A River Runs Through It – The Grand Challenge of the Clyde Mission

Image of Richard Cairns, Strategic Advisor Clyde Mission and Glasgow City Region
Richard Cairns, Strategic Advisor Clyde Mission and Glasgow City Region (Picture: Peter Devlin)

Richard Cairns, Strategic Advisor Clyde Mission and Glasgow City Region

The Clyde Mission is charged with a “Grand Challenge”:

‘Making the Clyde an engine of sustainable and inclusive growth for the city, the region and for Scotland’.

The river Clyde literally made Glasgow. Glasgow City Region, all the way from Lanarkshire through the City and down river to Dumbarton, Greenock and as far as Argyll has capitalised on the river in many different ways for hundreds of years.

In recent decades we have perhaps lost sight of just what an asset our river is. The cycle of economic change saw many of us perhaps turn our back on the river for the first time.

We can and must change that.

The Clyde Mission is rooted in the idea of the Clyde as a national strategic asset and we are therefore focussed on the specific advantages, opportunities and challenges provided by the river and surrounding land.

The Mission approach emphasises the role of collaboration across public and private actors as well as wider civil society. The Clyde Mission team has this principle at its heart, and has its heart in the mission.

Image of Greenock's esplanade in the west end of the town looking over to the contrasting ClydePort Terminal with its port and heavy cranes in the early morning half moon and snow on the Greenock Hills
Greenock’s esplanade in the west end of the town looking over to the contrasting ClydePort Terminal with its port and heavy cranes. Early morning half moon and snow on the Greenock Hills

Our job is to work with others to find new and ambitious ways to use the river. To live with it, work with it, protect it, and have pride in it, and in what it can mean for the communities along the river, the wider city region, and Scotland.

As we have been reaching out to explain the mission to others we have found universal acceptance of the principle, and real enthusiasm for what we are seeking to do. We have yet to encounter anyone who doesn’t grasp the importance and potential of the Clyde.

But we’re not nostalgic and we’re not romantics. The Clyde Mission is about securing a greener, more equitable, and more prosperous future. That needs to be driven by vision but based on evidence and facts.

Under that overarching principle we have 5 things that we want to focus on:

Create new, good and green jobs and a workforce with the skills to secure those jobs.
There are already hundreds of employers – small and large – along the river, and thousands of people across the City region work in those jobs. But post COVID we need more, newer, better long term jobs. And we need to skill people up to be able to do them

Use vacant and derelict land for the benefit of the economy, the environment and communities.
The industrial past of which we are so proud has left a legacy of large areas of land in poor condition. And that’s a blight on our communities and on our future. We have to find ways to make it attractive, accessible, useful, and productive.

Adapt to climate risks, especially flooding.
Climate change is real, and its potential impacts are huge, not least for communities closest to the river. But by working in a coordinated, concerted manner, we can use the river to help us to manage those risks.

Accelerate Scotland’s progress to net zero.
In November this year, the world’s leaders will converge on the City to reach an agreement on the next stage of a global carbon reduction journey. We already have examples along the river generating low carbon energy. We can, and must, do more.

Use the river to create better places for people and communities.
The Mission only has meaning if it benefits people. Not only those who live close to it now, but all of those who might do so in future, or be able to come and enjoy the river in a myriad of ways. Everything that we do must be done with that end in mind.

We have already allocated £11m to a wide variety of projects focussed on these missions. From ambitious commercial development to grass roots community projects, all along the river.

But there’s so much more to do.

That’s why we are now issuing a ‘call for ideas we want to hear from communities and stakeholders about what and how they think that we should take the mission forward. And just as importantly, the role that they would like to play in doing so.

You can find out further information about  Clyde Mission or get in touch by email at clydemission@gov.scot.


Richard Cairns is seconded as Strategic Advisor to the Clyde Mission and to Glasgow City Region.  Until October 2020 he was Director of Regeneration, Environment & Growth at West Dunbartonshire Council, with responsibility for Housing, Economic Development & Regeneration, Business Support, Roads, Transport; Waste Services and Greenspace. He has over 30 years of experience in economic development in the public and private sectors, having previously held posts as Head of Economic Development for a global audit practice, for the Audit Commission in London, and at the City of Glasgow.  He is Chairperson of the Glasgow City Region Economic Intelligence Group and a Board member of the UK Institute of Economic Development.