Comment – Red Road is not the answer…

Why the tower blocks should come down, despite the migrant crisis.

Only those of us with a lump of granite where our heart should be will have failed to have been moved by the pictures of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body lying abandoned on a beach; a visceral and unforgettable image that encapsulated the migrant crisis facing much of Europe.

With the possible exception of Germany’s Angela Merkel, European leaders have been slow to respond to a humanitarian crisis happening right on their doorsteps. And UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s belated agreement to open the UK’s borders smacked not of a man helping his fellow man but of a leader who had been backed into a corner.

Harrowing though the crisis is, however, suggestions that migrants fleeing conflicts in Syria could be housed in the Red Road tower blocks in Glasgow is, at best, ill-advised. While Scottish National Party’s Anne McLaughlin’s intentions are admirable, in reality this is merely a pipe dream.

For one thing, the blocks are now just a few short weeks away from demolition. They have been gutted to the point that the blocks are now merely skeletons. To make them habitable once again would cost millions and would take months or longer.

But, more importantly, these blocks are a relic; a lasting reminder of a failed social experiment that have blighted the Scottish skyline for too long already.

The primary reason for their planned demolition was that they had become uninhabitable. The blocks were plagued by a range of social and structural problems, and became associated with the failure of high-rise public housing. Until earlier this year they housed many refugees, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, and were the focus of tragedy when a Russian family of three seeking asylum in the UK jumped to their deaths from their flat on the 15th floor in 2010.

If the blocks were uninhabitable in 2010, no amount of goodwill will make them habitable today or in the foreseeable future.

All that said, McLaughlin’s wider point – housing fleeing migrants in empty homes – is a valid and commendable one. And, according to one recent report, the UK currently has more than 200,000 homes lying empty, many of them ready for almost immediate occupation.

So yes, by all means utilise some of the country’s housing stock to do the right and human thing to help those fleeing war and persecution.

But let’s be sensible about when and where we do so.