Copyright 2022 © Chris Leslie

Disappearing Glasgow

From Heaven to Hell – Plean St Flats

Short documentary film using photography, audio and timelapse photography on the demolition of two high rise flats in Glasgow.

“My whole life there, in the flats, was heaven to start with but then it ended up hell.” John, a former resident of the Plean Street high rise flats in Yoker, summarises his experience. One of the first residents to move into the flats in the mid 1960s, he and his family had been decanted from Cowcaddens by the then Glasgow Corporation. Coming from a room and kitchen, with no hot water, no central heating and no indoor toilet, John described moving into Plean Street as “complete elation.”

He 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.”

Immediately post-Second World War Glasgow was faced with a major housing crisis. There was an acute shortage of accommodation, and much of what was available was slum tenements. In 1947, a delegation from Glasgow visited Marseilles to see the new “tower blocks” designed by the French architect Le Corbusier, and a high rise policy was hastily introduced to Glasgow. High rise blocks sprung up all across Glasgow, at such a rate that, by 1979, the city had more than 300 multi-storeys.

In the 1970s John remembered it 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, people fought to be allocated a flat. Three references were required, sometimes even one from the police, before a person was even considered.

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. Former resident Leslie, who lived in the flats for ten years, experienced the worst of it: “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.”

The problems started in the 1980s with Thatcherite housing legislation, estates being sold off and the Tenants Rights Act seriously limiting the powers that housing associations had to evict antisocial tenants. A minority of antisocial tenants and crime in a high rise block led the rest of the flats into a downward spiral. “I blame 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 going on around him. But by the mid 80s he and his family were witnessing running riots in the foyer and 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 – pointing out that – “this was back in 1985 as well so 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, 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 – “With one half of the building brought down I counted up 14 floors and could see the interior of my old flat. It was a strange and sad experience to see your former home exposed to the world in this way. It’s sad to see it end like this.”

This short film is part of the Glasgow Renaissance project –