Rubbish-strewn Glasgow braced for humiliation on world stage over shambolic preparation for Cop26

·8 min read
Glasgow is preparing to host the Cop26 conference, but there are fears of 'chaos' on the streets - Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Glasgow is preparing to host the Cop26 conference, but there are fears of 'chaos' on the streets - Jane Barlow/PA Wire

With more than 120 world leaders coming to Glasgow for the UN climate summit, it should have been a once in a generation chance to show off the very best of Britain to the watching world.

Instead, Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and others will be greeted by rubbish-strewn streets, gridlocked roads, cancelled trains, glued-down protesters and a plague of rats after a city under SNP leadership became a “midden”.

Refuse workers and train drivers have announced they will go on strike during the conference, prompting warnings of “world leaders stepping over bin bags” and a “humiliation on the world stage”.

A chronic shortage of accommodation in Glasgow, which has led to a 3,000 per cent increase in the price of hotel rooms, has forced some delegations to book hotels 130 miles away. Two Eastern European cruise liners have also been brought to the Clyde as makeshift dormitories.

It has prompted anger from the Government in Westminster, which believes Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister, and Glasgow’s SNP-run council have risked the showpiece event turning into a national embarrassment.

“It will be chaos if this continues,” said one senior UK government source.

Construction workers prepare the site of the Cop26 climate summit - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Construction workers prepare the site of the Cop26 climate summit - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

'Fly-tipping capital of Britain'

When Claire Perry, the former energy minister and then president of Cop26, announced two years ago that Glasgow would host the summit, she said it was the ideal venue because it is “one of the UK’s most sustainable cities with a great track record for hosting high-profile international events”.

That reputation is now in shreds thanks to the nationalists running Holyrood and the city council.

Earlier this year, the council ditched fortnightly bin collections in favour of one collection every three weeks - causing bins to overflow. At the same time, it introduced a £35 charge for disposing of large items, leading to an inevitable increase in fly-tipping.

Rubbish piles up in a Glasgow street last week - Stuart Nicol for The Telegraph
Rubbish piles up in a Glasgow street last week - Stuart Nicol for The Telegraph

Thomas Kerr, the leader of the Conservative group on Glasgow council, said the city had become “the fly-tipping capital of Britain”.

Critics were enraged when the council leader, the SNP’s Susan Aitken, brushed off the crisis by claiming the city merely needed a “spruce up”.

Glasgow’s rat population has thrived on the uncollected food waste to become the fourth-biggest in the country. Three refuse collectors have even been injured by the rodents.

Last week, refuse workers voted to go on strike during the conference, from Monday, November 1 to Monday, November 8, unless they are paid more money. The irony of a summit to clean up the planet being held in a city that cannot clean up its own streets will not be lost on those attending.

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, said the SNP had ensured that “Scotland is set to be humiliated on the world stage”, while Paul Sweeney, the Labour MSP for Glasgow, said: “It's going to be an absolute embarrassment when we will shortly have world leaders stepping over bin bags and rats bigger than cats.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said of the planned strike by refuse workers: "Cop26 will undoubtedly be a busy and difficult time for the city and its residents. Holding this action only in Glasgow at this time will have disproportionate and unfair local impact in pursuit of a national campaign. We urge them to think again about the timing of this."

The spokesman said fly-tipped waste was being removed within two days of being reported, and that Glasgow's rat population was "entirely in keeping with the size of the city".

'Major embarrassment for the SNP'

Hours after the GMB announced strike action by refuse workers, the RMT union announced a strike by ScotRail staff from November 1 to November 12 - the entire duration of the conference.

Graham Simpson MSP, Scotland’s Conservative shadow transport minister, said the strike action was “a major embarrassment for the SNP” and would mean world leaders and delegates arriving in a city where rail services will have “ground to a halt”.

The likes of Joe Biden, of course, are unlikely to hop on the train to get to Cop26, but many of the 25,000 delegates would have done. Now they will be forced onto the roads to get from their hotels to the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), where the conference is being held.

Even before the rail strikes were announced, Glasgow City Council helpfully published a map of where to expect road congestion during the summit, which showed the entire city centre coloured in red.

Extinction Rebellion ready to add to the chaos

Police have said they will 'facilitate unlawful protest, to a point' - JASPERIMAGE
Police have said they will 'facilitate unlawful protest, to a point' - JASPERIMAGE

A gridlocked motorway and road network will be like nectar to members of Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and other climate change protesters.

They will relish the chance to bring VIP traffic to a complete standstill by glueing themselves to roads, especially after Assistant Chief Constable Bernie Higgins, Police Scotland’s gold commander for the event, said officers on the ground “will facilitate unlawful protest, to a point” and would be “fair, friendly and accommodating”.

His comments have caused such alarm that Police Scotland was forced to call a press briefing on Thursday at which they insisted protesters will not be allowed to disrupt the conference and that “protest removal teams” stand ready to remove anyone who blocks roads.

Police Scotland completing public order training ahead of Cop26 - Iain Masterton/Alamy Live News
Police Scotland completing public order training ahead of Cop26 - Iain Masterton/Alamy Live News

If extremists needed any further encouragement, ministers in the Scottish Government have also issued an open invitation to them to disrupt the conference.

Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens and an environment minister in Holyrood’s coalition government, has said he supports the use of direct action by climate change protesters and urged them to find “creative” ways to protest.

For the lucky few, conference events will be a short walk away from their hotels in the city. However for others, a shortage of accommodation has forced them to book rooms up to 130 miles away.

Hotels advertised at £1,400 per night

One Whitehall source said: “Embassies and businesses have been getting in touch with the Government because they are unable to get hotel rooms. It’s a massive problem.

“Some of them have resorted to staying in England and commuting to Glasgow because there’s just nowhere to stay in Glasgow. We have heard of people deciding to stay as far away as Newcastle.”

There are still rooms available through Airbnb, but the so-called “Glasgow gold rush” has seen property owners asking mind-boggling sums. One apartment in the upmarket Kelvingrove area of the city has been advertised at £103,000 for 12 nights, while dozens of others are asking more than £20,000 for the duration of the conference.

A few hotel rooms remain available, but only to those prepared to pay 30 times the normal going rate. One room which normally costs £42 was being advertised for £1,400 per night during the summit, while other budget hotels are charging more than £1,000 per night.

The lack of beds has become so dire that two cruise ships are being berthed on the Clyde for people working at Cop26. The Latvian-flagged Romantika has already arrived in Renfrew. It will soon be followed by the Silja Europa, from Estonia, in what the vessels’ owner, Tallink, described as a "last-minute agreement".

The Latvian-flagged Romantika has arrived to help with accommodation problems for the summit - Wattie Cheung
The Latvian-flagged Romantika has arrived to help with accommodation problems for the summit - Wattie Cheung

Petri dish for Covid

In an act of desperation, the Scottish Government has now appealed to residents to open up their homes and allow conference-goers to sleep in their spare rooms. They have suggested that the Cop26 Homestay scheme will enable delegates from poorer countries to “attend the summit and make their voices heard”. However, local health chiefs are concerned it will simply turn Cop26 into a petri dish for Covid.

Jillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, said: "People coming from different parts of the world, some where the vaccination programme is not the same as ours, there are risks associated with that.

"Then you put people in touch with one another, in folk's homes, and that increases the risk even more."

Downing Street fears that the multiple failings will not be enough to dampen Nicola Sturgeon’s desire to hijack the event for her own means.

Leaked notes and WhatsApp messages have shown that Number 10 and the Cabinet Office are concerned she will use the event as a “soapbox for her independence obsession”. They want to make sure she does not share a platform with Boris Johnson at any point.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have been working very closely with the UK Government and partners, including Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland, to deliver a safe, secure and successful Cop26 in November."

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