NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY
Dumbarton’s oldest building will be given “a new lease of life” after ambitious plans to create a state-of-the-art new library and museum were approved this week.
A council spokesperson has claimed Glencairn House, in Dumbarton’s High Street, will “undergo a major transformation” which will include the construction of a three storey extension to create extra space to house the library and museum.
She added: “The property with its well-known arch windows has stood vacant for the last several years and will undergo a meticulous restoration of the existing structure while preserving its historic elements.”
If that pleases you given the current situation we are in here with food inflation at 20 per cent and gas and electricity charges going through the roof, then that’s good – good for you. You will doubtless be part of the “Me First” brigade.
However, it is not in my book excellent that “levelling up” money is going to be spent on this museum.
The truth is that it is a luxury that hard-pressed council taxpayers in Dumbarton neither need or are able to afford.
And what really needs to be accommodated in a museum is the current system of local government in Scotland.
That is what brought us the disastrous lame duck SNP administration at West Dunbartonshire Council which has been succeeded by a Labour administration which appears to believe its own publicity, which is self-manufactured by its own PR department at a cost of around £500,000 a year.
Buddy can you spare a dime?
We have had four or five different councils here in my lifetime – Dumbarton Town Council, Dumbarton District Council, Clydebank Town Council, Dunbarton County Council, Vale of Leven District Council, Helensburgh Town Council, Helensburgh District Council, Cove and Kilcreggan Town Council, Strathclyde Regional Council and now we have West Dunbartonshire Council.
These were all doing so well that they were shut down and replaced by West Dunbartonshire Council which given the recent employment tribunal decision against them for bullying a disabled person and their questionable handling of procurement matters should now also be shut down, placed in “special measures” and handed over to people who know what they are doing.
The Dumbarton Democrat’s view is that it would be more appropriate and indeed more honest to divert even a small amount of this “leveling up” money into something that would result in real and transparent “levelling up” in areas of poverty and deprivation.
Something like retaining the free school transport arrangements for pupils travelling daily to Our Lady and St Patrick’s secondary in far off Bellsmyre and Dumbarton Academy in Silverton.
Siting OLSP in Bellsmyre was always a bad idea and the then Labour council were told that often during the protest against Postie’s Park being chosen, but they knew better.
Or they thought they did.
Their support for Terry Lanagan, the arrogant and eccentric director of education of the day, to re-site the school in Bellsmyre amongst the electricity pylons in the foothills of the Long Crags was badly misplaced.
So far as the Glencairn House project is concerned it would appear that it is in the same boat.
That projects of whatever nature are not always a success, they should look to international author JP Donleavy’s warning in The Ginger Man – “There was a man who built a boat to sail away … and it sank.”
Glencairn House was once the Scottish Gas Board office in what was then a very busy High Street and more recently it was allocated to the Dumbarton Credit Union for whom it wasn’t suitable and they eventually moved out to a new property at the Bridge Street end of the street.
“As well as dedicated spaces for children and families, it [Glencairn House] will provide access to computers, quiet study areas and relaxed meetings spaces.”
Despite the fact that many local people feel there is sufficient library space in West Dunbartonshire at present and there are proposals to cut the opening hours of some, a “standalone” children’s library pavilion will be created at the back of the building, looking out towards the River Leven and Levengrove Park.
The spokesperson said it would open out onto a library garden centred on the existing tree which will become the garden’s ‘storytelling tree’.
Somebody really should tell the council that Glencairn House (see picture at top of the page) is right next door to what’s bound to be a busy beer garden come summer at the Captain James Lang public house. That should really guarantee peace and quiet.
And that the extension is not an architecturally attractive building.
We are told museum displays will be integrated throughout the building, featuring key objects from the Council’s museum, archive, and local history collections that tell stories of Dumbarton.
Items on display will include some of the oldest in the Council’s collection, including a Roman Medallion from 193AD and the bronze ‘Skellat Bell’ from around 900AD.
There was plenty of room at the library to have a public exhibition of these in the not too distant past.
The purple public relations prose adds that “approval marks a significant milestone for the iconic property and the project to bring it back to life, which was one of three projects in West Dunbartonshire awarded a share of £19.9million in Levelling Up Funding”.
This was a surprise to many people since it was believed that the “levelling up money” from Boris Johnston’s Tory government was for the regeneration of the glass and concrete Artizan Centre across the street.
We have been unable to check whether there was any reference at the committee to the progress or otherwise being made on that on the refurbishment – or possible demolition – of Alexandria Town Centre’s Mitchell Way
Members of West Dunbartonshire Council’s Planning committee discussed the report on the project, before agreeing the proposals would be taken forward.
They are surprisingly upbeat about it.
Cllr David McBride, Cllr Lawrence O’Neill and Cllr Martin Rooney. They should scrap the inherited SNP plan to make families in Brucehill, Westcliff,Castlehill, Haldane and other areas to pay for school transport.
Councillor Martin Rooney, leader of the Labour Group on the Council, plays his cards close to his chest these days – and so he should given the position he took on the procurement scandal – but two of his colleagues spoke to the media through their PR department.
Councillor Lawrence O’Neill, Chair of Planning committee, said: “We are thrilled to have this project approved and taking a significant step in the regeneration of Dumbarton town centre. We are committed to preserving its historic significance while creating a modern library and museum that will serve as a valuable community asset for generations to come. It’s taken significant work from the teams involved and we’ve appreciated all the feedback from residents on this project.”
Councillor David McBride, Convener of the IRED committee, added: “I’m really pleased and excited to see how this project is going to reshape this historic building, while giving a nod to its historical significance in the design through the proposed colour palette and materials. There will be many people from the area that will remember it being open and know the potential of the building and now we’ll be able to create new memories for the future generation.”
The current Dumbarton Library building will be transformed into a community collections store and archive, open to the public. This new facility will, for the first time, enable access to the stored objects and documents in West Dunbartonshire’s heritage collections.
Councillors believe it will also create new and exciting opportunities for the local community and visitors to the area to engage with, explore and learn more about the collections.
Sorry, but I don’t believe that it will. That white elephant on Dumbarton Town Council’s old coat of arms comes to mind. I wonder why?
An excellent article Mr Editor.
Spending money on the Glencairn House renovation may be nice but it is a luxury this town cannot afford. The High Street is an utter dump and the standing joke about a tourist asking if the Russians had been, summarises the state of the place.
It will take more than the upgrade of Glencairn House to do anything to change the status of the High Street where the ambulance is never far away from the junkies and alcoholics who regularly drop down in the street.
Glasgow tenement housing by the 70s was a dump. Demolition and the creation of the Glasgow over-spill to places like Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Drumchapel (and indeed to areas in and around Dumbarton and the Vale) was the initial answer. But later, and under a Tory government no less, a policy was implemented whereby tenement areas were designated action areas, where all the housing was purchased by a Housing Association and then refurbished.
It was a success and places like Partick are a splendid example of how an area could be turned round without the blight demolition of earlier years. But it took money. Tinkering at the edges was of no use.
Glencairn House is tinkering at the edges. The High Street with its slum buildings and multi ownership complexion needs a root and branch renovation. And it will take something better than the existing inefficient council to implement such a change were the money to be made available.
The Westminster Tories in their levelling up fund are just playing political games. if they want to level up Dumbarton High Street as opposed to levelling it as many now suggest should be the way, then they need to make decent money available. But you know what, they wont, and this council will only squander whatever they get – just like they squandered the money for a new OLSP in a location in the foothills of the Lang Crags.
Create an action area. Fund it properly. Restore the High Street to something that people can be proud of, would want to visit. There are anchor buildings of worth, running from the Castle, to the old Council Building, to the new Council building, to St Augustine’s Church to possibly the Glencairn House, but the slum and scars in between, and the High Street’s predilection to be a ne’er do well magnet militate against any real progress.