SCOTLAND's biggest council housing landlord has announced sweeping plans to knock down all 48 of its tower blocks.

In a move that will transform the skyline of much of the Central Belt, North Lanarkshire Council said it aims to pull down more than 4000 high-rise homes over two decades.

The local authority will begin formal consultations with residents early next year but made it clear it sees its housing future as much closer to the ground than now.

Council leader Jim Logue stressed the demolitions would be part of a half-billion-pound move to breathe new life in to the area's string of medium-sized town centres, such as Coatbridge, Motherwell and Airdrie, and improve housing.

Coatbridge skyline

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The Labour councillor said: "These are hugely ambitious plans. We are in the midst of the biggest council housebuilding programme in a generation in Scotland.

“But we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. Towers were once the future of housing and we have invested steadily over the years in them.

"But there is no doubt that we are constrained in improving them by the construction; some of our towers were built 55 years ago."

The council's high rises are understood to be structurally sound and safe - despite concerns after scores of people died in the Grenfell tower block in London.

But housing insiders have long warned that tower blocks are expensive to run with costly lifts and litter collection systems as well as difficult to raise to the living standards of the 21st century.

North Lanarkshire appears more resolute in knocking down tower blocks than Glasgow. The city's main social landlord, Glasgow Housing Association, has demolished 90 tower blocks since it took over from the council in 2003. Lost landmarks include the Red Road flats, once wrongly believed to be the highest domestic homes in Europe. Yet there remain 123 social housing buildings in Glasgow with 12 or more storeys. And the city has seen new private high rises rise up on the banks of the Clyde.

North Lanarkshire has more space to build, more brownfield sites than anywhere else in Scotland.

Tower blocks in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire

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Mr Logue's Motherwell HQ is a short drive from what was once the giant Ravenscraig steelworks. Once designated as a new town centre, the site is now ripe for mixed housing. North Lanarkshire now wants homes build near town centres.

Mr Logue said: "The quality of homes we are now able to build is exceptional, with great access, adaptability and energy efficiency.

“The past few decades have also seen a move away from people living in and near our town centres. It’s essential that we do something to regenerate these towns, which have been hit by the rise of internet shopping and large out-of-town retail centres.

"One of the best ways to do that is to have people again living in our town centres in modern, fit-for-purpose housing with great amenities and good transport links. While not everyone who currently lives in a tower will wish to live in town centres, we aim to create great town centre properties for those who it will suit."

Jim Logue

Clydebank Post: North Lanarkshire Labour leader Jim Logue

North Lanarkshire signalled its new strategy last week when it capped rent increases at five per cent for the next three years. That is more than inflation and the authority insisted its rents will remain low by Scottish standards. But the rises will help fund capital investment.

Councillors realise not everyone will want to come down from their towers.

Councillor Allan Graham, the council’s convener of enterprise and housing, said: “I understand that some residents of our towers will be reluctant about these plans and enjoy living in their current homes. That’s why it’s important we really listen to them as part of a consultation exercise before making final decisions.

"It’s hard to understate the significance of these proposals. They will create thousands of jobs over a sustained period and provide a real boost to tenants and our local economy. We want to see real progress in tackling the waiting list for council houses and our commitment to the biggest housebuilding programme in a generation in Scotland is testament to our ambition for the people of North Lanarkshire. We are also continuing to invest in our existing housing stock with a comprehensive kitchen and bathroom replacement programme.”

IT was her first marital home and she has raised two daughters in the flat in which she has called home for the last 42 years.

Now Kay Oliver, 74, admits she will be sad to see the high-rise flats of North Lanarkshire finally come down as they contain a lifetime of memories for her.

High-rise tenants Kay Oliver and William Warnock

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Mrs Oliver has lived in 16-storey Albion Tower in Motherwell since she and her husband move there from Glasgow in 1975 and she remained at the same flat after his death 17 years ago.

For her, it is the social life of the high rise flats that she enjoyed the most as families with young children would gather in the communal rooms on the ground floor for the Hogmanay bells and other social events, while they regularly organised trips away down the coast en masse.

But these traditions have gone now as younger people move and the flats have a regular turnover of occupants meaning roots are no longer put down.

She said: "For me this tower has lovely memories and it we all used to know each other and would be regularly in and out of neighbours' flats asking if they wanted message from the shops and things.

"We always used to get together downstairs for bingo nights and the like while always used to go away as a group. These friendships have gone now but I'll be sad when they all come down. They were great communities at one time."

Her neighbour from one floor down, William Warnock, 77, was the first resident of the tower when it opened in 1972 and he moved into a flat with his wife Joyce and two sons when he became caretaker.

Mrs Oliver

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Since they moved from nearby Wishaw, he has lived in the block but he will not mourn them when they are demolished.

He said: "We were luck as we lived on the ground floor but for families with young children up in the top floors it is hard for parents. It's been great for me and it is still handy foe the shops and things like that but there are better places to bring up kids.

"The world has moved on and the space should be used for different types of homes now."

What it's like coming down to Earth from a skyscraper

Jim Leonard, 67, moved out of a tower in Motherwell last year into a semi-detached bungalow in Cambusnethan built in 2011.
He said: “I lived in Lodge Tower in Motherwell for around 20 years, and I really did enjoy my time there. I have fond memories of moving in, and of the closeness of the tower community at that time. In fact, I still meet up regularly with some friends from the tower, one of whom is one of the three remaining original tenants from 1967.
"It was a big move for me to leave the security of a tower and the spectacular views I enjoyed from my 14th floor flat. You could say it’s the end of an era, but in fact it's been the beginning of a whole new exciting chapter.

Jim Leonard

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Mr Leonard added: "Having lived in my new semi-detached bungalow for over a year now I'd never go back. I love having a back and front door and a garden. It's great to sit in the garden and feed the birds. There's a real sense of community here, my neighbours are of a similar age to me and they helped me tremendously when I moved in. We are now firm friends and I couldn't be more settled - it's been life changing but in a really positive way."

When high-rise Clydeside could double for Moscow

In the last hoorah of the Cold War, the BBC made a movie about Guy Burgess, the MI6 officer who fled to the USSR. They wanted to show his life in Moscow in the 1950s. So they filmed in Glasgow.

The 1983 film, An Englishman Abroad, showed Mr Burgess, played by Alan Bates, in what producers thought looked like a suitably drab Soviet apartment building. It was Moss Heights, one of Scotland’s first tower blocks.

The old Glasgow Corporation had put up the flats in 1953, shortly after the Burgess defection. They had been experimenting with multi-stories ever since councillors had seen them on a post-war European tour. 

Glasgow - and its Clydeside suburban counterparts - bought in to skyscraping like almost nowhere else in Britain. The city built high and then boasted about it. Its Red Road flats were wrongly claimed to be the highest in Europe - even though they fell way short of kind of heights hit by showcase Stalinist buildings where the real Mr Burgess wandered.

Glasgow’s highest buildings were the twin Camlachie towers near Parkhead, at 30 storeys. Like all the high rises, they had indoor toilets in every flat. A godsend for many former tenement tenants.

Glasgow's Moss Heights

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Lanarkshire - despite having more space - followed the trend, Its Muirhouse scheme had seven 17-storey towers. Then Glasgow started demolishing. In 1993 the “streets in the sky” Gorbals complex designed by Basil Spence was blown up. The Camlachie and Red Road flats came down 20 or so years later. Now North Lanarkshire goes low-rise. The West of Scotland may no longer look quite like a BBC producer’s notion of a Soviet theme park.

Motherwell skyline

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North Lanarkshire's Tower Blocks in Numbers

There are 48 towers with 4090 households. The following list names all 48 blocks in four towns and gives their number of flats

Locality                    Total number of properties
 

Airdrie                      

Cheviot Court              46
Merrick Court              46
Milton Court                94
Pentland Court            46

Airdrie total                232


Coatbridge               

Blairgrove Court          82
Burnside Court            44
Calder Court               87
Coltswood Court          85
Dunbeth Court            186
Glen Court                  85
High Court                  192
Jackson Court             192
Merryston Court          83
Millbrae Court             85
Redbridge Court          85
Whifflet Court             86
Witchwood Court         85

Coatbridge total         1377

Motherwell               


Airbles    Tower               66
Albion Tower                   66
Allan Tower                     117
Anderson Tower               67
Avon Tower                     45
Barons Tower                  105
Brandon Court                 106
Burnside Tower                104
Calder Tower                    44
Clyde Tower                     46
Coursington Tower           117
Dalziel Tower                   105
Doonside Tower               116
Draffen Tower                  117
Elvan Tower                     46
Glassford Tower               104
Glen Tower                      104
Grange Tower                  105
Lodge Tower                    104
Merrytown Tower              105
Muirhouse Tower              105
Netherwood Tower            105
Oakfield Tower                  67
Shields Tower                   105
Whamond Tower                66
Woodside Tower                104

Motherwell total                 2341

Wishaw                          

Allershaw Tower                 70
Birkshaw Tower                  70
 

Wishaw Total                      140