Sunday, 13 April 2014

Paisley to disappear

The deadzone that is Paisley town centre
The deadzone that is Paisley town centre
You know, I was down in the slums of Glasgow last week for an important business meeting and afterwards, I just missed my train back to civilisation. I had to hang around George Square for a while watching the drug addicts and women of the night looking for business but bought myself the Evening Times to distract me until the next train departed.

I burst out laughing when I read an article claiming that the deeply misguided and antediluvian Renfrewshire Council were thinking about preparing a future bid that would see Paisley as UK City of Culture. This is rather like hoping that the Scottish Planner will actually print an interesting article. Or hoping that a future article in the Scottish Planner might not be embarrassingly self-serving or dripping with the syrup of faux humility.

Anyway, this Evening Times article talked of harnessing the town's heritage to 'drive tourism'. What kind of rubbish is this? It goes on to say, "Key projects include a £50m revamp of Paisley Museum and the creation of a fashion and design centre on the High Street". Then unbelievably, "A team of funding, heritage, marketing and tourism experts was invited to the town to advise the council on how to make the dream a reality".

Maybe they didn't come - I know I wouldn't bother because the town is dead. It was killed a long time ago by the absolutely wonderful Braehead Shopping Centre and associated retail facilities, including IKEA where, but a short time ago, you were once able to get horse meatballs. For people from Paisley, that is probably a delicacy and would make a change from pie suppers and Buckfast. Braehead is of course their main shopping centre and they clearly value it – there’s almost nothing left of good old Paisley!
Braehead - what's not to like?
Braehead - what's not to like?

Braehead is brilliantly successful not only as a retail centre but also, and this is as a very important expert planner word, as an ‘entertainment hub’. It also has ‘mixed use’! I've spoken before about Ferry Village and Renfrew Riverside where genius architects Young and Gault created untrampled loveliness in a luxurious housing project that is the epitome of stylish living. There are car showrooms, indoor ski-slopes and coffee bars you can drive to. Also there is a public park designed by Ian White (one of my favourites) who really bends over the drawing board to accommodate the biggest developers and is very much sought after. He is famously the landscape architect for the SECC just up the river and what a splendid job he made of laying out the tarmac around that memorable work of architectural brilliance. In other words, Braehead is a good example of real plaice-making!

So when I think about the deadzone that is Paisley and the UK City of Culture, I really wonder what kind of substances the Council folk have been putting in their tea. It truly is a mad fantasy. Council leader Mark Macmillan said: "The heritage regeneration strategy could be one of the most significant things to happen to the area in a long time". Ah but wait!
Spiders for Paisley!
Spiders for Paisley!

Just underneath this article was much more significant news for Paisley. Spiders will be the focus of an evening hosted by the Paisley Natural History Society as part of their winter programme of talks. The event will discuss spider biology, ecology and life strategies. The people of Paisley and their Council officials and elected members would do well to attend this talk. They might learn something useful about evolution. They will then understand why their town centre is dead, why it will never 'regenerate' and why the whole town will disappear over the next decades.

It's an apocalyptic message I know but the role of the Expert Planner is to enlighten and help the great unwashed to understand how wonderful planning is! I know I have helped albeit in a small way! Have a great week - cheerbye for now!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Scottish Planner: infiltration or sponsorship?

The latest edition of the Scottish Planner - now part of the Barton Willmore stable

You know, a friend of mine in a nearby local authority planning department called me up on Friday. He was agitated to say the least. He had just received the latest Scottish Planner magazine. I've spoken of this learned journal on many occasions. Previously sponsored by my friends Halcrow, it is now sponsored by international consultancy Barton Willmore (and a firm called Dwarf  - DWF). It is the mouthpiece of RTPI Scotland, a Registered Charity, a Royalist organisation of course and supposedly the professional journal of town planners in Scotland. It is filled to the brim with tittle-tattle and the dreary opinions of people who feel that others want to hear what they have to say. I know a bit about publishing these days and actually getting content is one of the biggest problems. This might well apply to the Scottish Planner and if it does, they will basically print anything they are sent. That's why most planners put it straight in the bin.

My friend's concern arises from this new sponsorship from Barton Willmore. The new Convenor of RTPI Scotland is a Mr Stephen Tucker, Partner in Barton Willmore. The Scottish Planner is designed by Barton Willmore's graphics folk and produced by them. Well so what?

My friend's worry is that Barton Willmore have been given a megaphone by RTPI Scotland to broadcast their wares to the planning profession in Scotland, apparently without any obvious referral to members or proper scrutiny - though I'm sure this has all been approved. It's rather like the RSPB magazine being sponsored by Webley and Scott, the air gun manufacturer or the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland Journal being sponsored by a demolition contractor. He's completely out of line of course but you might see where he is coming from. How can RTPI Scotland be considered to be the voice of professional planning when it allows a partner in a firm of commercial planning consultants to use the Convenor's Comments section to talk about how wonderful he is and by implication, how wonderful they are? My friend asks if any and all consultancies can bid to sponsor the Scottish Planner and is this an equal and open process or is it part of the old boys' network? Why Barton Willmore and why Halcrow before them? Well I don't know and I don't care! Remember - hardly anyone reads this magazine so no one else will care either!

We had a long chat about this in the magnificent surroundings of a Burger King at one of my favourite retail parks. I told him that he had spent too long working for local authorities and that he was out of date, deluded and seriously off message. Perhaps folk worried about this sort of thing twenty years ago but in 2014? I don't think so. He told me that he will not speak to me again.

Personally I'm filled with admiration for Mr Tucker and his company, and the way in which they have persuaded the RTPI folk to let them do this. It's the way of the world these days isn't it? We need more enterprising behaviour like this in the wonderful world of planning. I'm sure that David Cameron would be 100% behind it as would our own Wee Smart Alec - PM and FM together!.

So my warm congratulations go out to Stephen and his company for this magnificent piece of self-promotion. The important thing is that they seem to have got away with it! Come to think of it, I might ask them to do a bit of work for Auchterness! That would be a good result for them - wouldn't it? Better still, they might want to employ me as an expert planner! Who knows?

Finally my thanks go out to each and every one of the many thousands of fans who visited my lovely wee blog in March - it's going from strength to strength. You know, it probably has more readers than the Scottish Planner! By the way, if anyone wants to sponsor my blog I'm open to offers! Cheeriebye for now!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

At the Scottish Parliament!

Me at the Scottish Parliament
You know, as one of Scotland's Great Planning Thought Leaders, it was inevitable that I would be invited to the Royal Town Planning Institute's 'RTPI at 100 Reception' at the Scottish Parliament 0n the 26th of March. Of course my modesty ensured that I stayed very much in the background and sadly I wasn't asked to speak. I tried out my contact lenses for the first time which was probably a mistake - not only for reasons of security and identification but because I could hardly see a thing.

It was interesting to rub shoulders with the great and the good although a felt that the majority of folk there were professional layabouts and lounge lizards who haven't done a full days work in years. They wouldn't last five minutes at Auchterness I can tell you!

Anyway I decided to dress in an appropriately sober manner. My green corduroy suit, freshly back from the dry cleaners, was left at home in favour of a dark grey suit with a cream shirt and a tartan tie. Very chic! You can see me to the left of the pillar holding up that silly bit of ceiling that looks as thought it is falling down.  Here's a better view - I seem to be staring at the photographer but I honestly had no idea he was there.

That's me looking at the camera!
Hope you are all having a great week and I'll be back in touch at the weekend with more great planning insights. Cheeriebye for now.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Dundee - you've had your chips!

The wonderful Biomass Plant would have been  a tremendous addition to Dundee's Waterfront
The wonderful Biomass Plant would have been
a tremendous addition to Dundee's Waterfront

You know, I was disappointed to read in the Courier the other day that plans for a £325 million woodchip-burning biomass plant at Dundee harbour have been scrapped. It would have been great! But it was not to be.

As many of you will know, Royalist Director of City Development in Dundee, Mike Galloway OBE, has spent many years trying to recreate an old fashioned street block arrangement on the city's waterfront. It's the same sort of thing that the Prince of Wales favours and has built in Poundbury - I reflected on that some years ago. It struck me that if you want to recreate an olde worlde environment - what we Expert Planners might call Traditional Urbanism - you need a lot of additional features to make it work properly. Never mind dressing up in old clothes - folk in Dundee do that anyway - but the presence of a smoke producing woodchip plant on the waterfront would have gone a long way to recreating the foggy historic atmosphere that Royalist Planners aspire too.
An artist's impression of rush hour in the new
historic waterfront environment

Smog was a killer of course but so is the type of planning that hampers innovation in renewable energy through an "unwilling and inflexible" system of development management - to quote Forth Energy which is a partnership between Forth Ports and Scottish and Southern Energy.

I've mention Forth Ports before in glowing terms. Their involvement in Leith Docks, where they have created an epicentre of dynamic growth, is well known and lauded by expert planners - like me! They are just like Clydeport (now Peelports) - except they are on the east coast! Once the custodians of beloved rivers and docks, they are now rapacious property developers, profiting from the gift of former public land that has lain unused for years by the public sector robber barons. It is only right and proper that Forth Ports have done well out of this and their public concern for renewable energy is yet another feather in their very smart corporate cap.
Some folk from Dundee complaining about the wonderful biomass plant
Some folk from Dundee
complaining about the wonderful biomass plant

Of course the foolish people of Dundee are partly responsible for the loss of this tremendous facility. Their opposition to anything and everything is a sickening factor and of course they are the enemies of enterprise and progressive thinking. They have no place in the New Scottish Enlightenment. Forth Energy just need to keep pushing and they will overcome the quiche-eating sandal-wearing drop-outs that populate public meetings with their vile garlic breath and ill-fitting khaki shorts.

Finally, it seems obvious to me as an expert planner that the architecture of the proposed biomass plant was simply stunning - penned by Gordon Murray, the talent half of the now disbanded Murray Dunlop practice known as GoMAD - and is far superior to the ridiculous architecture of the proposed colonial arts outpost just along the waterfront - ie the Victoria and Albert thing by Kenco Kuma. In any case, Kenco is a brand of coffee I don't like-  so there. When I read that opponents of the biomass project "feared the building dominated by a 90-metre stack would cast a dark shadow over the waterfront and compromise regeneration efforts", I had to laugh at their pitiable ignorance.

Anyway, Forth Energy deserve my hearty congratulations for trying so hard with this excellent proposal which would have brought much needed economic, environmental and architectural benefit to this blighted corner of Scotland. There will be other opportunities to make this happen in the future and I have written to Forth Energy offering my services as an Expert Planning Consultant. We will see what they have to say. Best wishes to all my fans for a great week and see you again soon at Auchterness. Cheeriebye!

Monday, 24 March 2014

In praise of ABZ

The fantastic architecture of the Moxy Hotel
The fantastic architecture of the Moxy Hotel

You know, I was back on the Urban Realm website today and what a treasure trove of perfect delights lies in store for your browser. Stimulating! John Glenday, that peerless architectural critic and fearless reporter of all things related to property, planning and architecture has curated a fantastic collection of the best that Scotland can offer. It is literally as good as it gets!

I found myself focusing on the amazing news that the Marriott group have selected Aberdeen for their first Moxy Hotel roll-out in Europe! It's a 200-bed venture and I can tell you that I wouldn't mind sleeping there. Every room will have a 42" TV, a computer and...wait for it...USB ports! Well who can live without a couple of them these days? This is a profoundly compelling architectural proposal and I found myself in raptures. I was singing, 'Oh you beautiful doll, You great big beautiful doll...' I think the tea-lady thought I was after her.

I was so excited that I had to find out more. I checked out the ABZ Business Park on Google and of course it is at what you and I would call Dyce but the clever people of Europe's Oil Capitol have renamed it as Aberdeen International Airport. Sounds good to me - hello AIA! To use a great expert planner word, 'connectivity' is key at ABZ - you could literally walk from your office to the plane taking you to foreign parts - perhaps to a few days at MIPIM carousing with some lovely Russian gals!
Connectivity is superb at ABZ!
Connectivity is superb at ABZ!

Anyway I checked out their website and it is completely wonderful. The news section reads like a planner's prayer - just feast your eyes on this - four new commercial property sites to be developed at ABZ...Dominvs Group acquires prestigious double-hotel site at ABZ...Bowtech Products opens flagship HQ at ABZ...Axiom Process Management invests in new HQ at ABZ international business park.

I was quivering with excitement as I browsed through the website. Then I saw something that explained this magnificent collection of Europe's finest architecture in what must be one of the most successful business parks in Scotland - if not in the World!

I clicked on 'links' to find that the project team included at least three of the greatest companies we have ever seen in Scotland. First of all Halliday Fraser Munro are the architects! Fantastic news, and great to know that John Halliday has been showing off his big pencil to his adoring fans at the airport. He is Scotland's Le Corbusier and the brains behind Union Terrace Gardens and the Umbrella over Union Street - to name but a few! Fairhurst are the engineers and they are known for their no-frills ideas about everything. Our old friends Ryden complete the picture with their 'red in tooth and claw' approach to property deals - the finest in the land.
I'm speechless at the profound beauty of this development
I'm speechless at the profound beauty of this development

All in all, this is an absolutely spectacular development and it earns a gold star in my little black book. My hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved in this magnificent exposition of Scottish business skills, architectural endeavour and creative land use planning.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Aberdeen sails into battle!

Pilgrim House - a fabulous building
Pilgrim House - a fabulous building
You know, I was on the Urban Realm website on Friday and I could barely contain myself. I was thrilled to read about the fantastic collection of office developments coming on-stream in the next wee while in my favourite city. I was stuck to the edge of my seat until wee Heather brought me in a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. "Try not to get too excited Mr Thompson", she said. I jumped up and was about to give her a hug when I remembered the Auchterness code about sexual harassment that someone had drawn up. Oh well.

Anyway, these dramatic developments will cement Aberdeen's place as the most desirable place to live in Europe - if not the World. John Glenday, probably one of the finest reporters and architectural commentators in the country has compiled a list of eight new developments across the Silver City. I've already reviewed two of these developments before: at Marischal Square and at Triple Kirks but the others are worth many hundreds of words - and indeed many lines of the finest poetry.
USS Constellation fighting French ship Insurgent in 1799 Painting by Rear Admiral John W. Schmidt
USS Constellation fighting French ship Insurgent in 1799 
Painting by Rear Admiral John W. Schmidt

Like great warships of enterprise proudly heading into battle, they recall the great paintings of fighting ships from the 18th Century. Just look at this beauty below - it's called Le Grande at Palmerston Road.
Le Grande - what a name - what a building!
Le Grande - what a name - what a building!

Dr Margie Botchel , Head of Planning and Sustainable Development, said: “Due to its proximity to Union Square and Jury's Inn Hotel, the development would not result in any additional obstruction of existing views of the city centre in approaches by road or rail from the south. It would result in an imposing building at the gateway to the evolving North Dee office area and help set an architectural benchmark for future development in the area." Well there speaks a young lassie with her head screwed on the right way.

The fantastic Silver Fin - the name says it all!
The fantastic Silver Fin - the name says it all!
Burgeoning demand for office space in the Granite City could see total take-up approach the 1m sq/ft mark this year, according to a report published by Knight Frank. Their Aberdeen Office Market Report 2014 predicts that this year will see demand smash the previous record of 883k sq/ft set in 2012 on the back of ongoing investment by the energy industry. This is all tremendous news and therefore I'm very surprised to read all the negative comments on Urban Realm from the likes of Jon, Pablo, Bill, Cadmonkey and Helen-Spit who seem blind to the virtues of this parade of beauties - this veritable flotilla of enterprise battleships readying themselves for combat.

I'm not sure who the architects are for these wonderful behemoths but I'm sure that Halliday Fraser Munro and Keppies will feature somewhere as they are a step above all other architectural practices in Scotland. It would be a disgrace if they were not first on the list - such is their pre-eminence over the competition.

These are great days for Aberdeen and the north east - I hope that you can all join with me in sending out hearty congratulations to all concerned in these wonderful developments which get a gold star and a big collective tick in my little black book.  Of course Aberdeen also won the League Cup today and I saw Wee Dr Stewartie Milne looking very pleased with himself on the TV. He is truly one of the Great Men behind the success of the Silver City and we should all be grateful that there are people like him around to help the less fortunate among us.

Cheerybye for now and have a great week.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Glasgow School of Art - an unnecessary fuss

The new Reid Building - image from Urban Realm photography by McAteer
The new Reid Building - image from Urban Realm
photography by McAteer

You know, I'm completely sick of reading about the so-called Reid Building and Glasgow School of Art's campus master masterplan. It isn't a big deal yet folk on Twitter, newspapers, magazines and professional journals just won't shut up about it! Shut Up!

Back in March 2011 I opened the world's eyes to a new way of looking at this minor building. I was disappointed that a couple of truly significant buildings by Keppies were going to be demolished to make way for this new build. The Newbery Tower - named after Fra Newbery who was the Headmaster and Director of the School from 1885 to 1918 - was a great building. It was proud and erect! The Bourbon Building which straddles Renfrew Street - named after the French architect Eugene Bourbon, the first Professor of Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art - is also a stunning work of art - as was the Foulis building now sadly demolished. Of course the Art School have brought themselves up to date with 21st Century attitudes by naming the new building after the cost-cutting petty bureaucrat Seona Reid, former Director of GSA, rather than someone of significance in the world of art.

I made the point three years ago that the Art School should have looked at greenfield sites for their new campus and I still believe it was a mistake not to do this. Even a more spacious urban site would have been more sensible. For example, I hear that when the students were decanted to the bright and modern Skypark while the Reid was being built they absolutely loved it. One of the obvious reasons for this apart from abundant car parking was getting away from the cloying atmosphere and dreary historical presence of the Mackintosh Building which is bound to suffocate creativity.

I made it clear in 2011 that the Keppie buildings should have been kept and that the Steven Holl building should have been erected on the site of the Mackintosh Building. I'm not saying for a moment that the Mackintosh Building is insignificant or without merit and interest to some eccentric folk and it should clearly be properly recorded and photographed before demolition. But it has outlived its usefulness and is certainly a massive constraint on the Art School's campus masterplan.

Looking at the reality of the Reid Building there isn't that much to say about it and I'm amazed at the column inches that the housewives and other amateurs of the chattering classes have generated about it - "Yes I like it!" "No you are wrong - it is an insult to Mackintosh". Ad nauseam - who cares? Don't these folk understand that it is absolutely nothing to do with them and that their pathetic opinions don't even matter - at all? It's just a new building that might last another 40 years. Mind you it seems to be falling to pieces already! Just Shut Up!

Have a great week everyone and remember you are always welcome to drop into Auchterness anytime and have a nice wee biscuit and a cup of tea and a chat. I think we have Rich Abernethy this week.