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.

Friday, 14 November 2014

In praise of BDP and the Buchanan Quarter

BDP's magnificent proposal to replace the Yes Steps at Glasgow Concert Hall
BDP's magnificent proposal to replace the
'Yes Steps' at Glasgow Concert Hall
You know, I was stimulated beyond my wildest dreams when I read about BDP's proposals for the Buchanan Quarter in Glasgow. This isn't just a quarter - it's at least two thirds or maybe more! When I first saw it I thought I had died and gone to heaven - such is its magnificence! It's a fantastic concrete cash register and just the job for the plebs and jakies of Glasgow.

Now Buchanan Galleries is a great development already but this improves it by a quantum leap - it's like finding a Mars Bar in your glove box when you thought you only had a small piece of chewing gum!

Just by way of a bit of background, BDP were once known as Building Design Partnership - and very well respected they once were in architectural circles. But in 1997 they wisely decided to give up the partnership idea and became a proper limited company so that they could split the profit between the owners rather than sharing it with the staff who don't matter anyway. Naked greed is always a sensible choice in my opinion.

One of BDP's most famous buildings is Preston Bus Station - a 1960s concrete behemoth held in high esteem by the public and was regarded as the best building in Preston. After their move into the land of capitalism and profit, BDP were active in efforts to demolish the bus station but failed miserably. Unfortunate.

Anyway, this proposal for Buchanan Galleries will certainly get the sound of cash registers clattering out from the top of Buchanan Street. The £300m project will attempt to knit the giant mall into the surrounding urban fabric and transport infrastructure. The principal feature is a new ‘Rotunda’ at the head of Buchanan Street - it's a magnificent proposal. 
Civic space will be removed - quite right
Civic space will be removed - quite right

At a stroke it completely wipes out the Glasgow Concert Hall steps which became a Yes Campaign rallying point during the Independence Referendum. Glasgow City Council have obviously requested that these steps be removed for political reasons and replaced with a glass tube. This is very sensible as civic spaces have no place in the serious business of retail activity - have they? BDP are to be congratulated on this decisive moment in the history of Scottish civic spaces - they have proved that servant architects and compliance with local political will trumps integrity every time.

You know it's so refreshing to see the work of architects who have absolutely no principles, conscience or concern for public opinion - or any distinguishing abilities or competence in design or planning. It means that they can focus on serving their clients, bending over that drawing board and returning a good old profit. Personally I love it and I have nothing but the highest praise for this project which must rank as one of my Projects of 2014!  It's like one of those mouthwashes you see on television - totally refreshing!

BDP have recently picked up some consultancy work in Aberdeen for the City Council and to me this means only one thing. Local authorities have finally realised that design and plaicemaking don't actually matter at all! All these highfalutin ideas about connectivity and public realm are just the dried up old spiders' webs of a profession in decline! Clearly BDP have cornered the market in obsequious toadying and client compliance and for this they earn a very large gold star and a big tick in my little black book.

All the best from Auchterness - I'll be back soon with more exciting insight into the world of town planning. Cheeriebye for now!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Shovel-ready Mick's Use

A fantastic new mixed use development in Aberdeen
You know, this week has been an interesting experience so far. I've had to buy Big Sandra a new handbag after Duncan's Pot Noodle landed in it. I just gave her the money rather than choosing one myself - it's better that way.

I've also had to make a short and sharp public apology to Duncan for my violent outburst - it was made in the staff canteen and was greeted by the usual sniggering from the back of the room. The powers that be also asked Duncan to make a grovelling public apology to me for deliberately winding me up. I must admit I was rather ungracious in my long acceptance speech which lasted a full 41 minutes. But thank goodness it is all over, although in some ways I have emerged triumphant - AND I WOULD CERTAINLY DO IT AGAIN! (but don't tell anyone)

Anyway, I thought I would alert you to an interesting new concept that I heard about in the last few days. You know I have kept you all in the loop with an expert planner's insight into some of the exciting ideas that keep planning in the public eye. I've talked recently about Non-Planning which was invented at Armadale by Ema. Before that I discussed Mono-Use in the slums of Glasgow's West End and opened your eyes and ears to the fact that this was the coming thing.

Well the other day I heard about Mick's Use. I think this is one of these magical historic moments when an idea is united with the name of the person who invented it - like the Barnett Formula or even Obama Care! In planning we already have Howard's Way which is of course a methodology for designing garden cities that was invented by Ebeneezer Howard. We also have Lord Ashfield who identified so much derelict land in England and Sir Lawrie Barratt who of course gave his name to the Barratt Box. Marvellous isn't it?

Now I don't know who Mick is or even what the meaning of the concept is but it sounds very impressive. Combined with the Scottish Government's 'shovel-ready' projects it sounds incredibly exciting - doesn't it? I will find out more in due course and hopefully review an exciting project that embodies this new principle. It's another turning point for planning practice and is surely worth an article in the esteemed Scottish Planner - or it might even be up for an Award! Who knows?

That's it for me until the weekend. I'm sure I've wetted your appetite and remember you can always trust Auchterness to bring you the latest and best from the exciting world of town planning. Because of that my lovely wee blog gets thousands of hits every month - many more than the RTPI gets! Fact! 

Cheeriebye for now and enjoy the rest of your week!

Saturday, 8 November 2014


the flying pot noodle
You know, I've got myself into a bit of hot water. I was having lunch the other day in the staff canteen with my colleague Duncan and others when he asked me in his sly smirking way why I write so enthusiastically about companies, organisations, architects and planners 'who have absolutely no skills, talent or ability', as he put it. I bristled.

He listed many of the people who are featured regularly on my lovely wee blog in less than flattering terms. He described Sir Ian Wood as a 'semi-senile old goat' who was basically 'a Tory puppet caught telling lies during the referendum campaign and was personally responsible for the shambles of Union Terrace Gardens'. Out of the corner of my eye I could see people sniggering around the room.

He recalled our trip to Dobbies back in July and said it was a terrible experience - humiliating and embarrassing. He said that Dobbies was 'basically a s***house full of overpriced tat, half-dead plants and pensioners stuffing their faces with the most unhealthy food imaginable while their grandchildren ran around creating chaos'.

Unknown to Duncan, I was secretly rolling up my personal copy of the Press and Journal below the table and just waiting for my moment to strike.

He said that my unconditional support for 'a series of awful and dismal developments throughout Aberdeen' was ridiculous and made me look like a fool. He said I was 'an embarrassment to the entire planning profession'. I tensed up.

And at the mention of Hon Dr Donald Trump I leapt to my feet and smacked Duncan on the side of the head with the newspaper. 'Take that!' I shouted. It was a magnificent blow - his Pot Noodle went flying across the room as he fell backwards to the floor. The Pot Noodle landed in Big Sandra's handbag.

For a moment I was the victor. 'That will teach you!' I shouted and looked around for appreciation and support. There was none. And then I realised what I had done. I slipped quietly out of the canteen and locked myself in the executive toilet.  I stayed there for a few hours ignoring the banging on the door. When everything was quiet I slipped out, sprinted to the car park and drove home.

I'm not sure what will come of this. There could be an enquiry, a tribunal or even charges of assault or early retirement. I feel that I was taunted - he baited and humiliated me knowing that I might react badly. I spent today wielding my trusty axe in the garden and felt a little better. Still I did the wrong thing and might even have to apologise.  The shame of it.  I haven't even heard anything from John Glenday by way of an apology for proposing that Aberdeen should get a Carbuncle Award.

Sorry to be a bit down but I will bounce back.  Cheeriebye form Auchterness.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Figures of Light

Planners together - Sarah Boyack (left) and Henry McLeish (right)
Planners together
Sarah Boyack and Henry McLeish
You know, I felt so proud this week when I heard that Sarah Boyack MSP had thrown her hat in the ring and announced her candidacy for the Leadership of the Labour Party Branch Office in Scotland. As we expert planners will know, Sarah like us is a town planner, as was Henry McLeish, Scotland's second First Minister, famous for a pigs-in-the-trough incident that blotted his copybook. I recall that the Sunday Herald encouraged him to 'rent in peace' after his resignation. That incident gave planning the highest possible profile and that was terrific for the profession! Wasn't it?

You see, every planner has an inner desire to make the most of every situation - a drive to shake off the shackles of convention and rise above the humdrum. It's part of the expert planner's DNA and perfectly natural for someone like Sarah Boyack, who probably has very few talents other than planning, to aspire to lead the Labour Party Branch Office in Scotland, to enjoy the cut and thrust of First Minister's Questions and ultimately to become First Minister.

As an expert planner I do hope that Sarah Boyack rises to the top table and is successful in her latest venture. It will be an incredible boost for RTPI Scotland and will genuinely give them something worthwhile to boast about.

It's one of the great things about the society in which we live that people, and indeed companies, organisations, architects and planners with absolutely no skills or talent can prosper and grow in the modern Scotland.  You know, I've heard it said that leadership figures simply emerge through being understood and respected as 'figures of light'. People who have a kind of 'forcefield' around them. We've seen many in Scotland in recent years and they have all shared this incredible charisma - Jack McConnell, Wendy Alexander, Iain Gray and Johann Lamont to name but a few. I'm absolutely certain that Sarah Boyack will fit like a glove into this panoply of brilliant people that Scotland looks up to.

Best wishes from Auchterness! I'll be back soon so cheeriebye for now.