Brian Monteith: Edinburgh and Glasgow should never merge

Satellite image showing Edinburgh and Glasgow creeping towards each other
Satellite image showing Edinburgh and Glasgow creeping towards each other
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Why would anyone want to see Edinburgh and Glasgow expand so much that they become one super-city? I’m sure there might be some developers that would be attracted to turning a profit in trying to make it happen – but the idea that the natural expansion of housing developments and business parks in the two cities will lead to an eventual merger is, I suggest, neither likely nor desirable.

Last week Roy Thompson, an emeritus professor from the University of Edinburgh’s school of geosciences, suggested Edinburgh and Glasgow would likely amalgamate within 30 to 50 years. This claim was based upon a study he conducted of satellite photography showing how urban development is expanding – moving along the central belt as if to fill in the green spaces between the two cities.

That there is growing development is not beyond dispute; new housing schemes are springing up, especially in West Lothian and in areas further west close to new railway stations and other transport hubs. The long overdue improvements to the M8 will only encourage this process as families choose to settle in easily commutable estates that are also more affordable than city centre properties. These new developments do not, however, constitute anything like a merger of the two cities, nor should we want them to. It is obvious to anyone who cares to look into Edinburgh’s history that cities like ours can grow by the expansion and unification of what were once small villages or towns. Portobello, Leith, Corstorphine, Tollcross and other smaller hamlets were all pulled together by continual building between them to make the larger city of Edinburgh with its Old and New Towns. The same has happened in Glasgow and at points between, such as in Hamilton and Motherwell.

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To complete the process, the governance of local by-laws and public services must then be set to a new larger boundary, just as the Burgh of Leith joined Edinburgh in 1922.

For Edinburgh and Glasgow to become a super city requires, therefore, more than just non-stop urbanisation between the two cities, it would require the creation of one city authority, more akin to a city state. Who really wants that? Surely we should be trying to make democratic accountability and responsibility closer to the people rather than be submerged in a larger, more impersonal bureaucracy?

Then there’s the disregard given to all the other towns between; why should Livingston want to be part of such a process? Surely it’s more likely that Livingston will continue to expand at its own rate to become a third city between Edinburgh and Glasgow?

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Nor does the concept of a super city take account of how development is restricted by green belts and other zones that create a buffer between the concrete, brick and tarmac. Local councils will guard jealously their own local amenity that will include space between urban sprawl, making it difficult for the linking up of populations into one large metropolis. The great Hungarian capital of Budapest was formed from the merger of Buda, Obuda and Pest in 1873, but they only had the River Danube running between them – not thousands of acres of agricultural and undeveloped land.

Most importantly, however, the idea ignores the proud sense of cultural identity that both cities have. I’m sure the prospect of a super city would be met with as much disdain in Glasgow as it might in Edinburgh. People like to have a local identity, to share an affinity with where they were raised or have settled. We can see this in Edinburgh itself, where people like to express themselves as being from a particular part of our city – creating a super city would go against the grain of our desire for that local identity.

By all means let’s create closer ties and better communication between Edinburgh and Glasgow – but let’s keep our distance.