Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Wonder of Dobbies

The wonderful Dobbies entrance
The wonderful Dobbies entrance
You know, I was down in Aberdeen again the other day on important Auchterness business and on my way back home I took some time out to visit Dobbies Garden Centre with Duncan, a business colleague. I needed some things for the garden - my big plan is to replace my lawn with artificial grass. It will demonstrate that as an Expert Planner, I am prepared to embrace new ideas and look to the future. The name AstroTurf has a science fiction sound to it that appeals to me. Most planners don't actually think about the long term these days - just 'enabling' the short term so again, your favourite expert planner is ahead of the game. Duncan laughed scornfully at my ambition.

As I drove from Albyn Place to the Lang Stracht I felt tension mounting as we negotiated each and every sponsored roundabout on the way. I felt a frisson of excitement as I always do when visiting any retail park. The crowds, the cash registers, the happy faces of satisfied customers - it's all tremendously stimulating. My driving became more and more erratic and I knew that the back of my shirt was soaked with sweat. I stalled the car at the Queen's Road roundabout but we eventually arrived safely at Dobbies. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Duncan laughing at me.
Better than an Andy Scott - a big man weeds his garden at Dobbies, Aberdeen
Better than an Andy Scott - a big man weeds his garden
 at Dobbies, Aberdeen

What a place! At the entrance there is a large sculpture of a figure weeding the garden - fantastic and better than an Andy Scott any day! Pure taste and style! Not a horse in sight!

First of all we went to the sumptuous restaurant where there was the most fantastic display of food. It was carefully themed in brown and red tones - all the cakes were either light brown, pink or red and covered in cream or icing. The hot food was brown too - not a green vegetable in sight. This is a very clever move on the part of Dobbies as they are of course catering for the plebs rather than people with sophisticated palettes - like me. I think this is what pretentious middle-class know-alls call junk food. So be it.

We ordered a coffee, a pot of tea and a couple of Empire Biscuits. “That will be £10.15”, said the wee lassie. I questioned the amount immediately! “Oops! I’ve charged you for three biscuits instead of two.” I’m a man of the world and I’ve seen this trick before - it’s one way in which poorly paid staff can supplement their wages!

I marvelled at the range of water fountains on display - just like the Ville d'Este at Tivoli. A hundred lovely fountains all bubbling away. Who would have guessed that there could be so many different styles - elephant’s trunks, little cherubs, fish, hedgehogs, poultry and pigs - all with water spouting from somewhere. I saw an enormous swinging treehouse made of rattan which could seat four people around a small dinner table as it dangled from a steel girder. It could be a great addition to my garden - a talking point and a wonderful piece of one-upmanship.

As we wandered round looking for my AstroTurf the scale of Dobbies success gradually dawned on me – I was in raptures, as any planner worth his salt would be. Duncan said it was just a wee nursery that had gone from being a caring local business - "inspiring gardeners since 1865" - to a huge industry that sells junk food and overpriced tat to the roughs. I disagreed and countered, stating that Dobbies current status was a huge achievement, a great day out for people who don’t care much about anything and who just wanted to relax with a bit of retail therapy. But it’s also a marketing triumph for the company and reflects well on the dedicated planners who grant their applications and therefore support The Enterprise. Firms like Dobbies are all part of the New Scottish Enlightenment and it is only right that planners approve all of their proposals without hesitation or delay.

We called in at B&Q Inverurie on the way home so it was a double treat for me! Duncan needed some paint to finish of his bedroom renovation that evening. I offered to help but he said he was fine - a woman was coming round later to clean his brush. He grinned broadly. It was only after I got home that I realised what he meant. I will make some suggestions to him about his behaviour in an email tomorrow.

I'm full of praise for Dobbies and will add the company to my list of Great Retail Regenerators like Asda and Tesco. I hope you agree. Best wishes for the week ahead from Auchterness – hope you have a great time planning something nice. Cheeriebye for now.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Hot topic at Houndwood!

Houndwood Crematorium

You know, they say there's no smoke without fire and I was amused this week to read about the power of one individual over the operators of a new crematorium at Houndwood near Coldingham in the Scottish Borders.

According to the Daily Record, which I read in the Auchterness Executive Toilet the other day, Dr Fraser Quin has threatened to enforce a 1902 law which states that funeral bosses must get approval from property owners living within 200 yards of their operation before they can fire up their ovens – and his house is 183 yards away so the opening of the £2million crematorium has been blocked. Like Glasgow School of Art only a few weeks ago, this is obviously a burning issue for Dr Quin but many of his neighbours see it differently - some have given the facility a warm hello while others are raking the ashes of resentment.

It is a strange tail. The new crematorium is housed in an old church which is a listed building. Regular Auchterness readers will know that the obvious answer to this would have been to demolish the building and turn the site into a development opportunity for housing. But sadly it was not to be - some bright spark got all fired up about this and before you could say 'towering inferno', the operators cooked up a plan which has now gone from the frying pan literally into the fire. They should have done their homework because now their ideas are toast!

Dr Quin doesn't want this facility and who could blame him. He's looking for £350,000 from the operators to buy his house. He is assuming they have money to burn. Many neighbours would doubtless follow suit as they will soon get fed up with the dreary parade of long faces and the smoke signals from the church getting their washing dirty, not to mention 'Angel' by Robbie Williams booming out daily from the humanist events of daft families with no taste.

This is a great story about how an individual - stubborn by his own admission but perhaps with time to burn researching his rights - can face down a silly proposal and in effect, fight fire with fire.

My hearty congratulations go out to Dr Quin - lang may his lum reek! Cheeriebye from Auchterness and have a great weekend.

Monday, 30 June 2014

A New Vision for Planning

The bold Derek Mackay
The bold Derek Mackay

You know, last week when Planning Minister Derek Mackay launched the Scottish Government's 'vision for planning' he set out an agenda that I can identify with. Apart from a passing reference to plaice-making which will please the dreary cliché-ridden mouthpieces of RTPI Scotland, everything is big, upfront and business-like. Many traditional planners will feel uncomfortable with the tone and content of the vision and for some, Derek Mackay has literally stepped up to the plate and opened a can of worms. For me it was the icing on the cake and the cherry on the doughnut that will melt in my mouth for years to come.

I read about this in more detail over my porridge on Sunday morning. It has been hailed as a watershed moment - a chance to unblock the pipelines of enterprise and deliver a geyser of entrepreneurial activity in which clever people with money get a fair chance to defeat the restrictive planning system. Some say it is just another pipe dream but business is already flushed with success after a series of historic victories, some of which I have documented here on my lovely wee blog.

A key part of this tsunami of new planning measures is the introduction of a presumption in favour of development. Of course this is nothing new for the good people of Aberdeen who have seen their city become a hot tub of property development - literally a Jacuzzi of wealth and employment which has delivered a cold shower for those interfering busybodies dressed in shorts and sandals who try to stop things happening. There couldn't be a clearer sign that business and enterprise is more important than quiche-eating communities and the loathsome serpents that represent them. The days of the badly-dressed snake-in-the-grass community activist are over.

Infrastructure is key - we are talking about carbon capture, thermal generation, pumped hydroelectric storage, high-speed rail and airport enhancement. It's a long way from squabbling over a new Subway outlet or protesting over some old city hall that is an impediment to development. All that is from the past. The Bold Derek has set out a Big Vision and it is just fine with me.

House building is another area where change is inevitable. I have documented many circumstances in which local planning authorities have ignored my advice and tried to refuse developments which have subsequently been approved on appeal. In other cases I have drawn attention to land that is ripe for development but where nothing is happening.

You know, I personally can't take on the responsibility of ensuring that Councils meet the housing targets so a presumption in favour of development is a positive move. A Right to Build would be even better! Too much time is spent by Council planners reading the Daily Record in the toilet or going out for bacon rolls every morning at 10 o'clock. The effect on the economy is staggering - in 2013, fewer than 15,000 new houses were built in Scotland - that's 20,000 less than the Scottish Government target. This is all down to planners sitting about doing nothing instead of approving every application they receive.

I'll be back in a wee while with some exciting new updates on planning and property development in Scotland. Cheeriebye for now.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Novar Drive will explode with enterprise

The site of the great proposal - just behind the wee red car

You know, when a friend of mine drew my attention to a wonderful and clever proposal for a new supermarket and offices at Novar Drive in the slums of Glasgow's West End I was thrilled to bits. At the time, I happened to be in Glasgow on important Auchterness business so took the bus out to the area to get first-hand knowledge.

As we all know, Glasgow's West End is a tenement area filled with Multiple Occupancies, rats and overflowing litter bins yet it is one of the chosen areas for professional types as well as footballers and their wives. Strange, but it's quite different from some of the peripheral housing estates like Broomhill and Jordanhill where most of the schemies live and cause trouble every night.
The depressing tenemental environment of Hyndland Road
- and the fat ladies cafe

I stopped off for a nice wee cup of tea and a biscuit at one of the many cafes in the area. I could hardly get in the door – the place was filled with big women with huge prams yapping away to each other, gossiping and talking about fridge magnets or whatever trivial things came into their empty heads.  I saw many stylish men in tight trousers, bunnets and beards strolling along Hyndland Road on their way to the gym or to their therapists. Some of the women also had beards and most were overweight. Thin men with big fat women - that seems to be the Glasgow look. Not so different from the Broons all those years ago!
The Broons - a typical Glasgow family - a wee man and a big woman
Anyway I digress. Now like many other areas, the West End has been getting rid of its depressing legacy of mixed use - garages, studios, offices, second hand bookshops and workshops are all being swept away and replaced with residential development. It's called mono-use and is the latest thing - remember that you heard about it first from Auchterness! From an expert planner's viewpoint, all these new people moving into the area need somewhere to shop. Enter the G1 Group and their dynamic partners Root & Branch. These folk had the clever idea of building a new supermarket on the site of some derelict properties just off Hyndland Road. It's a braw wee proposal - submitted in colour too! I don't know who the architects were for this building but they have done a great job in the circumstances - it even has a nice wee pitched roof!

The excellent Novar Drive Supermarket proposal
The excellent Novar Drive Supermarket proposal
Predictably, a few local residents are up in arms about this - around 500 objections to the planning application were received by the Council. Why? I honestly can't understand why people would object to this. They complain about congestion but don't think that their own cars are causing congestion all along Novar Drive. They will literally have a pint of milk on their door steps but they still complain. This proposal will be a shot in the arm for many local shops, especially those just next to the new supermarket on Hyndland Road - they will get an amazing uplift in business. The area could become a dynamic hub of enterprise once the Council sweep away the interfering nosey-parkerism of a few misguided residents. I am sure most of the objectors simply signed a standard letter that some expert had prepared. The Council should get wise to this sort of thing and throw out objections that are identical except in name and address. In fact there should be new legislation!

As I stood in awe on the corner of Novar Drive and Hyndland Road a wee jakie approached me with a cardboard cup with some coins in it. "Scuse me Grandad, have yous got a pound for the bus hame?" A gave him some money - the poor soul. It seemed obvious to me that the young lad could easily have got a job in the new supermarket and that would solve at least some of his problems. But interfering nosey parkers always think they know best and of course they are usually wrong. They are heartless, loud, mean-spirited and usually badly dressed in my experience.

I heartily support this application and offer my congratulations to everyone who was involved in putting it together. I'm sure it will be approved by Glasgow City Council and everyone will be happy. It gets a gold star in my wee black book.

Cheeriebye from Auchterness – enjoy the rest of the week!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Dressing up in Aberdeen

Cheerz Bar - apparently a favoured venue
for those in Aberdeen's development industry

You know, I was travelling back home after an important business meeting in Aberdeen last week on the fabulous ScotRail Express to Inverness when an extraordinary series of events took place.

I was with a friend of mine called Cameron and we were chatting away when I overheard three young men further down the carriage discussing the business environment in Aberdeen. My ears pricked up! In particular they were speculating that to be successful, you have to be a member of one of the city's many Freemasonry Lodges. These young men were having a great laugh and mentioned some of my heroes in less than flattering terms, suggesting that they were all part of secret society in which all sorts of locker room activity and dubious public school games are rampant. I rose from my seat to confront them but was pulled back by my friend. I was absolutely furious! How dare they besmirch the reputations of my heroes - in public! It took me quite a few miles, a cup of tea and a Tunnock's caramel wafer to calm down. I have to admit that Cameron is more a man of the world than I am so I listened carefully to what he had to say.

First of all he told me that freemasonry is of course rife in all successful companies and organisations in the city - this is a given. Women are regarded as a sub-species and at a typical black tie event the after-dinner speaker will routinely demean women. It's great fun apparently but would be rather embarrassing for most enlightened people - like me.

Then came the second revelation. Apparently the Hon Dr Donald Trump is a symbol of virility and a gay icon in Aberdeen and the North East! That's why his photograph appears so frequently in the Press and Journal. It also explains why my lovely wee blog gets hundreds of hits every time I write something that features the Great Man. It seems that fishermen and farmers from Fraserburgh to Tomintoul are already tuned into this and have a huge appetite for all sorts of Trump imagery and memorabilia. I can imagine the Great Man as a figurehead on a trawler being very popular - or even on a tractor!
The Dr Donald and Sir Ian Show

Thirdly, Cameron went on to tell me about 'dressing up'. By this time I was in turmoil and completely speechless. When I published my highly popular post entitled 'The Dr Donald and Sir Ian Show' about the Great Donald being awarded an Honorary Degree from Robert Gordon's University which was of course presented to him by Sir Ian Wood, I simply didn't realise that this was another dimension of Aberdeen's LGBT scene venturing out into the public eye - for the ignorant out there that is the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community. The same thing happened when Hon Dr Wee Stewartie Milne got his degree - they all got dressed up and allegedly had a whale of time - off camera as it were. As Cameron said to me, these ceremonies are more to do with coming out, dressing up and having a laugh than a serious academic occasion. Boys will be boys I suppose.

We had only reached Huntly when Cameron suggested that I was a complete simpleton not to have seen this and that my lovely wee blog was rubbish. He used the expression IOTTMCO about the Aberdeen situation - which apparently stands for Intuitively Obvious to the Most Casual Observer. I bristled but inside I felt crushed - could I really have been so blind? What he was implying was that the entire success of Aberdeen as the economic dynamo of the Scottish economy was not based on the entrepreneurial talents of rich and clever people but on their membership of masonic boys clubs in which they dress up for each other, visit gay bars, game the system, fast-track job opportunities and divvy up contract awards on a routine basis. At that point in the conversation, the only trickle-down I felt was a cold bead of sweat running down the inside of my arm.

Now as an expert planner, I'm familiar with many forms of regeneration – the RTPI is always inventing new terms for our work - but I haven't heard of masonic regeneration. Perhaps it will have its moment in the sun and Auchterness will have been the first to have brought you news of a coming trend.

Unfortunately I can't name names in this story - in any case, the list would be too long. However it is absolutely amazing that architects, public sector bodies, quangos, developers, bankers, contractors and business people - all based in Aberdeen - are part of this incredibly successful secret society. Personally I would like to be part of it and I'm sure I have much to offer - especially when it comes to dressing up! Apparently though, I have to be invited first.

Cheery-bye for now and best wishes from Auchterness. I will be back again soon with more insights into the world of the town planner.

Friday, 6 June 2014

New Waverleygate

The New Waverleygate proposal - fantastic!
The New Waverleygate proposal - fantastic!
You know, I'm always filled with admiration for clever people who have the courage to use all the tools available to them to help get what they want. I wrote a few weeks ago about the humble bridge on the Borders railway that had become a 'vital link' and what a clever piece of management and PR speak this was.

The week before last I noticed an important story in the Edinburgh Evening News - it won't be news to some of you and I apologise for that but for others outside the Capital it may be interesting. It concerns the Caltongate development and those loveable rogues Artisan Real Estate. Although this development ticks all the right boxes for me, it hasn't exactly gone down well with the quiche-eating middle-classes of the Capital's inner slums.

The solution of course has been to rebrand the development. It is a tour de force in creative thinking and demonstrates complete mastery of the puppet strings of civic life. Instead of being called Caltongate, the new development will be known as New Waverleygate. It's a name that combines New Labour's 'new-ness' with one of Sir Walter Scott's most popular novels while retaining the familiar 'gate' word which has become incredibly popular since Watergate all those years ago.

Add in some new visualisations featuring  slightly fatter women than before - I'm sure it is cunningly intended to give the proposals 'broader appeal' - and promises of retaining some useless old buildings (which will never be kept) and we have a complete makeover and a fantastically positive new image and brand. In other words, like the 'vital link' on the Borders railway, this is now an “international benchmark for sensitive and innovative development”. Amazing! There is even some planner-speak in there too where the developer talks about improving the “overall look and feel of the area”.

Artisan Real Estate, working in close partnership I am sure with the City of Edinburgh design team, have produced an outstanding revision of what was already a strong proposal. What makes it extra special is the fact that they haven't really changed anything except the name. This makes it a very clever piece of work and a great outcome for the developer and the planning department.

My hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved in this work which gets a gold star and a big tick in my little black book.  Cheerybye for now!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Flames of Opportunity

Glasgow School of Art - the old (in flames)and the new
Glasgow School of Art - the old (in flames)and the new

You know, when I heard the news on Friday that the old Glasgow School of Art building had been badly damaged by fire I knew immediately what my post would be this week. I was literally burning with ideas and glued to the edge of my seat at the same time!

First of all, before people get too upset by what I have to say, I feel terribly sorry for the students who will have lost all their work, most of which will be irreplaceable. It's a tragedy for people so young to experience such loss, especially at such a critical time in their studies. I remember when I was a wee boy on holiday in Lossiemouth with the family when the tide came in and destroyed a magnificent sandcastle I had built. I was inconsolable. On another occasion, my mother threw out a model of a dog that I had carefully constructed from a Fairy Liquid bottle and some drinking straws - I was distraught.  So I know how it feels.

I was also sad to see Muriel Gray so visibly upset at what was happening around her on Friday. I gather that she is very closely involved in the School of Art so it is not surprising that she was in tears. She's a fine Scottish lassie and talked a lot of sense about the institution and its future - it is more than a building. Exactly!

In contrast, I'm very unsympathetic to the hordes of twittering middle class numpties drowning in their sentimentality, wringing their hands and talking about loss, heritage, poor Toshie and all the rest of it. A blizzard of unwanted and unfocused nonsense from people who probably have never been near the building in their lives far less studied there. It certainly has been an opportunity for overweight women in colourful cardigans to cry into their ghastly homemade soup or for thin bearded men to start talking about their philosophy of restoration.
Smoke from the GSA Fire partly obscuring the
excellent Dental Hospital Building on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Of course Glasgow School of Art was the UK's best loved building. But nothing is forever. It seems careless of GSA to lose so much of this building in an afternoon and questions will be asked. Doubtless there will a great wave of enthusiasm for restoring the famous library together with what was the most uncomfortable lecture theatre anywhere in the world but of course it won't be the same. Like the grim, lifeless 'meticulous reassemblage' at the Hunterian Gallery at Glasgow University with its hum of air conditioning - or even worse, the construction of the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park on the south side of Glasgow - it would and will be an exercise in stultifying architectural necrophilia. A Poundbury on Renfrew Street - I hate these places!  You know, it strikes me that there are plenty of photographs and drawings of the building and any intelligent person should be able to reconstruct in their own minds what it was like rather than being spoon-fed an ersatz copy.

Perhaps the time has come, and here I have to make references to my previous posts on the development of the School of Art campus, to consider something new and radical that can act as a receptacle for the wonderful creative minds that will drive artistic innovation in a future Scotland and indeed oil the gears of enterprise. After all there is a model for this new approach across the road at the Seona Reid building - even to the extent of a business park aesthetic over-sailing the remains of the old refectory. Imagine a new building over-sailing the remains of the Mackintosh building - exciting prospects indeed! It's all work for our wonderful development industry of course and I'm hopeful that Halliday Fraser Munro will be involved in the new build. I'm sure John Halliday is sharpening his big pencil as we speak.
the flames of opportunity

And speaking as an expert planner, I noticed in some of the photographs that large parts of the old Mackintosh building had flat roofs. I'm sure that Glasgow City Council planners will try to correct this anomaly and insist on a large pitched roof together with sash and case windows in the restored building. Also it may be possible to accommodate car parking in some of the basement space of the new building. Or perhaps an extra floor could be added so that it would be a better match for the towering Reid Building across Renfrew Street.  These are inevitably the sorts of things that GCC planners will be considering.

I may return to this subject in due course but for now, let's hope that Glasgow School of Art can look to the future rather than the past. Best wishes to all my fans and remember, you're always welcome to drop in at Auchterness any time. Cheeriebye for now!