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A Future for the Clyde

The Clyde, as it runs from its tidal origins at the heart of Scotland's largest city, Glasgow, to meet the Gulf Stream, the Atlantic and the Irish Sea, must be one of the most intensively studied and modelled river estuaries of the world. It is geographically divided into a narrow, shallow, mud flanked tidal river mouth which breaks suddenly into a confluence of ice sculpted firths which then widens more gradually as an arm of the Irish Sea, but with the economic and communication patterns and the water circulation characteristics of a river system.

Like many estuaries its future is unclear. Function, purpose and values have changed, yet there is no administrative structure with direct responsibility for its management and no institutions with exclusive or overall responsibility for its functions.

It is against a background of its history that changes must be managed to ensure the valued resources of the river are safeguarded and new opportunities and enterprise generated.

Many valid attempts have been made to synthesise its problems and set a direction for the Clyde. The scientific context was comprehensively explored in the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Symposium on the Clyde Estuary. Abercrombie's Clyde Regional Plan as well as Glasgow Council's 'String of Beads' policy set a development framework, but condemned, respectively, by history and geography. Scottish Natural Heritage's 'Focus on Firths' and the European wide Esturiales Project have sought to raise awareness of estuarine management issues but have no administrative responsibility. Beyond these many more individual scenarios and aspirations have set specific agenda for the Clyde, including the regeneration of 'Clydeport', the Inverclyde Initiative and the designation of resources of European conservation significance.

The estuary corridor serves a multiplicity of purposes.

The industrial heritage of the Clyde deserves the public and professional attention it gets. Yet the extensive water frontages and major buildings are, perhaps rightly, seen as an inhibition on new development: reuse is always difficult both architecturally and in allowing access; artefacts or snippets of history preserved in situ soon lose their relevance; and the Scottish Maritime Museum is a fine achievement in the wrong place, at least in relation to the Upper Clyde's 'Clydebuilt' heritage.

Tourism is often seen as an answer, but is also a problem. The legacy of coastal resorts whose function and structure has decayed is not matched to the historical criteria for regeneration and investment. Changes in population and age structure give a false sense of affluence. Their physical structure and communications pattern, focused on the river, has not allowed them to mount a challenge in meeting the social and economic problems of the conurbation. Irvine New Town, perversely, fills a gap between such towns rather than killing two birds with one stone (sorry, I mean solving two problems with one investment). In the absence of clearer analysis of their problems, solutions will not emerge easily. Alternative futures are necessary, but much time could be wasted, albeit perhaps even pleasurably, on comparing irrelevant experiences elsewhere. Tourism initiatives focus on wider areas. Ayrshire or Argyll, for example, clearly need to draw co-operative attention, though not bias, towards the otherwise partial problems of each tourist board area. The Clyde resorts may be unique, but comparisons are inevitable and essential. The lessons to be learned depend on the questions posed, the comparisons selected and the quality of reporting.

Tourists also look for good beaches. It may not be the focus of a holiday experience, but beach quality is always a relevant factor for both day and longer stay visitors. There is no doubting the major progress that has been, and continues to be, made in meeting water quality standards. But public expectation can often push health requirements beyond the reasonable. Local Authorities, SEPA and even Europe, through the Blue Flag and other schemes, are well aware of this extra expectation. How should we balance the lower revenue cost of cosmetic clean-ups, borne by one authority, against the greater capital cost of improved sewerage, borne by another?

Recreation is both an active and more passive pursuit along the river and its foreshore. Golf may even have had its origins amongst it's sand dunes.

It is still often argued that water based activities have adequate space and opportunity in the outer estuary and can be geographically separated from more commercial activities. With the gradual transposition of commercial functions, the growth of smaller scale recreational activities and decaying waterfront land values, these physical separations may at some time need re-evaluation.

There is little tradition of linear access to the inner Clyde: past industry; the potential for new water related economic activity and even the safeguarding of disturbance sensitive wildlife resources might be deemed to constrain such access. However, there is a long and popular tradition of access to the riverside, whether to watch birds, ships or the water itself. Even crossing the Erskine Bridge on foot seems a popular activity.

Infrastructure is an immediate problem complicated by ownership and responsibility.

The need to safeguard bank stability is complicated by its historic value and by the implications of global warming for sea level rise. Most current vulnerabilities and priorities have been identified. What is not clear is the responsibility for restoration. Where, as at Braehead, a new function can be defined, the solution is simple. For other areas clarity is needed of the potential for restoration, retreat or positive management. Fife Council's recent initiative is instructive, but needs to be related, for the Clyde, to both its heritage and to the implications of possible new river crossings and barrages.

Renewal is not just about infrastructure.

The energy and function of the river are more complex and long term issues. Esturiales investigated the potential of 'feeder ports' serving a wider complex of communities than their more traditional 'hinterland'. Prestwick already plays such a role. Despite small successes, such as the Ailsa shipyard at Troon, it is difficult for promotional organisations, such as Scottish Enterprise and Local Authorities, to focus on the potential of the river. Robertson's Yard, at Sandbank, Dunoon, the centrum of long past America's Cup glories (if not successes), has been marketed for several years with a river frontage without success. But the problems of Kvaener are perhaps more apposite. Is there any way that the political aspirations and needs of the Clyde can be adequately expressed within the wider debate between the Scottish Office, Unions and management? Is this where the reliance of any voluntary Clyde organisation must depend on the strength, influence and commitment of its constituent authorities. Any Clyde structure must meet the test of both support to the presentation a view of the Clyde and its implications for the political aspirations of its masters. No wonder that the attention diverts to land and road based opportunities. But is a Royal Bank of Scotland Mortgage Centre on the banks of the Clyde the true future? Can we, is it appropriate, to reverse this trend? It is clear that such immediate priorities cannot wait for a review of the Clyde's functions and opportunities. It may be necessary to explore the ways in which other estuaries work as well as the specific transport, locational, structural and promotional advantages of the Clyde before it is possible to adapt the image and performance of the Clyde economy to one focused towards the river as a factor of economic regeneration. Glasgow City's 'String of Beads', although unwilling to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant development, may have set a practical, if unachieved, model. Perhaps all it lacked was the concept of sustainability.

Although sustainability clearly implies a balance between the maintenance and promotion of the ecological environment and the steady but continuous process of development, it is difficult to define the balance in practice. For the Clyde ( and other estuaries) this is an important issue because of its sensitivity. Small changes can generate significant consequences for the environmental/ economic balance of the river. Despite a multitude of European, National and local definitions of sustainability, it is likely that estuarine sustainability will focus on the recognition of conservation resources and potential. The concept of conservation potential cannot easily be defined geographically. There is, of course, a relationship to existing resources. Does this stand ahead of the creation of other opportunities offered as compensation for development? This should not be an issue if the key habitats that characterise estuarine ecology are defined, accepted and related to their current geographical extents. Any alternative proposals would need to be justified not only on their relationship to existing habitat patterns but also on their contribution to the diversity of Clyde ecology.

The ecological strengths of the estuary have been well investigated. It has been suggested that there are conflicts between existing conservation designations and development plans. These, however, are issues of current planning and political direction. Such issues are for now and not the future. What are significant are changes that might be anticipated over the next decade to fifty years. I incorporate fifty years to accommodate the potential changes that might develop from global warming impacts. Gareth Jones has already briefly looked at the capacity of fringing mudflats to physically accommodate to the rate of sea level change. There are, however, further implications in the potential of these ecological resources to migrate within the river and in their capacity to respond to the environmental pressures of climate change. Pending further investigation and characterisation, flexibility is a prerequisite.

The issue that best represents the dilemmas of management by agreement is that of the presence of the Ministry of Defence on the Clyde. It is hardly likely that, even in that Ministry, many will view Coulport as a benefit to the landscape. But more fundamental political and operational conflicts are propounded and denied. It is almost certainly not possible, at this time, to address divergent views except through direct negotiation between competing parties. Perhaps the issues raised by the dumping of wastes at the Holy Loch and munitions off the Ayrshire/ Galloway coast provide the best example, and opportunity, to recognise the complexity of interests that affect the military as well as all other activities throughout the estuary.

Urlan Wannop has sought to define the image of Glasgow as a post-industrial society. Although an industrial future is still popular with some, it is also generally recognised that a simple ' post industrial' future gives no specific direction. Is a direction needed or only a balance of interests? Should the Clyde attempt to recognise its Millennium future? A Future with a Past. Many of the priorities are already recognised. Cal-Mac know the social responsibilities of their ferry services. Water Authorities plan improvements for sewage disposal. Clydeport must seek new markets to survive. The Local Authorities have put their trust in strategic plans that can look beyond their own boundaries.

Conflicts can be resolved. The financial costs of public conflict are always high, but many mechanisms, from Environmental Assessment to appeals to the Secretary of State, have been created and enthusiastically applied. There is no guarantee that seeking such antagonistic solutions would diminish under any other administrative or management structure.

The Clyde Estuary Forum has been assembled from many authorities, organisations and interest groups along the estuary, partially on the model of 'Focus on Firths' but principally on the corporate recognition of the river's characteristics, problems and opportunities. But what can it do?, how can it achieve its aims?, and is such a loose arrangement the right approach?

Such a body (the Forum) cannot make or implement decisions, nor is it able to directly fund environmental or other activity (at least in the short term). However, it can provide a context against which others' priorities and action can be justified, monitored and held to account. Is this adequate? Certainly a Forum is not ideal. It is only too easy to become cumbersome, bogged down in detail and irrelevance, too long in finding agreement and easily ignored in the day to day implementation of priorities. Nor is it immune from the politics of those with other agenda.

Can the European Union, Scottish Parliament or even the Council of the Isles provide a better long term stability and structure? The European Union has demonstrated its commitment to recognising the role of estuaries, environmentally and economically, but is unlikely to go beyond setting agenda and promoting models. The Scottish Parliament will have other priorities and programmes. The Council of the Isles, if it gets the opportunity, may be a useful medium term opportunity. SEPA and the Northern Ireland Environment Ministry's SNIFFER programme has such interests at heart, and the special characteristics of the Atlantic seaboard are well represented.

If the Clyde Estuary Forum is to meet the needs of the Clyde and of its component organisations, it must ignore the pressures to tackle individual issues separately. Each issue is only part of a greater whole that must be seen in terms of the river's history and its future.

The key roles for a Forum might well, therefore, be to:

focus attention and action on the key issues of renewal, regeneration and conservation in the Clyde Estuary,

demonstrate the pattern of similarities of resources, issues and solutions common to Western Seaboard and other estuaries,

provide the model and impetus towards political progress in estuarine zone management.

What factors are critical to achievement? A role for the forum requires agreement on :

management and maintenance

the identification of priorities

promotion of the river and of opportunities

defining the outer parameters of change

flexibility in policy, programme and response.

the identification and re-direction of funding to priorities and action

The challenge is to define the appropriate political and physical model to accommodate these objectives. A task for all with an interest in the Clyde to approach with a degree of urgency.The model adopted for the Solway is interesting, but should not be transferred to the Clyde without further consideration of its specific relevance. The five bodies defined by the Solway Forum to progress its objectives essentially continue roles and functions set out for the formulative stages. This may not be the most appropriate way forward. Certainly objectives and policy will need to be regularly reaffirmed or modified, but this should not require a permanent policy formulating body. An annual open forum at which issues can be raised, presented and discussed could accommodate this need. The programme of action and policy and its monitoring will require a more permanent presence. The new independent Forum Officer is ideally placed to fulfill this task, but will, of course, require a permanent representative body to report to and to manage the programme. If the organisations comprising the overall forum are content to delegate this responsibility, a small permanent ‘steering group’ should be all that is necessary. The interests of partnership members could then be directed through topic groups, based on the key objectives of renewal, regeneration and conservation, whose principal functions would be to ensure the achievement of topic objectives and to raise awareness of specific issues or concerns through the annual forum.

A four tiered structure may seem excessive, but the only alternatives lie through imposition, agreement or abdication of responsibilities. The former are unlikely, and the latter implies an organisation with independence, finance and, in place of responsibility, influence. There are, perhaps, models elsewhere in the world, but none are sufficiently well known, understood or popular to be currently applicable in the Scottish context.

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