Scotland’s High Line: Bowling basin redevelopment


Bowling Basin via Wikimedia Creative Commons, Copyright Steven Sweeney (2007)

Pre-2014, the Bowling harbour basin at the western entrance to the Forth and Clyde Canal had seen better days. The decline of what was a hub of activity in its industrial heyday had left it largely unused, neglected, and in need of some TLC. The Bowling basin harbour development, headed by Scottish Canals and West Dunbartonshire Council, has been breathing new life into the area through a regeneration programme which includes the development of housing, retail units, a cycle path and most recently plans for a “high line” park inspired by the New York model.

To date, more than £3.2 million has been invested in the project, which has included the transformation of disused railway arches into commercial business space and landscaping improvements to the lower basin area.

Designing with – not just for – the community

In 2014 a charrette was held (which its self was praised as excellent practice in local level co-production and co-design) in which residents and other stakeholders were invited not only to consult on plans for the regeneration, but to put forward their own ideas for what could potentially be done with the site and develop a shared master-plan for the area.

Partnership and co-production, as well as wide engagement across stakeholder groups were seen as central to the charrette process, and the transparency and regular engagement with local residents has ensured that the development not only meets the economic development needs set out by the council and Scottish Canals, but that it also fulfils the aspirations of local people.

Bowling bridge retail units. Image: Rebecca Jackson

A destination in its own right

One of the primary aims of the Bowling development was not just to rejuvenate the area, but to make Bowling a leisure and tourist destination in its own right. Retail units have been created within the refurbished arches of the railway bridge. Re-landscaped areas, to be developed into nature preservation sites, have been delivered, along with infrastructure which connects the harbour to the surrounding villages, the rest of the canal network, and the cycle network towards the Trossachs and Glasgow.

Most recently, an activity hub has been opened which includes opportunities for cycling, water sports and event space for clubs to meet, as well as “The Dug Café”, a dog friendly coffee shop. It is hoped the offering of retail, outdoor activities and connectivity to the rest of the canal network, as well as Glasgow will encourage more people to visit Bowling. It is also hoped the project will act as a new focus point for members of the community, linking to schools and employment opportunities for local people and businesses.

New York High Line, via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Scotland’s High Line

The New York High Line is a 1.45-mile-long linear park which runs through Manhattan on the former New York Central Railroad. In October 2017, proposals were submitted for planning approval for Bowling’s very own high line, using the iconic 120-year-old swing bridge. The railway fell into disrepair in the 1960s, but with funding support from Sustrans and Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Canals has undertaken repairs to the structure’s metalwork and repainted the entire span. The plans include new viewpoints which will offer visitors the chance to enjoy the vistas over the canal and River Clyde. The new route will form a direct link between the Forth & Clyde Canal and the National Cycle Network route heading towards Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

The Kelpies. Image: Rebecca Jackson

Looking to the future…

Scottish Canals are keen to stress the potentially vial role they can play in revitalising Scotland’s waterside environments. With a large landholding and significant scope for supporting regeneration projects, they are becoming an increasingly major player. They view the areas along Scotland’s canal network as opportunities not only to use innovative techniques such as custom build projects to improve the physical environment around waterways and canals, but also to support and create positive places and opportunities for local communities.

Scottish Canals are also involved in developments at Dundas Hill in Glasgow, as well as a number of projects across the canal network in Scotland.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments are interesting our research team.

If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in our other articles: 

SURF conference 2017 – What Scotland has learned from 25 years of regeneration

Housing models for the future

Knowledge Insider: Creating new cultures and successfully using evidence in planning, with Waheed Nazir, Birmingham City Council

Waheed nazir blogLocal authorities face many challenges when it comes to creating successful places. In this Q&A I speak to Waheed Nazir, Director of Planning and Regeneration at Birmingham City Council. I find out how his infectious enthusiasm for shaping and leading a skilled planning team has impacted on research and evidence.

Waheed, can you describe the situation and challenges you faced leading regeneration activity in Birmingham?

There was incredible talent but a lot of silo working. Even though we had a whole planning department, the functions were all separate, including housing and economic development – all well intended and trying to achieve things for Birmingham, but there wasn’t a bigger picture of what we were trying to create.

Taking over a department just as we were entering into recession, with a 40% cost reduction target and a requirement for outsourcing, was a challenge, so rather than tackle them separately I brought all those areas together. I used those drivers to develop a new approach. I wanted to create a working environment based on common sense and the main objectives were:

1. Breaking down barriers
2. Achieve savings, due to reducing the number of managers
3. Develop my staff and utilise their skills at all levels.

I needed strategic planners who understand and appreciate the local level market, and I wanted all professions, like planning control, involved in doing the policy. Applying real life knowledge and experience, and using the strength of the different disciplines to develop real talent.

By doing this, although we had a 40% budget reduction, overall performance has gone the other way, because individual performance has improved so much. Staff who have left since, have gone on to do really well elsewhere as lead planners, and that’s my real achievement, that the plan put in place created successful staff.

Although resources were reducing, our capacity increased, because from a regeneration perspective, in recession you aren’t firefighting with developers. As development activity slows, it’s important to use that time efficiently, to put in place the strategic documents and the structure you need for when activity returns. It’s a time to reskill staff and to invest in them, so all documents were written in-house. I developed a new ethos and culture, and gave them the documents to own and develop – this is the biggest learning experience.

In 2011/12 I concentrated on organisational structure, roles and new direction – which focused on delivery. I wanted us to create a model of how we will deliver the big city plan which everyone bought into and understood. We worked extensively with government departments to take forward funding tools like EZ [enterprise zones], which now in place gives us funding to support infrastructure up to £1billion and we have already committed £275m.

Population growth was the other big challenge facing the region; forecasts have changed and keep being revised up, the latest increasing by 150,000. As a result we need to do as much housing development as we can. I was not the biggest fan of the RSS (Regional Spatial Strategy) but it did provide a means of allocating land for housing, which was lost on a more strategic basis.

What were the key tasks essential to creating your success?

  • Vision is absolutely critical to what we are trying to achieve. Being able to articulate what you are trying to achieve is vital to getting everyone on board.
  • Leadership – you have to be willing to make very difficult decisions, which can be unpopular. Strong leadership is key to delivery. People leave because of bad processes and lack of leadership, so I encourage leadership across the team – if the policy or process is wrong then change it and replace it, and people administering it are often the ones best placed to see this.
  • The right structure to deliver the vision. Making sure you have the right range of skills and different types of planner, with different perspectives and approaches, and with the right approach to challenging. Pick people who are better than you to complement your strengths. I developed our own graduate programme to grow our own high quality staff with these qualities.
  • Focus on who the customer is, and what the process they have to deal with is actually doing. For instance, ‘if I am selling my house and can’t find my application’ – we scraped the charging fee as it’s easy to do, not labour intensive and really helps the customer out for very little effort. The places we change and the people we service are the important thing.
  • Never thinking things are impossible. Forget the process, forget the funding, what are we trying to achieve and how do we do it? Keep the customer at the heart at it all.

What did you put in place and what actions did you take?

I changed the department structure and developed the attitude of always thinking “it’s never finished”. I developed the approach of looking to other places – the best research is in other places, UK and globally, always looking for both the good and bad. I established working with the private sector, embracing the ideas of private equity. The first 2 years was about getting the house in order, and the 3rd and 4th year are about working with the private sector. It’s about building mutual respect, and giving them confidence to invest in Birmingham. Developing a two way process so they get a perspective on our roles and we get a better perspective on theirs.

I also run the Birmingham Housing Municipal Trust, so we build housing and know what it takes to build it. This helps you appreciate the challenges the private sector is facing. It’s not rocket science, but it is about knowing the market, and being able to be confident about getting a fair deal for the city and also knowing if developers can’t deliver, I can help them.

As a housing development company, we were struggling with finding the right sites. It’s a big job to work out where the sites are, but for the market outside it’s even more difficult, without the local knowledge. So we developed a prospectus for sites, including constraints, sites, services etc and on the back of this, helped bring about 2000 homes forward. It was easy to bring together, helps developers with research and introduction fees, and they can easily spot the sites and who to contact.

Other benefits have been created which we didn’t expect by working closely with developers. If they can see the purpose, such as industrial land being brought forward, they are willing to pay more attention to section 106 and provide employment or apprenticeships because of good working relationships.

How can policy makers/practitioners benefit from developing their knowledge and use of evidence?

The type of evidence we use can be very different depending on the activity – the local plan is very different to the big city plan. For a local plan you need scale of projections and development opportunities, technical evidence on transport etc.

Although I always like work to be carried out internally to grow and retain knowledge, sometimes it is necessary to commission research externally, to be independent, check our understanding, and refresh it. Market evidence and financial modelling of impact, alongside economic modelling of the benefits are vital, but as planners we don’t articulate this very well – it starts and stops with place, but actually its long term, structural and widespread change that we need.

I don’t bring consultants in to just take intelligence from staff – we use them for new things and to fill gaps in my own staff’s knowledge and ensure knowledge is transferred. I like to liberate staff, show them they can do it, that they have the talent and energy to make change happen – that’s important and personal knowledge enables that to happen.

Planners need to make sure there is a strong evidence base to look at the overall locality, creating localised solutions, using projections and indicators, i.e. rents data or government locations. Evidence needs to balance with vision. It’s about being brave and ambitious about the art of the possible.

How do you think people will be doing evidence, research and knowledge development in 5 years’ time?

The biggest change will be building modelling into the evidence base, such as economic modelling to test impact, capacity, and income. Modelling the impact of new policies and what they actually do, such as the new homes bonus. We will continue to do traditional evidence work, but increasing the cross-policy integration and impact analysis of issues, such as climate change or flooding, using better data, which all has to be part of the impact measurement.

What are the mistakes people make when it comes to developing evidence, things you which you really need to avoid?

Understanding the quality of what’s out there – knowing how to ask the right question is how you get the right answer. It’s the first, and most important, stage. This means getting the brief right, otherwise you’re in the situation of ‘that’s what you have commissioned’ so can’t change it easily.

When you are commissioning, build in flexibility, the ability to change the work to reflect the changing outputs of the research and the development of the findings and the new questions it raises. You need scope to look at projections which aren’t slavish to past trends, which can reflect the vision you are trying to create, not just tell you about the current state of play. These days all local authorities have lost the evidence base teams they used to have so building that skill set through the whole team is vital.

If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ about research, evidence and knowledge you would recommend, what would you include and why?

Take graduates and train them, round their experience in all the areas, including the private sector – develop the future of the profession by creating good planners.

Surround yourself with people who are better than you, their collective strength reflects well on you and it creates the best results for the place.

Be Bold! Fortune favours the brave and the bold, we have a big responsibility and we have to be brave for the places we look after.


This article is one of a series looking at how evidence is used in practice. Read our interviews with our previous ‘Knowledge Insiders’ …

Are cars the enemy of liveable cities?

by Morwen Johnson

Traffic jamWhat makes a town or city liveable? And what part does transport play in placemaking, if our ultimate aim is to create vibrant, liveable places which work for residents, businesses and visitors?

These questions were at the front of my mind after I saw a lot of social media coverage of Helsinki wanting to go car-free by 2025. Reading beyond the headlines of the Helsinki story, it seems that the city actually plans to test whether it could integrate public and shared transport options to such a degree that owning a car would be unnecessary for its residents. But the story revealed strong opinions on how cars impact our quality of life in urban areas and the dominance of car-centred urban planning.

Then last week I went to a talk organised by Glasgow City Heritage Trust and Architecture & Design Scotland on traffic management in historic cities.

This talk, given by Pierre Laconte, President of the Foundation for the Urban Environment, looked at examples of medium-sized cities which had found practical solutions to handling traffic within the context of enhancing place quality.

Some general themes which jumped out at me were:

Traffic management must be seen as a holistic issue which takes account of the needs of public transport users and pedestrians. In many towns and cities, traffic control aims to achieve a ‘green wave’ – where lights are coordinated to allow continuous traffic flow of cars/road traffic over several junctions in one main direction. In contrast, Zurich introduced short traffic light cycles (e.g. 55 seconds). This meant less waiting and shorter journey times for all, not just car users.

Taking a new approach to traffic management requires political will and a long-term approach. The initial regeneration and vision for Bilbao stretched over twenty years. Copenhagen has been rolling out pedestrianisation and the regeneration of waterways across the city centre since the 1960s. Making small, incremental changes which all contribute to a wider, consistent vision can be just as effective (and in many places, more practical) than masterplans which take a knock down and rebuild approach.

Creating quality places to live often depends on value creation. High density housing and commercial development can contribute to liveable cities if the financial returns are invested in infrastructure, public realm improvements and public transport. In Bilbao for example, tramlines were built from the proceeds of increased land value.

Increasing public transport use is a mind game. If an individual is committed to the idea that cars are the quickest, cheapest and most convenient form of transport then they won’t consider alternatives. Initiatives such as Southend-on-Sea’s award-winning Ideas in Motion behaviour change project try to tackle this.

Planning for linear development is an approach that can more easily adapt to fast or slow growth. Copenhagen has used public transport routes as arteries for urban growth, as did the Brussels suburban new town of Louvain-la-Neuve. In America, Portland is a poster-child for transit-oriented development with light rail, commuter rail and streetcar systems all supporting urban regeneration and development.

It seems that the question of whether towns and cities can come to a compromise where cars and people successfully co-exist is a challenge that everyone responsible for designing, maintaining and governing our urban spaces needs to face.


Note about the event:

This blog was prompted by a lecture organised by Architecture and Design Scotland and Glasgow City Heritage Trust and held in The Lighthouse, Scotland’s national centre for design and architecture, on 16 Jun 2014. Pierre Laconte, President of the Foundation for the Urban Environment, spoke on traffic management in historic cities.


Further reading (you may need to be a member to access some material):

Funding urban public transport: case study compendium

Portland: planning for legacy, IN Town and Country Planning, Vol 82 No 1 Jan 2013, pp47-50

Transforming Brussels into an international city: reflections on ‘Brusselization’, IN Cities, Vol 29 No 2 Apr 2012, pp126-132

Urban road building and traffic congestion: what went wrong? IN World Transport Policy and Practice, Vol 17 No 3 Nov 2011, pp6-26

Bilbao city report (CASE report 43)

Beyond moving people: excavating the motivations for investing in urban public transport infrastructure in Bilbao Spain, IN European Planning Studies, Vol 13 No 1 Jan 2005, pp23-44

Scotland’s Best Place

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© Copyright Gordon Czeschel and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

by Heather Cameron

Dundee waterfront has been voted as the winner of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland’s Best Places initiative, beating Loch Lomond and the West Highland Way to the title of ‘best place’ in Scotland.

The competition, part of the RTPI’s 2014 Centenary celebrations and backed by Barton Willmore and the Scottish Government, aimed to find places across Scotland which have been improved by planners, planning and the planning system since 1914. Chair of the initiative’s Expert Panel, Alistair MacDonald, commented in a recent article in Scottish Planner that ‘it has showcased places that have been conserved or that have been built from scratch or close to nothing’. Continue reading