Black’s Blog: The Future of the Tall Building

Multi-storey towers at Motherwell

Stephen Llewellyn grew up in a multi. He felt warm, safe and is happy to say he had a great childhood there. Yet he is leading the demolition of 48 high-rise blocks in North Lanarkshire.

Stephen recognizes the contradiction. Speaking on the Scottish Housing News podcast, he spoke with some pride about North Lanarkshire multis, the investment his council continues to make in fire safety and the high levels of tenant satisfaction with Their houses.

Demolition has nothing to do with coating or fabric deterioration. Housing applicants will accept Stephen’s multis as an interim solution, but will quickly ask to be moved to a house with a front and back door and a garden. North Lanarkshire’s redevelopment program therefore seeks to meet these aspirations and over the next 25 years multis will disappear.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, developers are launching huge rental multis on the market, with a range of options from studios to large family apartments. Investors want to finance them and presumably people want to pay high rents to live there. It’s an enigma.

You might jump to the conclusion that multis only work in the private sector where they can be described as executive apartments or jewel apartments. But Mairi Clark, a high-rise tenant from Queens Cross Housing Association in Glasgow, says her multi is warm, comfortable and well-maintained. Plus, it’s popular with families, kids, dog owners, and Airbnb guests, none of whom are generally considered suitable for living at height.

So what shapes the apparent popular perception that social rent multis are bad and market rent condominiums are good? I could blame the media. I remember the 1970s Sunday Post articles about Edinburgh’s Terror Tower, Martello Court in the Muirhouse area, which was eventually privatized and seemed to be quieting down.

I propagated this perception myself. Years ago I was sent to Liverpool to write an article for Shelter’s housing magazine, Roof. Even though my story was about regeneration, the skyscrapers I described confirmed all the stereotypes, were even worse than I imagined, and were very visible proof of failure.

But it is unfair to reproach a type of building for the behavior of certain people who live there, or the poor management of certain owners.

Before moving into her multi Queens Cross, Mairi Clark says she had preconceived ideas. “It was going to be dangerous, there would be people on the landing, I wouldn’t sleep at night because of the parties…but I never experienced that at all.”

In North Lanarkshire, the redevelopment program is proceeding in stages, and there will soon be another major consultation on the future of several multi-storey blocks. Stephen Llewellyn says if tenants say they want to keep these multis, council will listen. But that’s not what he expects. The majority of tenants in the previous consultation supported demolition and new construction.

The challenge for Stephen and for housing managers everywhere will be to manage the transition, invest to maintain high standards and find new homes for all displaced people. As with any redevelopment, sensitive rehousing of individual tenants and families is essential, and owner occupiers may present a particular problem as they are unlikely to receive a high enough price for their apartment to buy something similar. Such a homeowner in North Lanarkshire expects a better deal; avoiding the compulsory purchase and spending money on lawyers is generally better for everyone. Ultimately, the courts may have to decide.

These and other questions can be discussed at the BiteSize briefing on the future of high-rise housing, hosted by SHARE’s Debra Campbell. Debra was our third guest on the latest Scottish Housing News podcast.

The briefing will take place on September 13, 2022, you may still have time to Register.

All episodes of the Scottish Housing News podcast are available here.