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.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Declaration of War

John Glenday - please stick to gossip and tittle-tattle
John Glenday - please stick to gossip and tittle-tattle
You know, much as I like Urban Realm and enjoy the tittle-tattle and pettiness of the comment section under each news item, I'm personally affronted that John Glenday should choose Aberdeen, Scotland's most dynamic city and epicentre of sustainable growth, as a potential recipient of the upcoming Carbuncle Awards. Moreover, to rub salt into my wounds, he states that it is 'an early front-runner ... as the silver city fades to grey amidst a steady drip and questionable planning decisions.' (sic)

Glenday states that the oil capital has been accused of turning its back on its main artery, Union Street, by 'sanctioning the remorseless expansion of undercover malls'. How could he have got it so wrong? My lovely wee blog is full of articles describing proposed improvements, big ideas and a host of terrific new buildings for the Silver City. He has chosen to ignore these as part of a cheap publicity stunt!

Glenday goes on to say, “Aberdeen has a rich granite heritage and in the Victorian era the city was built to last, sadly the same can’t be said of the flimsy, ill-considered buildings going up across the city today". Well John, how stupid are you? Buildings aren't made to last these days - it's a fact of life that they are now temporary, maybe lasting 30 years at the most, so your Victorian era fantasy is just silly romantic nonsense!
 Matthew Hay emergency care centre by Mackie Ramsay Taylor
A great building - the Matthew Hay Emergency Care Centre
by Mackie Ramsay Taylor

He continues, “Serious questions need to be asked of planners who appear to be simply rubber-stamping the schemes that are put in front of them. There appears to be an attitude of ‘anything goes’ as long as it brings in immediate cash." Yes John - that is the whole idea!. The reality is that these planners are heroes! They are in the vanguard of new approaches to development which include the latest trends such as mono-use and non-planning which I have recently explained. I have to say to Mr Glenday, "Shut up foolish person!" What you are complaining about is totally deliberate and highly successful. Can you not see that Aberdeen is the powerhouse of the Scottish economy simply because it lets these great things happen and doesn't bother with the usual plaice-making rubbish or the routine time-wasting associated with getting planning permission?

I'm very angry and disappointed at Urban Realm and by its Editor in Chief. I know that the Carbuncle Awards are a useful source of publicity for the magazine and choosing Scotland's most successful city will give it even more media coverage. But this is a cheap and unwarranted attack - it is a declaration of war on the New Scottish Enlightenment and of course on Auchterness. So some words of advice - why don't you focus on things you are good at, like gossip and tittle-tattle, instead of trying to stir up criticism of things you don't understand - like town planning? You know absolutely nothing about Aberdeen or about planning - NOTHING!

I hope to receive a full apology in early course from Urban Realm and John Glenday, otherwise I will consider my position and may launch a significant counterattack. 

Cheeriebye for now from Auchterness - enjoy the rest of the week.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Doing the Quango at Shawfield

The magnificent new Gulag proposal for Shawfield, Glasgow
The magnificent new Gulag proposal for Shawfield, Glasgow
You know, I've often seen 'Clyde Gateway' mentioned in various reports and newspapers over the last few years. I thought it was a railway station or the entrance to a public park or even a terrible piece of public art by cliché artist Andy Scott until I read an article in Urban Realm the other week. It emerges that Clyde Gateway is a specially created urban regeneration company,  'tasked with driving forward a massive investment programme over a 20-year period ... to deliver unparalleled social, economic and physical change together with 1,200 football pitches'. Amazing and impressive!

Now apparently Clyde Gateway is seeking new investors 'to back its future development pipeline'. I was impressed again - here is yet another public organisation aspiring to be a switched-on private developer by adopting the language of management consultants, logistics and real estate.  A sound move, and they've commissioned 7N Architects (the folk who produced the joke plans for the Inverness Campus that I wrote about in 2010) to produce a master plan. Amazingly this is the largest commercial and industrial planning consent in Scotland - ever - and comprises Class 4 business space, shops, cafes, a gym, business centre and a hotel.  In other words it's big and ordinary but if successful, will make a handsome profit for someone. That's what it's all about isn't it?

And it just gets better for Clyde Gateway - 7N Architects are teamed up with Ironside Farrar who someone I know in Scottish Enterprise once described as the Death Star of Scottish consultants. The team is led by Mace, a consultancy that takes its name from a weapon with a heavy head on a solid shaft used to bludgeon opponents or a brand of teargas used by the police (Wikipedia). Either way it's a great choice of name! All in all this is a magnificent team of grim sloggers who will inevitably grind out a result of some kind.
A green landscape will be woven around the riverside setting
A green landscape will be woven around the riverside setting
- stop laughing at the back

A quick look at the proposals reveals a sun-dappled prospect which an Urban Realm critic described as looking like a communist ghetto. In my expert planner's view this doesn't matter. These CGIs are just a series of vacuous cliches - a sort of shorthand for 'we will do something but we don't know what it will be yet'. So what? We've seen recently that Non-planning and Non-design actually works and is a huge time-saver for architects. Frankly design is no longer an important factor at this stage of a development - these drawings are just meaningless bits of wallpaper to kid people on that some thought has gone into it. Well actually that is very unfair - a lot of thought has gone into it but it hasn't been architectural. Instead, the calculators have been out!

You can see how this is going to end. A developer or consortium of developers will do the Dance of the Seven Veils in the Clyde Gateway offices ( probably in reception) - that's what we expert planners call the initial stages of seduction by the developer. Chief Executive of Clyde Gateway Ian Manson's tongue will be hanging out and the rest of the Board will be consumed with desire. They will unanimously accept an offer. Some of the master plan may be built but it won't look anything like the CGI stuff in the Urban Realm puff - it will be even worse - but who cares? Job done and better than nothing!

This is a great development that earns a gold star and a big tick in my wee black book. It's just right for an area that has gone to the dogs. This team of sloggers will do their best to come up with the goods. A developer will make a stack of money producing some bottom dollar sheds and Clyde Gateway will massage the result as a huge success. So everyone will be happy. Welcome to the fantastic Tory world of Scottish quango-led property development.

Have a great week and all the best from Auchterness. Cheeriebye for now!