.
For most of the early residents, living in the flats meant a considerable and welcome rise in their living conditions, since most had previously lived in much worse housing, often severely overcrowded, either nearby or elsewhere in the city.
Use of asbestos
During the original construction, large amounts of asbestos were used as fire-proofing. Two decades later it became widely known that the use of this material caused a number of illnesses and deaths, and most or all of it was removed.
As depression set in by the mid-1970s, the estate gained a reputation for anti-social crime, ranging from disaffected youths throwing objects from the roofs, to frequent burglaries, often carried out in support of addictions to illegal drugs. Such problems were less severe than those evident in parts of the city such as the nearby low-rise Blackhill estate, long dominated by ruthless crime gangs. But they were able to strike a nerve in the perceptions of non-residents, owing partly to the "looming" ambience of the blocks which in some ways might even be called emblematic. The slab blocks, for example, are not only 25 storeys high but also almost 100 metres wide.
Around 1980 the authorities declared two of the blocks unfit to live in, and transferred them for use by students and the YMCA respectively. These happened to be the blocks closest to the front of the complex when approached from the city centre. Being nearest the bus stop, they were also easiest to locate for those who were new to the city, to Scotland, or to the UK as a whole â as many of the YMCA guests and college students are. Some blocks received coloured steel cladding around the same time. All occupied flats other than those in the two front blocks continued to house tenants of the local authority.
Measures were introduced in the 1980s which gave residents increased protection. These included the control of access through the communal entrance doors by means of RFID keys and intercoms, and the installation of round-the-clock concierge facilities. The level of anti-social crime fell dramatically.
By the turn of the 1990s residents included a number of refugees from Kosovo. Today people also live on the estate who have fled from countries elsewhere in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Transfer to housing association ownership
The position changed dramatically in 2003 when the flats were transferred, after a ballot, to a housing association en masse in the shape of the Glasgow Housing Association Ltd. The practice of transferring housing stock from public to private ownership had initially been launched in the 1970s as a flagship policy promoted by the Conservative Party. At that time, the recipients were individual tenants who opted to buy their homes, or long-term leases thereon. Twenty years later the policy was enthusiastically backed in a more wide-ranging and collectivist form by Glasgow's Labour Party council, which transferred its entire housing stock to a single company set up for the purpose. This change amounted to the largest transfer of public-sector housing stock that had ever taken place in Western Europe. Local authority publicists promised tenants that following transfer the carrying out of necessary repairs would be expedited.
Soon the new landlords as well as the council insisted that repairs were costing more than receipts in rent, and that big changes therefore had to be made. This was very different from what they had said prior to privatisation. At that time, they made no linkage between expected rental income and the making of repairs. At no time did they state that the landlords' financial income would have any bearing on tenants' rights to live in accommodation which was publicly owned, publicly subsidised, and properly looked-after.
In 2005 Glasgow Housing Association announced its intention to demolish one of the tallest blocks as part of a regeneration of the area.
The housing scheme was featured in the 2006 film, Red Road, which won a BAFTA and the Prix de Jury (third prize) at the Cannes film festival.
The landlords and their publicists, together with players in the commercial property business, as well as the council, describe the flats (and therefore those who want to keep their homes) as being of the past, and (lucrative) 'development' as being of the future. Cultural figures celebrate the use of an atmospheric cinematic location.
Meanwhile, thousands of people continue to live there, among whom there is considerable opposition to the plans to demolish their homes. As one manifestation of this, the Save Our Homes group seeks to ensure the scheme's continued existence. This is part of a growing movement to defend council housing in Britain.
However, all the eight buildings are planned for phased demolition beginning in the spring of 2010 and expected to be accomplished within a decade.
On March 7, 2010, three people fell to their deaths from one of the towers. These deaths galvanised much in the way of action in and around the Red Road.
Various projects now exist to document the end of the flats positively, with the hope that everyone with memories of the flats will contribute actively to the projects as best they can.
On March 14th 2010 "The Sunday Times" in Scotland carried an article entitled "The Rise and Fall of Glasgow's Red Road. That article features the recollections of Glasgow born film-maker, Matt Quinn, who grew up in the flats.
Clydeside TV have now commissioned a film with the working title of "Skyscraper We'ans" that intends to pay tribute to the positive aspects of growing up in the Red Road. This film is to date entirely self-financed without any kind of sponsorship or external commission.
Glasgow Life, a part of the city authorities, have an ongoing project to document the Red Road experience this features 'specially commissioned photography, film and even a novel to celebrate life in 'the scheme'. On March 15th 2010 this was updated to include volume 1 of "Your Stories" which features the recollections of the area by various local people.
From February 19th â June 27th 2010 the Red Road flats featured in the "Multi-Story" exhibition at Glasgow's Gallery Of Modern Art (GOMA) Multi-story is a collaborative arts project based in the Red Road, established in 2004 by Street Level Photoworks in partnership with The Scottish Refugee Council and the YMCA