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Dundee Matters: Time to give old buildings some long-overdue TLC

The old Dundee College building on Constitution Road, Dundee.
The old Dundee College building on Constitution Road, Dundee.

The ‘Conshy’ was once home to hundreds of college students.

It was a vibrant place where generations of Dundonians – and many from further afield – went to improve themselves.

They learned, lived and laughed and some may even have fallen in love within its walls.

It was a living, breathing space that brought bustle, positivity and commerce to the city centre and helped keep ‘The Bread’ in punters.

A few miles north lies the old Strathmartine Hospital, a sprawling site which once was a haven for those with learning disabilities.

I cannot attest to the severity or otherwise of the regime when it first opened in 1855 as Baldovan Hospital nor when it switched to operate as the Baldovan Asylum for the Cure of Imbecile and Idiot Children shortly thereafter.

My knowledge only extends to the hospital’s latter years when it was a place of calm and convalescence where sanctuary was offered, difficulties were overcome, skills were formed and new horizons were mapped out.

What these two buildings now have in common is they stand empty and, increasingly, unloved.

It was 2003 when Strathmartine finally shut its doors as health services in the region were rationalised.

The following decade-and-a-half has not been kind to the building.

It has been repeatedly targeted by vandals and thieves and the elements have been allowed to take over.

It is damp, dingy and depressing and, more often than not of late, alight.

The Conshy on the other hand has become a haven for the enthusiastic urban adventurer and night-time graffiti artist.

It is 50 years old next year and looks every bit of it and needs much more than a facelift to be worthy of the proud position it holds over the city.

Two entirely different buildings, but both begging the same question – what to do with them?

Hope a developer has the vision and funds to offer a new lease of life?

Leave them to further disrepair?

Raze them to the ground?

For these two stand-out buildings and for many other less obvious buildings across our city, there is no easy answer to the conundrum.

And when there’s no plan, the only certainty is further degradation.

In an era when private and public cash is in short supply, the risk reward profile of taking on a heritage building can be the difficult option as opposed to new-build development on virgin land.

But that in itself is unsustainable.

The bottom line is we that need to bring old housing, health, education, military stock and business premises back into use.

If a change of planning or tax policy is required to facilitate that, then that is something the government ought to be considering.

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