Words: Maelyn Dolman (She/Her)
I clearly remember my first visit to Glasgow University. I was walking to the campus via the city centre from the train station, as I had come from Edinburgh. I liked the photos I had seen of the uni, specifically the main building, because they appealed to my 18 year old aesthetic sensibilities about what I believed a University should look like. Those were then rather dampened by the massive motorway I had to cross to enter the West End initially.
The section of the M8 that I crossed on my walk, the part of the M8 that most people in Glasgow interact with on a daily basis, is known as Glasgow’s inner ring road, and it has posed more problems to Glasgow than simply being ugly and destroying an 18 year old’s dreams of living out some sort of dark academic fantasy.
The inner ring consists officially of four junctions (Scottish Roads Archive, 2022), of which the most controversial is junction 18 – the most central bit of the motorway at Charing Cross. The Charing Cross area of Glasgow previously consisted of stately mansions, tenement housing, and the famous Grand Hotel, all of which was demolished in order for junction 18 to be built. The other three junctions have been responsible for their share of destruction as well, and that’s just naming junctions within the inner ring.
In an open letter, an organisation known as “Replace the M8”, created by an anonymous urban planner in 2021, lists more than just the demolition of buildings as a negative part of the M8’s presence in Glasgow, referring in writing to the ‘occupation of valuable land, deadly air-pollution, and the creation of divisions between people and elimination of continuity between city centres and surrounding areas.’ The physically divisive nature of the M8 is also noted by Angus Millar, the city council’s transport convenor, who has described the M8 as ‘a deep scar in the urban fabric of Glasgow’ stating that it acts as ‘a physical barrier, disconnecting communities to the north and west from the heart of city life.’
The M8 has catalysed discussions about urban planning and the future of the city since the late sixties and early seventies. Cliff Hanley was a contributor to The Scottish Herald at the time, and published an article in 1972 that criticised the construction of the inner ring road as prioritising the flow of traffic and cars over the people of Glasgow. He envisioned a Glasgow with urban infrastructure that prioritised pedestrians and cyclists, and wrote: ‘I’m a woolly-minded romantic. But at least my spectacular visions are concentrated on people – on the people who pay the planners – and not on dead cities full of monuments. Up with people.’ Over the years, others have contested these sentiments, stating that the M8 is important because it spans the entire country and efficiently connects Glasgow and Edinburgh, aiding movement between affluent and less affluent regions as well as working as an artery between the eastern and western coasts, which is important for Glasgow’s shipping industry. It could also be argued that the successful pedestrian zones of Buchanan and Sauchiehall Street can attribute their success to the M8’s role in creating more space for traffic elsewhere.
That being said, modern anti-M8 sentiments still ring true, without denying the significance of the entire motorway for Scotland. The city is quite blatantly divided by the inner ring road, disconnecting those living in the centre from those in the west and north. The twitter account “Replace the M8” poses plans for urban development that would involve the reintroduction of more green spaces, pedestrian friendly walkways and space for cyclists, ideas that fall perfectly in line with the vision Hanley illustrated over 50 years ago. Not only would this reduce the city’s emissions as a whole, repurposing the incredible amount of space taken up by the motorway, but the introduction of new developments could also include providing more living spaces to people suffering from the current housing shortage. I think 18 year old me would have enjoyed the walk to uni from the centre a bit more had I not been forced to cross over a giant highway, and instead could have strolled through streets where it felt like there was continuity between the city centre and the West End.
A sense of unity in the city is hard to achieve when the M8 draws such literal dividing lines on a map. In order for Glasgow to achieve fusion between neighbourhoods, this dividing line needs to be eliminated. The people of the city need to unite on the basis that altering junctions 15-20 on the M8 would create a sense of wholeness and connection that this city needs, while we face so many other imposed dividing lines in our day to day.
Leadbetter, Russell. “M8 in Glasgow: Should It Be Scrapped? | The Herald – Herald Scotland.” The Herald, 16 Apr. 2023, www.heraldscotland.com/news/23453466.m8-glasgow-scrapped/.
“M8 Motorway: Scottish Roads Archive.” Scots Roads Archive, Nov. 2020, www.scottishroadsarchive.org/m8#:~:text=It%20was%20built%20in%20several,the%20busiest%20motorways%20in%20Europe.
McLean, David. “Charing Cross before and after the M8 Was Built in 10 Fascinating Photos.” GlasgowLive, 16 Sept. 2021, www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/history/glasgows-charing-cross-before-after-21581143.
Paterson, Stewart. “‘Deep Scar’: Call for Talks to Start over ‘replacing M8’ Though City Centre.” Glasgow Times, Glasgow Times, 28 Mar. 2023, www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/23418004.call-talks-start-replacing-m8-though-glasgow-city-centre/.