by Luke Waterson, The Telegraph, June 4, 2019
This region, spread-eagled along the mouth of the River Clyde, has had fortunes as up and down as an estuary tide over the years. But there is a palpable feeling around communities here that 2019 really is the start of a major upturn.
The aim, worthy of Inverclyde’s bombastic Victorian heyday, is ambitious: a maritime hub to rival Southampton or Tenerife that attracts one million visitors a year by 2023.
The showpiece development, the Ocean Terminal, will open in 2020 and the hope is that it will underscore Inverclyde’s place as one of the principal gateways to Scotland for international tourists: 150,000 cruise-goers already disembark here annually.
An incorporated visitor centre, restaurant and, most interestingly, a gallery exhibiting the ground-breaking sculpture of one of Scotland’s best-known modern artists, George Wyllie, are part of plans which highlight how authorities want to show off Inverclyde not just as a transport nucleus but as a destination to linger in its own right.
“The Ocean Terminal project illustrates the overall intent here,” says George Barbour, communications manager at Inverclyde Council. “It has been my pleasure to work with a network of individuals across Inverclyde that I know are committed to letting outsiders know what we have to offer.”
The fabulously wealthy merchants that once turned this humble set of fishing villages into a prosperous port and industrial powerhouse during the 19th century would have approved. Greenock, the region’s main town, was raised in imposing brown-grey stonework, chock-a-block with grand townhouses, a decadent Doric colonnaded customs house and palatial municipal offices with a height to its towers that patrons ensured eclipsed that of Glasgow City Chambers– just.
Holding the highest accessible point on the Clyde for big vessels gave Inverclyde immense power: here dues had to be paid on goods landed from the lucrative trade routes the river had with the rest of the world; here the major ships, including those for companies such as P&O, were built; from here, steamers departed daily for glamorous destinations such as Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin. This gave the flourishing port and surrounds a sense of one-upmanship over Glasgow.
The magisterial scale of its building design ensured Greenock gave a striking impression, even from far out at sea. The legacy of the boom times lace Inverclyde still, and make for some interesting exploration. Businessmen could afford to bring in the best artists and architects to showcase the region’s riches: Pre-Raphaelite prodigy Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for example, was recruited to do the stained glass in the Old West Kirk.
But the shipping and sugar trade upon which Inverclyde built its wealth became a curse rather than a blessing as the 20th century progressed. Google Inverclyde before now and you’d likely dredge up results of departing businesses and industrial decline.
Perhaps no part of Scotland has been in need of a new lease of life as much as Inverclyde, but no part could have put the opportunity to better use, either.
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