“It was heaven to start with but ended up hell” says John, a former resident of the Plean Street high-rise flats in Yoker, as he summarised his 20 years living there. He was one of the first residents to move into the flats in the mid-1960s, when he and his mother had been decanted from Cowcaddens slum clearances by Glasgow Corporation.
Coming from a room and kitchen, with no hot water, no central heating and no indoor toilet, John was one of the tens of thousands of Glaswegians who were uprooted from the worst slum conditions in Europe to a ‘completely new life’. “There is an old saying in Glasgow that went: ‘We never knew how poor we were until someone told us.’ It was only then, when we entered our new home on the 14th floor, that we realised the real slum-like conditions we had been living in.”
In the 1970s John remembered the Plean Street flats as a place defined by aspiration and community spirit, a place where you could leave your doors open and families looked out for one another. As with other high-rise flats across the city in the late 1960s, people fought hard to be allocated a flat. References were required, sometimes even one from the police, before a person was even considered to be a tenant. John describes the day he and his mother moved in as ‘complete elation’.
By the late 1990s it was a different story. The Plean Street flats were now labelled the ‘Towers Of Terror’ by locals and the press. Heroin dealers and thieves were running riot and a man was stabbed to death in the entrance lobby. For former resident Leslie, who lived in the flats for ten years, it became an embarrassment to say you lived there. “Everyone in the flats knew who the dealers were, and so did the authorities, but nothing was done to sort it. In the end we gave up complaining. We were all demonised. You were embarrassed to say you came from Plean Street – we were all classed as junkies.”
A ‘minority of antisocial tenants and crime’ in a high-rise environment had led the rest of the flats into a downward spiral. Asking who was to blame for the flats’ demise, John blames “a gradual decline in moral standards in our society today. But ultimately, within a high-rise flat, that’s down to poor housing management and these people should have been dealt with.”
Former resident David recalls a happy childhood in the flats in the early 1980s – but by his own admission he was too young to notice what was really going on around him. By the mid-80s he and his family began to witness running riots in the foyer with people covered in blood in the stairways. “Everything changed when they changed the points system that allowed people to move in – they effectively downgraded the flats. We had all sorts of vulnerable people moving in, undesirables you might call them.” He and his family moved out of the flats by 1986, adding that, “I can only imagine as the years passed the situation got even worse”.
In June 2007, after a petition from the residents, Glasgow Housing Association decided to demolish the flats and its last residents started to be moved out. In 2010 both blocks were brought down piece by piece by the UK’s tallest ‘state of the art’ demolition machine. Midway through demolition, John returned to Plean Street to say his final goodbyes. From the ground level he counted up 14 floors of the partially demolished flat to see his former living room exposed to the world. “It’s strange and sad to see your former home this way. What makes high-rise living so condemned in this city? It’s sad to see it end like this. It could have been avoided.”