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Work to start on 'less radical' George Sq revamp

A ‘less radical’ overhaul Glasgow’s George Square, designed by the council’s in-house team, is to start on site today (1 July)

The £500,000 scheme - effectively a resurfacing of the much-maligned red tarmac and the creation of more grassy areas - was drawn up as a replacement for the £15 million competition-winning vision by John McAslan + Partners which was ditched back in January in controversial circumstances.

Although McAslan’s concept was chosen by the judges as the victor of the international contest, the council immediately threw out the designs with fingers being pointed at Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson for derailing the process who allegedly wanted another scheme to win.

The authority has promised the first phase of the in-house designed alternative, featuring a grey epoxy resin, will be completed before next year’s Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Approved by the council earlier this month, the less adventurous facelift will begin with the planting of two new grass beds and the installation of new lighting. A second phase, which the council maintains will bring the total spend on the landmark square up to the £15 million originally earmarked, will start after the Games.

Previous story (AJ 18.03.2013)

Explosive RIAS report lifts lid on George Square debacle

A leaked report by RIAS points the finger at Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson for derailing the international contest to redesign George Square

The warts-and-all document also claims that the aborted process, which saw John McAslan + Partners announced as the winner in January before the plug being pulled on the scheme, has cost almost £300,000 in private and public investment.

According to the report, drawn up primarily by RIAS secretary and judge Neil Baxter, the botched competition had ‘brought the judges, the profession, the Incorporation and the City of Glasgow into significant disrepute.’

Matheson is accused of torpedoing the process having, allegedly, already decided which practice he wanted to redesign the square - scheme six, designed by Burns + Nice, also voted the public’s favourite in an online poll.

The report reads: ‘[From] his initial comments at the first judges meeting onwards, it appears that, for whatever reason, Councillor Matheson had selected his own winner at the outset and reasoning by a very experienced group of judges did not persuade him otherwise. His abandonment of the judging process at the conclusion of the Wednesday meeting led to much negative press. Unfortunately because they were still involved in a confidential process and they are all consummate professionals, the judges were unable to give their side of the story.’

Intriguingly the RIAS document outlines how the judges scored the six finalists vying for the £15 million job, showing how McAslan’s scheme had emerged as the group’s favourite while Matheson had ‘stuck to his guns’ and given full marks for his favourite and very low scores for all the other submissions (see detail at bottom).

The document also reveals the equivalent architectural design fees wasted by the council - approximately £95,000 in time, fees and honoraria - through the PQQ process.

It reads: ‘The most substantial cost which has not been comprehended in all of this is the very significant abortive costs of all of those who submitted a PQQ in the first instance and the six practices which worked through the Christmas period to produce very complex and highly finished submissions in the competition. Given that there were 35 submissions to the PQQ and that these could reasonably be quantified at costing at least £2,000 of senior staff time in all cases, that gives a total of £70,000.

‘The six shortlisted entries would have cost, in time and direct outlays, at least £25,000 each.’

Read the full report here.

The council refused to comment on the allegations, however it has released new, ‘less radical’ designs for the revamp of George Square - effectively a £500,000 resurfacing of the much-maligned red tarmac and the creation of more grassy areas. The authority has promised this cheaper, in-house designed alternative, featuring a grey epoxy resin, will be completed before next year’s Commonwealth Games.

Meanwhile it has emerged that both the RIAS and Glasgow’s only Conservative councillor David Meikle have asked for public spending watchdog Audit Scotland to investigate the disastrous process.

Report extract - the scoring:

‘After the lengthy exposition on the interview responses there was a short break. Thereafter the RIAS scoring forms were distributed by Neil Baxter. David Mackay suggested that, while a maximum of 30 per cent was allowable under each of the three agreed criteria, it would focus the process if the judges gave scores of 0, 10, 20 or 30 under each criterion. This would also facilitate the clear differentiation between the ranking of each submission. This procedure was agreed and adopted.


Predictably, when the judging sheets were submitted, the judge’s scores indicated a spread of predominantly 10s and 20s with a few 0s and very few 30s under each heading. Councillor Matheson, despite the reasoning of his co-judges and the weight of evidence from the interview
process, stuck to his guns and gave full marks to scheme no. 6 and marks varying between 0 and 10 on all the criteria for all other entries. At the conclusion of this process, scheme no. 2 emerged as well ahead of the pack. At this stage, scheme no. 6 stood in fifth position.


What was required of the judging process was that the judges should reach a consensus. Unanimity was not required, simply that all the judges would sign off on the favoured scheme. It was suggested at this juncture that signing off on scheme no. 2 seemed appropriate. However Councillor Matheson, who had been increasingly agitated during the course of the day, indicated at this point that he had to leave as a major issue requiring his urgent attention had arisen at the Council Chambers. He then departed, rendering the judging process inconclusive.


On the Monday afternoon, the judges re-convened with David Mackay joining them by telephone from Bristol where he was undertaking work on behalf of the new Mayor. The scorings from the previous Wednesday were reviewed and it was concluded that scheme no. 2 was the clear winner in the quality assessment process. All of the judges agreed to sign off this conclusion which allowed for the opening of the envelopes revealing the identity of competitors and their financial bids. After the scores were adjusted, comprehending the financial bids, scheme no. 2 was still well ahead and scheme no. 6 had risen to no. 4 in the rankings.


There was a general sense of relief on the part of the judges and the various others present that a satisfactory conclusion had been reached. However, at this point, Councillor Matheson indicated that his administration would not be proceeding further with any of the designs submitted through the competition process.noraria to the six shortlisted competitors are subtracted from the total, the abortive cost of the competition is significantly more than £300,000 of public and private investment.
As the above report demonstrates, Glasgow City Council established an appropriate and auditable process, ultimately fully compliant with European Legislation and engaged the Royal Incorporation to work with them to ensure that fairness was observed and that the competition was properly operated within the complex legislation governing such procedures. The competition proceeded to a proper conclusion. The subsequent decision to breach the promise inherent in any such process, albeit arguing that this was in the “public interest”, resulted in a very significant waste of public and private resources. This competition brought the judges, the profession, the Incorporation and the City of Glasgow into significant disrepute.

Readers' comments (5)

  • The whole affair is all the more grubby when you realise that anyone walking around Glasgow city centre rapidly becomes aware that the fine Caithness flag paving in the pedestrianised streets isn't being cared for, and that in some streets the pavements are in such an appalling state that they're wheelchair aggressive and have clearly been neglected for decades.
    Pedestrians have been further abused in recent years by the arrival of large on-pavement sponsored information / advertising panels that in many places block more than half the pavement width, and create massive and dangerous obstructions to pedestrian visibility.
    In this context, resurfacing George Square is akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

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  • Explosive right enough, well done RIAS..........wonder what the major issue was that arose during the judging and left the leader of the council increasingly agitated, the competition a shambles and Glasgow an international laughing stock?

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  • ‘Leaked’ is a rather over dramatic way of describing a document that was circulated by link to all RIAS members via a regular emailed newsletter?

    But there are no winners here.

    A profession so desperate it will regularly give away its expertise virtually free in competitions condoned by its professional bodies; in the hope of negotiating a desultory fee for a project with a wholly inadequate budget.

    Or the OJEU process itself? Fair playing field? Much fairer perhaps for some of the practices that Glasgow City Council phoned, invited to submit and subsequently shortlisted?

    Sympathies for JMP, but honestly you’re probably better off out of it.

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  • Good story, Waitey.

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  • Who designed that? A quantity surveyor perhaps!

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