Councillor O'Neill and Councillor McBride standing outside Glencairn House

Labour councillors David McBride (right) and Lawrence O’Neill at the High Street entrance to Glencairn House.

Published 03 November 2023


There will be dismay writ large across the community this week with the announcement from West Dunbartonshire Council that  one third of the money earmarked for the redevelopment of Dumbarton Town Centre is going to be spent on Glencairn House in the High Street.

The Labour administration describe the move as “a step forward” and claim the expensive refurb will see the vacant building transformed into a state of the art library, museum and community facility.

However a fair proportion of the public will see things differently.

Many of them have already made it clear that Dumbarton Library in Strathleven Place is perfectly adequate for the town’s needs and that it would be a waste of time and money to dispense with it by replacing it with Glencairn House.

The £7.2 million project is one of three being undertaken in the area as part of a £19.9 million Levelling Up award made to the Council by the UK Conservative government. 

It was sprung on the community only last week that the allegedly cash-strapped Council is also investing £2.2 million into the project at a time when they are faced with protests from families in Balloch against the proposed closure of Balloch Library, which is situated in one of the most deprived areas of West Dunbartonshire and is well used for special services for mothers and babies and children’s reading projects.

We are now told that, earlier this year, an exercise was undertaken to seek tenders for undertaking the refurbishment work, with eight different firms expressing an interest in landing the lucrative library contract.

At a committee meeting this week, councillors were told that invitation to tender documents was issued to the five contractors who scored highest against the procurement criteria.

It is only in recent times, following the defeat of the SNP in the local government elections in Dumbarton, that West Dunbartonshire had any procurement procedures in place.

They were re-introduced after a huge row and a police probe into the awarding of council contracts and revelations that top council officers had been socialising, which is supposed not to be allowed, on golf courses and in fine dining establishments with contractors seeking to land council contracts.

Peter HessettFollowing the closing date for the submission of the bids for Glencairn House later this month, councillors are said to have agreed that the council chief officer, Peter Hessett, pictured left, who is different from the one in charge, Joyce White, when there were no procurement rules in place, would award the contract to the most suitable contractor on the council’s behalf.

Down the years it has been custom and practice in many councils for the elected members to decide which contractors are awarded the contracts. There were spectacular very public rows in relation to such matters as far back as the ‘Sixties when the Town Centre itself was built.

That practice may have been stopped after the government decided to clamp down on “brown envelope” criminality taking place in public bodies across Scotland.

There is currently one such allegation of criminality involving public officials alleged to have siphoned off £millions making progress through the courts in Glasgow.

West Dunbartonshire Council refuses to comment to The Democrat about anything on an ongoing basis and demands we submit Freedom of Information  requests, which can take months if not years to elicit a reply, if not years, if at all, and was recently deemed by the organisations own Commissioner to be unfit for purpose.

Councillor David McBride, Convener of the Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development committee at West Dunbartonshire Council, issued a statement through the council’s spin doctors which  said: “It is fantastic to see further progress being made in relation to the [Glencairn House] project.

“Glencairn House has been vacant for a number of years and I’m looking forward to seeing our plans unfold, bringing one of our towns oldest buildings and all its heritage back to life right in the heart of our community.”

There was no reference from him to the overall plan for the town centre which has been described as “a concrete monstrosity” and he failed to turn up at a recent meeting at which the Balloch Library proposed closure was discussed and a protest group was refused an audience.

Councillor Lawrence O’Neill, the Vice Convener of Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development, added: “The levelling up fund projects will make a huge difference to our town centre, ensuring our residents, businesses and visitors experience a vibrant and thriving hub.

“Bringing the library and museum into the town centre will not only increase footfall and engagement with the service, but also allow us to showcase our heritage in a special building.”

Cllr O’Neill may have forgotten that the council offices in Church Street, which were refurbished at a cost of more than £16 million and are not fit for purpose as a council chamber – people cannot see or hear what is taking place from the small public gallery – was meant to do that – “increase footfall” in the town centre has not happened.

Considerable sums of public money have just been spent by the Scottish Government to “showcase our heritage” at Dumbarton Castle, which will be open to the public with admission free of charge during the winter months.

Top picture: The “concrete monstrosity” that is the architecturally challenged town centre in Dumbarton. Money for its refurbishment will be spent elsewhere by West Dunbartonshire Council.


  1. Every little helps they say but after doing up Glencairn House the High Street will still be a dump.

    Empty flats, empty shops, crumbling and decrepit, nothing will change.

    Dumbarton needs a real initiative to change. The decline of the tenements in Glasgow was ultimately resolved when Thatcher’s government introduced a policy of creating and funding action areas to allow the wholesale rehabilitation of tenemental property.

    Partick is an example of how successful that was.

    And, looking abroad, a similar strategy was deployed in old Amsterdam to refurbish iconic old houses.

    But not so in Dumbarton. The dump of a High Street will continue with a sticking plaster approach delivering nothing.

    The place is a slum. An icon of decline and I truly wonder what any visitor venturing into the High Street would think of it.

  2. I also note that the reported cost of refurbishment is now £2.2m higher than the previously stated cost of refurbishment.

    This seems to be of the same problem that has afflicted the shambles that has enveloped the Milton – Bowling road proposal that by now should have been built to provide some relief to the appalling road bottleneck.

    And then there is A82 from Barloan through to Milton and then to Bowling. A road disgracefully inadequate, unsafe, and regularly blocked through accidents and or flooding.

    Another jewel in Dumbarton’s poverty Crown.

    And apologies to some readers for mentioning flooding for in east Dumbarton that’s another whole kettle of fish where in the absence in investment in flood relief schemes houses are regularly flooded.

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