Once an area of deprivation and poverty, Glasgow’s Sighthill has been transformed in recent years with the demolition of its famous high-rise flats and the redevelopment of the area. Now one of the greenest parts of the city, some of those behind the £65 million project have been recognised for their efforts.

WITH their imposing grey facade, Glasgow's Sighthill high-rises long loomed large over the city like the Eiffel Tower does Paris. Only with more concrete. And fewer tourists. Six years on from the demolition of these final reminders of 1970s, social housing, their image and legacy remain much a part of the fabric as they ever did.

Built north east of the River Clyde, the hulking 'slab blocks' were designed to provide a better life for tens of thousands of Glaswegians, who were decanted from slums and into new schemes and flat developments. Complete with a toilet and kitchen, they were seen as a solution but less than half a century later had become the problem. 

When Glasgow City Council announced plans to demolish the high-rises and avoid "repeating the mistakes of the past", the Sighthill blocks, which had been home to thousands, turned into a moment of opportunity for those tasked with breathing fresh life into that part of the world. So began the "biggest regeneration" effort in the UK outside of London and today, while not quite finished, the area is unrecognisable, with canal walkways, neatly stacked houses and thousands of trees replacing the doom and gloom of old. 

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That's thanks to the efforts of the Sighthill Transformational Regeneration Area Advanced Infrastructure project, which, with the backing of £65 million, has become a success story for the industry and turned Sighthill into one of the greenest parts of Glasgow. Led by Landscape Architects LDA Design, who undertook the design on behalf of the council, Ashlea worked as landscape contractor while supplier Green-tech helped to bring the drawings to life. 

"Sighthill experienced high levels of multiple deprivation typical of inner-city high-rise estates," said a spokesman for LDA Design. "Demolition of its ten tower blocks began in the 2000s and the last block came down in 2016. Glasgow City Council was determined that what came next gave residents a much better deal." 

It was never going to be an easy job to transform the Sighthill of the 1970s, so vividly brought recaptured in Douglas Stuart's Booker Prize winning novel Shuggie Bain, and so it proved. But Ashlea, Green-tech, and everyone involved dug in to reap the rewards. 

Since the project began in 2018, Ashlea screened 25,000 m3 site worn topsoil and imported more than 10,000 m3 topsoil. They planted 101,000 shrubs and perennials, 6,000 specimen hedge plants and over 685,000 bulbs. They also planted 3,800 trees; a mix of specimen and woodland trees, to include semi mature, extra heavy, standard and feathered. 

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These were planted in tree and shrub planting compost that was supplied by Green-tech, along with the Holdfast rubber blocks and heavy-duty belting which were used as necessary on these trees. Terram Impermeable Root Barrier was supplied and used to protect services, roads, and footpaths from tree root damage.

Ashlea seeded over 100,000 m2 amenity, sports and wildflower areas using John Chambers Landscaping with Rye Grass Seed, John Chambers Action Replay Grass Seed, John Chambers Flowering Lawn Wildflower, Hedgerow Wildflower Mix, Wet Meadow Wildflower Mix and Pond Edge Wildflower Mix.

And those behind the work have now been recognised for their efforts, picking up the 2021 Landscape Institute’s ‘Excellence in Landscape Construction’ Award. 

"Winning the Advanced Infrastructure and Residential project bids for the regeneration of Sighthill allowed LDA Design to take a holistic approach," the LDA spokesman added.

"Our landscape-led masterplan for Sighthill created a mix of parkland, 850 new homes, educational, community and retail facilities, all within a ten-minute walk from Glasgow’s centre.”

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The works created a new identity for Sighthill, including a rich parkland and series of open spaces, delivering a destination area connected to the city centre by the ‘Civic Spine’ – a pedestrian priority, active travel route. The community campus, which includes a new school and sports facilities, opened in 2020 and the 30 hectares of accessible parkland in the summer of 2021.

Morgan Sindall was selected as the main contractor. Site remediation and extensive and innovative sustainable drainage freed up otherwise undevelopable land, allowing not only a density of housing appropriate to a city centre to be accommodated, but also a large, interconnected and biodiverse landscape, mitigating against the climate crisis and contributing to health and wellbeing for decades to come.

Early regeneration and economic studies have shown that the Sighthill TRA Advanced Infrastructure project is generating £2.50 in the local economy for every £1 spent of the gross project income, which will continue to improve as residential developments continue to be delivered.

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One of the hallmarks of the winning Sighthill TRA project was the collaborative approach adopted by LDA Design working with Morgan Sindall and their specialist subcontractors, including Ashlea. Sighthill is considered a great example of what early engagement and maximum multi-stakeholder collaboration can deliver, so much so that Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken hasn't been shy in singing its praises. 

She recently said: “The progress being made on the massive regeneration of Sighthill is remarkable, with recent work really showing how much the area has been transformed.

Forestry Journal: Glasgow City Council leader Susan AitkenGlasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken

“When complete, Sighthill will be a symbol of the wider transformation of north Glasgow that will take place in the coming years.”

Ashlea has committed to a five-year landscape maintenance period, to ensure that the landscape is properly embedded, and the quality seen throughout design and implementation is maintained, offering locals and the wider city a landscape to enjoy long-term.

Stuart Simpson, director of Ashlea, said: “Thank you to Green-tech for all your efforts, help and support throughout the project which went a long way to achieving this prestigious award.”