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Firhill for thrills

Image of cleared ground, main slope visible from west side of canal

When Partick Thistle ignited football passions in Maryhill there was a popular phrase — ‘Firhill for thrills’.  It was a fitting way to capture the mood of the day and popularise the football team based at Firhill Stadium. They might want to dust that phrase down again.  Why?  An amazing project that is transforming a site blighted by industry and neglect into the heart of a neighbourhood which locals can be rightly proud of.

The Green Infrastructure project is helping to rapidly integrate valuable greenspace into the canal corridor between Firhill and Sighthill. And at the vast Sighthill area – known as North Gateway – the canal, whilst not adjacent, is providing a valuable climate change mitigation tool.

Lest there should be any confusion it is fair to say that essentially two complementary projects are taking place in this area. Claypits sits on the very banks of the canal and is a more ‘enclosed’ site and indeed considerably smaller than North Gateway (or Sighthill as it is also known).

The Claypits Local Nature Reserve will however deliver big benefits.  It may still offer views of Firhill Stadium, but now it will have a barrier free path and boardwalk network, mountain bike trail, disabled access fishing pegs, re-designed gateway entrances, viewpoints, and  feature canal pedestrian bridges linking Maryhill and Woodside communities with Hamiltonhill and Possilpark. In short, premier league facilities.

On a recent visit to the site I was delighted to see herons, swans, coots, a range of insects and, of course, scores of people using the new facilities. Cycling to work, walking to the shops, taking a breather and enjoying nature … all sorts of getting ‘out and about’ was underway.  What a tremendous local asset.

Perhaps it is no surprise that the work at nearby Sighthill is on a larger, more industrial, scale. When you look to relocate underground services, install new roads and bridges, and reconnect an area with the city centre then the budget inevitably has to be considerable. In effect this project harbours the goal of not only regenerating the area but opening up much North Glasgow to easier city centre access by active travel.

One fascinating part of this huge project focusses on a water management system.  It involves implementing a surface water drainage solution for the regeneration of key vacant and derelict sites including Sighthill, Hamiltonhill and Cowlairs. This is done by dynamically managing the water level in the now ‘smart canal’ to provide flood storage.  It’s a vivid example of blue-green infrastructure underpinning regeneration.

The Canal & North Gateway grant is part of the larger North Glasgow Integrated Water Management System (NGIWMS)  delivered by  Glasgow City Council, Scottish Water and Scottish Canals, and all are delighted with the snappier, more descriptive, ‘smart canal’ working title.

Some of the technology that will underpin the ‘smart canal’ is amazing, and the YouTube animation is worth a watch. Sensors and computer weather forecasting will provide early warning of incoming wet weather then move excess rainfall from housing and business sites to parts of the canal where, in preparation, the water level will have been deliberately lowered. For those of you who love numbers - this will give 55,000 cubic metres of extra capacity to cope with storms.

The NGIWMS is not simply a water management system, it’s a boon to local biodiversity. It extends the canal corridor by introducing surface water into the heart of regeneration sites. These fingers in turn create a habitat network with wetland margins which appeal to plants, mammals and birds. And, as is often the case, what wildlife likes, people generally appreciate too.

If the technical expertise is worth celebrating then what to make of the considerable local determination and input?  Harnessing technology is one thing.  Embracing it is another.

By keeping in mind the bigger picture the locals in this area have greatly smoothed the passage of what is by any definition a large-scale, ambitious project.

A project of this breadth takes time to come together. The progress made to date is testimony to Glaswegian pride and energy. There were key dates in 2008, 2011 and 2015.

Friends of Possilpark Greenspace was established in December 2008 by local enthusiasts with the aim of tackling substantial blight of vacant and derelict sites in the area.  From a place-making workshop in 2011 came suggestions from local residents to have a 'wild park' in this part of north Glasgow focused around the former Claypits area, and project partners held a workshop in 2015 which was a result of increased local interest in the canal-side area and the Claypits. 

It is coming together now. Claypits is looking smarter with each passing season, the canal paths are being increasingly well used, and the remarkable work at Sighthill will truly transform a long neglected area. 

Firhill’s thrills are spreading.

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