Sunday, 15 March 2015

Lost for words

Leaving Elgin Station

You know, I was on the Scotrail express to Aberdeen last week when someone suddenly engaged me in conversation, seeking my advice about a career in planning. He had recognised me instantly of course and as an expert planner, I was happy to help a young planner at a formative stage in his life.

This young man worked for a well-known local authority in the area - let's call it Moray Council to calm idle speculation - and was concerned that his career had stalled. He asked me two questions:
  1. How can I became famous and well respected like you?
  2. How can I learn to write like Nikola Miller of the RTPI and the Scottish Planner?
Well the answer to the first question is inevitably a mixture of innate talent, being in the right place at the right time but most importantly, having a distinctive voice in the marketplace. "The marketplace?" he asked. "Yes of course" I replied. "Everything is a marketplace these days. Just look at your own Council with its internal market, departments charging other departments to come to their meetings and of course charging the public for wanting to do anything! That's a great move! In a similar way, my success as an expert planner is due to my position in the marketplace. I'm in demand as a public speaker because of my lovely wee blog which receives thousands of hits every week. Now I may not be able to charge the same as Tory grandee Malcolm Rifkind but I will at least get a Greggs sausage roll and a cup of tea. And just like Jim Murphy I always claim everything on expenses."

"So what about my writing skills - how can I get myself in the Scottish Planner?" he asked. "How can I be like Nikola Miller?"

"Well I'll let you into a little secret” I said. "I always try to memorise around 100 important words or phrases that I can join together - often randomly - to make up paragraphs of impressive sounding texts. Using this technique you can impress many people and importantly, build a useful barrier between yourself as a professional and members of the public who won't know what you are talking about. This is an ideal situation in which many planners shine - but I am exemplary".

"Let's set ourselves a little task shall we? Before we get to Aberdeen I will compile three paragraphs describing my important work at Auchterness." This is what I wrote.

At Auchterness we are unique and one of a kind - leading, legendary, proactive, best in class, scalable, empowering, targeted and ground-breaking. Our vision statement is a secret sauce made from low hanging fruit.  Moving forward, we sense-check and explore league tables, massaging their revolutionary feel-good factors to reinforce not only our award-winning and innovative solutions but also, to seamlessly transform POI and breakthrough savvy into a robust user-friendly cloud of leveraged and sustainable best practice. This satisfies our client structures and content providers. Our next generation state-of the-art dynamism is world class and cutting edge. Auchterness is simply the smartest and most flexible real-time premier provider of leading innovation in Europe - if not in the World!

A market-leading, turnkey, mission critical strategic partnership with a ground-breaking dashboard and iconic stakeholders, Auchterness is now an industry standard with a never-before-re-purposed ecosystem. It's a win-win, best of breed position of empowerment with enterprise-class synergy straight out of the box. It is a magical and feature-rich, cross-platform value proposition well positioned to disrupt the stack and hit the ground running.

Moving forward, our mindshare bleeding-edge space-age exit strategy is customer-centric and will ensure a sea-change paradigm-shift outside the box. With sticky synergistic client-centric peak performance, Auchterness is creating the perfect storm of next-gen organic growth which combines top down silo thinking with bottom up never-been-done before solution-driven uniqueness.

"That is fantastic Mr Thompson - thank you for this insight into the mindset of the expert planner. Truly you are one of our Nation's great thought leaders". And so another problem solved and another young man sent happily on his way to a glistening career in planning.

That's all from Auchterness for now. Sorry to have been so slow in publishing new articles this year but we have been very busy. I will get back into my stride soon. Remember, you can always drop in for a wee chat and a biscuit any time you are passing.  Cheeriebye for now!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Marischal Square is so fabulous!

the fantastic new Marischal Square development  -Halliday Fraser Munro at their best
the fantastic new Marischal Square development
-Halliday Fraser Munro at their best
You know, when one of my fans sent me a message on Twitter last week suggesting that I comment on the latest developments at Marischal Square in Aberdeen I was immediately excited. In fact I was all lubed up and ready to go!

You will recall that I wrote an excellent appraisal of this fantastic development back in September 2013 but much has happened since then. The development has matured over the past 18 months. It has been stripped back to produce more profit for those loveable rogues Muse Developments who are at the helm of this magnificent erection, aided and abetted by the amazing Halliday Fraser Munro and a team of pimps, place-men and puppets. You see the Council has invited Muse into bed with them so someone has to clean the sheets afterwards!

As readers of my lovely wee blog will know, when Big John Halliday waves his enormous pencil around in Aberdeen, everyone appreciates the sheer length and breadth of his talent - that goes without saying! Of course he has many other tools at his disposal such as GCI which, for the ignorant, is a computer program that creates life-like pictures of future proposals. It’s like the old fashioned artist’s impression - but completely different! It’s a means of convincing the great unwashed that either the development has already been built and there is nothing they can do about it or that it is going to be so great and filled with so many beautiful people that they say ‘Big John, you are so talented and deserve my respect. Truly you are the Scottish Le Corbusier!’
Isn't this just great? I'm sure the old couple are loving it!
Isn't this just great? I'm sure the old couple are loving it!

Of course the plebs don’t like this development much and that includes many architects. Look for example at the comment pages of the trashy and ill-informed Urban Realm website where the treacherous John Glenday orchestrates dissent and hatred of all new development. In this case, Wonky, Don Diamante, Andrew Broon, Boaby Wan, and Stevie Steve have all contributed their best efforts at architectural criticism, entirely unaware of the fact that they simply don’t matter! Poor souls - even Glenday himself hasn’t the heart to moderate the comments. Of course he needs all the publicity he can get for his gossip rag so the more ignorant and inane the comments, the better it is for Urban Realm.

Anyway, let’s look at the latest GCIs from my expert planner’s point of view. Well - where do I start? This is one of the biggest erections seen in Aberdeen in the last few years and certainly a tasty mouthful. It’s the essential meat and two veg in any planner’s lunchbox and definitely fills a big gap!
the fantastic new development on the right - spellbinding!
the fantastic new development on the right - spellbinding!
I’m looking at the amazing view from George Street up to Marischal College: the imperious grey facades of the new development on the right immediately look superior to the dingy granite of the traditional buildings on the left - which will hopefully be swept away soon. I am confident about this because there is no place for sentiment in Aberdeen. Unbelievably, this great view prompted more than 4,000 campaigners to sign a petition calling for the plans to be rejected in favour of more open space. You couldn’t make it up, could you? It was so obvious that the original proposals were just a cunning trick to give the impression that Muse and HFM actually cared about what was built when in truth they only care about the bottom line!

I honestly cannot understand why developers bother trying to convince the Aberdeen public at all. What eventuates on this site will be the sole business of Muse - and that’s the way it should be! What possible contribution could a bunch of ignorant fishermen, riggers and ex-farmers make to this project anyway? It is completely wrong-headed!

So my hearty congratulations go out to Muse Developments, Halliday Fraser Munro and Aberdeen City Council - together with their team of pimps and stooges. It’s a magnificent victory for the development industry and for the planners who will approve this fantastic erection. It earns a gold star and nine out of ten in my little black book. If they hadn’t bothered with consultation it would have been a clear ten!

All the best from Auchterness - I’ll be back soon!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Neighbour Notification Notices

A typical scene from the slums of Fairmilehead
A typical scene from the slums of Fairmilehead

Hello and a Happy New Year from Auchterness! Let's get straight down to business!

You know, when I received a Neighbour Notification Notice last week from my Local Council I thought I would use it as one of my occasional advice notes on planning matters, prepared for you by your own expert planner. What could be better?

Now I know a lot of people quiver when they receive these notices. What do they mean? What should I do? Well my advice is to do nothing! I threw mine away without even looking at it! By throwing the notice away without objecting or asking tedious questions you will be playing an important role in The Enterprise and the future of our lovely wee country. I’ll tell you why. What this notice is actually saying is that the Council has received a planning application for a development which it is going to approve. It’s as simple as that! No need to worry about objecting or any such nonsense - you will be wasting your time.

Let me give you some recent examples:
  • Construction of 20 houses in the greenbelt on a Site of Special Scientific Interest - PLANNING PERMISSION GRANTED
  • Installation of UPVC Windows and Doors in a Category B Listed Building - LISTED BUILDING CONSENT APPROVED
  • Painting of External Walls of Buildings in Outstanding Conservation Area in Purple - APPROVED
Are you getting the message? Perhaps you need a little more information!
  • Application for 70 Wind Turbines in a National Scenic Area - APPROVED
  • Development of Business Units on a former Public Park - PLANNING PERMISSION GRANTED
  • Development of 700 Student Flats adjacent to a Category A Listed Building - PLANNING PERMISSION GRANTED
Great isn’t it! You see nothing can stop what we expert planners call Enabling Development. Nothing can stop the March of The Enterprise towards Total Sustainable Economic Development (TSED). We could call it the Aberdeenification of the country!

The next logical step in the process of enabling will be for Planning Applications to become unnecessary. This is to all intents and purposes the current situation as almost every application is approved anyway. Quite right too! It’s a victory for common sense and for The Enterprise. Nosey Parkers, Conservationists and Quiche-Eating Nimby Lesbians are all history. The World has changed! Wee Craigie McLaren and RTPI Scotland have triumphed. The days of women with greasy hair or even shaved heads having a say in planning matters are over. Over I tell you!

Take my advice. Next time you read an article by our own Wee Nikola Miller in the Scottish Planner Magazine you will sense the triumphalism in her astounding prose! The sense that the world has been put to rights! A sense that we have reached peak enterprise! A sense that we have run out of exclamation marks!

Personally I would love to find a woman who was strong enough to approve planning applications without even thinking about it! Exciting! A woman confident in her actions who can go all the way with a developer’s agent - to the ends of the earth if necessary! A woman who isn’t afraid to spread mustard over a sizzling sausage and bring home the developer's bacon. A woman who regards planning conditions as the namby-pamby compromise that they are!

You know, I think 2015 will be a fantastic year for everyone involved in our great profession. There is so much to look forward to. Here at Auchterness I will be pressing for wider exposure - since John Glenday at Urban Realm has rejected me as a monthly correspondent perhaps a series in the People’s Friend might be the way forward. Or perhaps the Sunday Post! We will wait and see. I will write to the treacherous Glenday again though I don’t want to seem desperate. I will keep you in the loop one way or the other.

Cheeriebye for now from Auchterness. Lang may yer lum reek! Don’t forget to drop into Auchterness for a nice wee chat and a cup of tea and a biscuit if you are in the vicinity. I think it’s Rich Abernethy this week.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Help for one of Scotland's Nothing-Towns

Before and after - Fresco of Jesus in Borja
Before and after - Fresco of Jesus in Borja
by Cecilia Giménez

You know, one of my greatest and longest serving fans sent me a wonderful story last week about a wee town in Spain. Entitled 'Struggling town gets tourism boost from art restoration cock-up', the article describes how Borja, a nothing-town near Zaragoza, became a magnet for thousands of curious tourists eager to see the handiwork of the restoration artist Cecilia Giménez in resurrecting the local economy by 'vandalising' a Fresco of Jesus. Incidentally, Borja is just down the road from Pamplona, the town which gave its name to the famous holidaymakers song Una Pamplona Blanca.

Anyway I digress. Her well intentioned work, which you can see above, is to my eye quite stunning. It seems to literally blur the boundaries between figurative and abstract painting! It has brought about a quiet revolution in the town's visitor numbers - and fortunes. So what has worked for the nothing-town of Borja could perhaps work in our lovely wee Scotland too.
the centre of Irvine
the centre of Irvine

When I read about Borja I immediately thought of one of Scotland's nothing-towns - Irvine. I've never been there but a colleague lived there for a few years as she clambered up the greasy pole to planning respectability here at Auchterness. She often talked about the town, likening it to a merger of Motherwell and Cumbernauld - but by the sea. Three bad things wrapped into one. In other words it is what we expert planners would call a dump.

Now I gather from recent canteen chat that the good burgers of North Ayrshire Council have been trying to turn around the fortunes of the town. To quote, they intend to, "collectively identify and build on Irvine’s economic strengths and build a 'whole town' appeal that promotes Irvine’s Clyde coast location, its connections to Glasgow and its quality of life attributes, to offer a successful, vibrant town offer". This is laughable cliché planning - a vacuous and cynical exercise! I had a quick look at the Draft Strategy which has been out for consultation - a big mistake in my view and not even a properly accessible document - and it is full of ideas like an 'Urban Dressing Programme', 'Quality Plaice Building', 'Promoting an Aspirational Plaice' and 'Linking-up Town Centre to Secure Added Value'.

I'm guessing that whoever produced this document was doubled up laughing as they wrote it. It's like the result of one of these games where you have columns of random words and you join them together blindfold. We have done this at Auchterness in the past so I hesitate to dismiss it as a way of filling up a report - it's a useful and valuable exercise in the right circumstances. Of course it has been issued to consultation which must mean that the Council like it! Well as an expert planner I can tell them right away that it won't work - it won't make any difference at all.

Here's my idea! Why doesn't the Council simply admit that the town is a dump and market it on that basis? Some of the components could include:
  • not picking up litter or emptying litter bins - ok little change here but...
  • an advertising campaign which says that the Scottish Maritime Museum is the most boring museum in Scotland - it's like going to a zoo only to find that all the animals are dead!
  • demolishing the Magnum Centre - oh wait...
  • publishing an inaccurate train timetable to frustrate visitors
  • even more nasty and unpleasant public art
  • a town of empty shops - folk will be surprised when they find occupied shops
  • completely random clamping of cars in public car parks
  • announcing that the Big Idea has reopened and getting some good publicity over the outcry
  • introducing an entry fee at all entrance points to the town

That's just a start but you can see how this could mirror the success of Borja in moving from nothing-town to regional success story. I'm happy to advise North Ayrshire Council as a paid consultant in this matter.

Anyway, sorry I haven't been able to write more lately. Hope you all had a great Christmas and all the best for Hogmanay. Cheeriebye for now from Auchterness – have a good one!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Keppies are back!

the ill-judged West Dunbartonshire Council HQ proposal
 the ill-judged West Dunbartonshire Council HQ proposal

You know, I've been so taken with the fantastic world-leading architecture and planning of Halliday Fraser Munro over the past months that I had forgotten about Keppies - an old favourite and again, a world leader in design and planning. Well! I noticed an article in the treacherous Urban Realm rag last week confirming that Keppies are back in the frame with a fantastic appointment for the design and landscaping of the new £19.3m headquarters for West Dunbartonshire Council - the same Council that brought us this. ( My story is at the foot of the page but the original Guardian article has been removed for legal reasons!)

This is fantastic news for Keppies who will get a nice fat fee out of this but there are many other considerations. The idea of the development is peppered with mistakes which will have many long term implications. Let's have a look at this from an expert planner's viewpoint - ie mine.
Dumbarton Town Hall - An impediment to development - ripe for demolition
An impediment to development - ripe for demolition

First of all, the development seems to be retaining the A-Listed facade of a derelict building and this is clearly an elementary mistake. It would have been cheaper and far better to have knocked this down and built a completely modern structure. I feel that Keppies would be good at this! It could have been a well-earned smack in the face for the conservation lobby instead of a lily-livered piece of tokenism. Or even panderingism!

Secondly, I seriously question the location of the development in Dumbarton town centre - which like so many others across Scotland is a dead zone full of rats, welfare scroungers and tumbleweed. In my view, this development should have been located on a greenfield site with easy parking and good connections to major strategic routes. Another advantage of out-of-town town halls is that it is more difficult for the great unwashed to turn up out of the rain with a series of petty complaints about things they know nothing about, soaking up staff time in the process.

Now Keppie's Director Richard MacDonald is quoted as saying, “This is an important regeneration project for Dumbarton and the redevelopment of this site is a fantastic opportunity to integrate a sympathetic but contemporary solution into the existing urban context", but we all know this is just PR rubbish. Secretly he only cares about the fee and that is absolutely the right approach. Some may say that this proposal follows the guiding principles of the Sir Malcolm Fraser Commission into Town Centres but I think that even he would agree that this is a poor show from West Dunbartonshire Council and should be the subject of an immediate review. After all, what is the point in building a brand new spanking development in an area that will cease to exist in the next few years?

Now I'm not sure about this but I assume that as is the case with most Council offices, the amount of space taken up by toilets is proportionally much more than in normal buildings. Reading racks for the Daily Record in each booth take up a lot of space and there is considerably more demand for and uptake of this facility than in say a call centre. It's an interesting design parameter - isn't it? There is no mention of this on Urban Realm although the discussion boards are alive with commentary from Big Chantelle and Spellcheck, two of the leading architectural critics and thought leaders of the Urban Realm website.

You know, if this unfortunate development is ever built, I think people will look back on it and shake their heads, wondering how this ever happened. Maybe it will be the last silly development to take place before Scottish Independence - who knows. It could have been integrated in the great Lomondgate development where there is plenty of synergistic development - like coffee shops and burger bars and of course a dreadful Andy Scott horse sculpture. Anyway I have to praise Keppies for winning this and getting a nice fat fee but I utterly condemn the development as lightweight and lacking in any real planning principles.

All the best from Auchterness - see you later in the week maybe. Cheeriebye for now.

Monday, 1 December 2014

It's Charrette time again

A new land use plan being prepared  during a Scottish Government Charrette
A new land use plan being prepared
during a Scottish Government Charrette
You know, it's that time of year again - and I don't mean the Festive Season. Rather it is the Charrette Season - a time when many Councils find out if they can have their own Chimpanzees' Tea Party courtesy of the Scottish Government or if they have to wait for another year. As an expert planner, I'm aware of many Councils, some near Auchterness, who have tried and failed to win this dubious honour. I actually feel quite sorry for them! How can they have fallen for this ridiculous pantomime? How could they be so gullible?
creating the elements of the green strategy

Well it's a long story and a boring one so I'm going to skate over the details. Basically the Reverend Andrew Duany comes over to Scotland, persuades Wee Jimmy McKinnon, the then Head of Planning in the Scottish Government that charrettes were the way forward. I documented this before. He was a paid a goodly sum to run them in Dumfries, Fife and Aberdeen - and nothing worthwhile has happened since yet they have become 'the thing to do'. The answer!
putting the finishing touches to the town centre strategy
putting the finishing touches to the town centre strategy

Now make no mistake, Duany is a star turn and in a completely different class to the nonentities that have turned up to run the Scottish Government Charrette process in recent years. I don't need to name names as you all know who they are - arrogant, insincere, preening folk with the gift of the gab but no other talent. Frankly, I would just need to turn up in my purple corduroy suit with Duncan and Cameron and we would do better than these guys.

If you are looking for a bit of funding though, these Charrettes are the only game in town, hence the attraction to poor and useless Councils who are so starved of talent and resources that a Chimpanzees' Tea Party becomes an attractive and desirable thing to do. It's simply a marker for how planning has deteriorated over the years to the point where these trivial events are treated seriously.
making a model of the new community centre
making a model of the new community centre

Thinking about some of the greatest successes of planning over the last few years such as Glasgow Harbour promoted by the great Sir Ewan Jamieson, the epicentre of dynamic growth at Edinburgh Waterfront planned by Forth Ports or God's Own Gold Course at Menie designed and built by Hon Dr Donald Trump himself, we all know that charrettes were not part of the process of creating these magnificent environments. Halliday Fraser Munro haven't been near a charrette yet they are perhaps the finest architectural firm in Scotland - if not in Europe!
Group 2 seem unwilling to give their feedback
Group 2 seem unwilling to give their feedback

Take my word for it, playing around with paint and scribbling on bits of paper is never going to create world class projects in our lovely wee Scotland. Pantomime performances by the same old faces of  'the Scottish animators' or whatever they are called is never going to produce anything other than the same old stuff. The professional press is totally compliant and therefore complicit in this because it represents a good bit of business. RTPI Scotland should act on this now - it's time that this nonsense stopped!

All the best from Auchterness - have a great week and I'll be back very soon. Cheeriebye for now!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The crocodile in the room

Dave Thompson in disguise
My disguise was ineffective
You know, my regular readers will be aware that winter and the festive season can bring pain and emotional distress to many, including your faithful scribe here at Auchterness. Of course as a town planner, the work must go on despite the calendar filling up with parties, dinners and quiz nights. I won't go to any of these of course - they are just a distraction from the serious work of commentating on the future development of our bonny wee country.

But to get to the point, last week I found myself thinking about my failed marriage, my beautiful wife, her young lover and of course the boy. It's been many months since I've had any contact and I started to wonder what had become of them. I decided to embark on a reconnaissance mission to find out more - to scratch the itch or perhaps to pick the scabs of my previous happy life. For me it's the crocodile in the room.

So earlier in the week, I decided to drive to their house in disguise. I happen to have in my possession a 'dressing up box' containing among other things a blonde wig, various spectacles, a Sherlock Holmes outfit that I have used for Public Inquiries and a one piece rabbit suit. I tried on various combinations but settled on the blonde wig and heavy framed spectacles. I planned my trip meticulously and yesterday I set out to spy on them. Dave Thompson - Secret Agent!

First of all I went to the BP Garage to get a small packet of oatcakes for the trip. "Hello Mr Thompson", said the cheek young hooligan behind the till. This was the first sign that my disguise was not as convincing as I thought. As I drove on, people were waving at me - how strange! Nevertheless I continued in an easterly direction and was at the end of their street in 50 minutes. I decided to do a quick pass of the property first of all - I drove down the street being careful to look ahead but of course I was looking for their house. What I saw shocked me beyond measure.

I saw a house with a huge front extension which should never have been granted planning permission. Almost the entire front garden was taken up by this enormous structure and the remains of the garden was now a car park. I was speechless! I decided to have another look and drove to the end of the street, turned and slowly drove back. As I approached the new development I pulled up at the kerb to take a photograph. Suddenly a football bounced off my windscreen. "Grandad! Grandad! What the f*** are you doing here?" It was the boy! I don't know how he recognised me or where he learned to speak like that - well actually I do know. It all comes from the down-and-out who is pretending to be his father. "Haha - are you a pervert now?" he asked.

I rapidly engaged gear and tried to pull away but the car stalled. A few people had gathered round to see what was happening - it was deeply embarrassing. Eventually I got the car going and it shot up the street in a cloud of burning rubber and blue smoke. I tore off my wig on the way home and threw it out of the window.
I will report this house extension to the appropriate authorities. If it does have planning permission I will be asking for an investigation to be carried out by RTPI Scotland to establish how this happened. I'm sure Wee Craigie McLaren will be all over this one. If it does not have consent I will be pressing for immediate Enforcement Action.

Best wishes from Auchterness - have a great week and cheeriebye for now.