Sunday, 28 November 2010

Aberdeen are at it again...

a seasonal view of Hazlehead Golf Course which will be sold to Donald Trump
You know, I was thrilled to read recently that Aberdeen City Council have decided to set up a special company to develop Council owned assets and regenerate Aberdeen. It's called One Aberdeen - original name isn't it? Yes, but only if you ignore One North East and One NG - that's One Newcastle Gateshead for you ignorant types out there. It's a unique idea borrowed from other Councils in Scotland like Glasgow and Edinburgh.

This is fabulous news - One Aberdeen will fast-track supposed Council assets like libraries and cemeteries straight into the willing hands of private developers. It's a ploy that I suspect was suggested to the Council by Donald Trump or Sir Ian Woods. The One Aberdeen city development company will take Council assets which could be making money for the city, but are not - places like Union Terrace Gardens or the slums of Torry - and give them to private developers.

Apparently in the past, unused assets have been sold on to third parties, but under the new scheme they will be transferred to One Aberdeen for development and used to generate cash for the city, ensuring the people of Aberdeen, rather than a private body, benefit from the asset. Well that's what the press release says but in fact it's equivalent to flogging off the entire property portfolio - this will include the Beach, Union Street, all the sponsored roundabouts and the Duthie Park which will be redeveloped along with Hazlehead Park, the golf course there being given to Donald Trump.

One of the prime aims of the new company will be to drive and promote the regeneration and economic development of the city as a whole. This is exactly the right approach and will hopefully see acres of unused land flattened and used for housing, ring-roads and other assets. It is a sign that the dynamic duo - Dr Donald and Sir Ian - are beginning to have their way with the city. A thousand years of untold wealth and riches will inevitably follow!

Friday, 26 November 2010

A Planner's Bumper Fun Book #1 - Hotels

Dundee's fantastic Premier Inn set in luscious landscaping
You know, I'm often asked, "What do you actually do?" A very good question. Not that I'm in any doubt but it might be difficult for lesser beings to understand! So I thought I would write an occasional series of posts on some of the hot topics in the expert world of the fully qualified town planner. Here's Part 1 - the hotel.

Ok let's go! Now hotels are one of the most desirable items in the planners's bumper fun book. Think Monopoly - think Park Lane - okay? Let's talk Scotland - it comes down to two classic chains. Travelodge and Premier Inns. Fantastic! They are all over the place and their incestuous battle for supremacy is played out from Elgin to West Edinburgh. Like two Premier Division Football sides, these two giants of business provision knock each other around like an old couple but they are deadly serious.

Just look at my picture above of the Premier Inn at Dundee. Forget about the daft V&A proposals - this is the real thing. Imagine staying overnight at this succulent supplier of late night treats. Imagine standing naked at your window with your Mars Bar in the dead of night overlooking the silvery Tay with nothing between you and the river but a bit of double glazing, a luscious lawn and an asphalt path - fabulous! You have your own electric kettle for the night (maybe) and some tea-bags. But there's a machine in the hall to dispense soft drinks - it's an incredibly sophisticated offer!
the luxurious Travelodge in the west end of Edinburgh
So what's the link to planning and regeneration? Well it's obvious. Like public art which I've referred to before, a Travelodge or a Premier Inn is a sign that planners have been at work, 'enabling' as we say, oiling the wheels of business and ensuring that everything turns out well. A nice asphalt car park with white markings is a classic touch. The nice wee plants around the car park should be spikey so that crisp packets can get stuck on them - makes it easier for the Council layabouts to pick them up once or twice a year - and dense undergrowth is good for hiding beer cans. That's three boxes ticked and I've hardly started!
a Premier Inn in Elgin - amazing!
You often find that these hotels are build close to other important facilities like business parks, ten-pin bowling alleys, edge-of-town cinemas, supermarkets and upmarket restaurants like Frankie and Bennys. That's what we expert planners call a 'cluster of excellence' - good isn't it?

Of course there is a dark side to this success story. Sometimes these facilities are used by ladies of the night (although that might not be the case in Elgin - well I wouldn't advise anyone to try it). It's a sure sign that these developments are successful when uses that were once associated with town centres move to edge-of-town sites. It's another kick in the pants for the conservation lobby and others who oppose modern development. You know, many of my friends in Scottish Enterprise aspire to provide a Travelodge - they think it would be the pinnacle of a successful career - the ultimate bit of enabling. I agree!

So in summary, hotel developments like these are a clear sign of a successful area and a beacon of light, demonstrating the value of planning today.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Keppies to change Orkney for good!

Keppies fantastic new proposal for Stromness Primary School
You know, I was over the moon today when I spotted the news on the Urban Realm website that Keppie Design have been commissioned to design Orkney Islands Council’s £50m Schools Investment Programme. By the way, Urban Realm is a favourite of mine for gossip and tittle-tattle around the development scene in Scotland and is especially known for its uncritical reporting. This is fantastic news and another kick in the teeth for some of Scotland's so-called boutique architecture firms as well as a big vote of confidence for this great company, fresh from its success at the Highland Housing Expo where they won my category of best house ever, in the world.

So let's have a look at what is being proposed here. The contract will see Keppie working with Morrison Construction - the building arm of the well known supermarket chain - to deliver a grammar school, theatre and halls of residence in Kirkwall, a primary school in Stromness, a leisure hall and squash courts at the Pickaquoy Centre and all weather sports pitches in Stromness and Kirkwall. It will be just as if the army had arrived there again to build camps, defences and other facilities at the start of World War II - except it will be different.

This is great news for Orkney which is struggling to find a contemporary identity in the 21st century. Black houses, mud huts and thatched roofed slums will be swept aside to create a new modern look for the islands. Brightly coloured cladding, plate glass, carpet tiles and other mod-cons will completely jerk the islanders out of their Victorian outfits and habits. It's a win-win situation for the Council and will herald a New Enlightenment for the islands in which people can read and write again. "Integrating the architecture with interior and landscape design Keppie will prioritise longevity and robustness given the vagaries of the Orkney climate whilst harnessing abundant natural energy", said Peter Moran, Director of Education at Keppie.

Wonderful and well spoken that man! I can tell you now, I wish I had been educated in a Keppies School - I might have turned out better! I congratulate the Council on their foresight in appointing such a great, stylish and appropriate firm of architects to undertake this important work and offer some hope for the future in this miserable part of Scotland.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

My weekend with the boy

I nice wee photie of me taken by the boy in Burger King at Inverness
So that's another weekend over and the boy has been given back to my beautiful wife and her young lover - I'll get him again on the 4th of December. It's a pleasant punctuation in my hectic life as one of the top planners in Scotland. The nice wee photie above is one for the family album - well I don't have much of a family or an album but I'll share it with you anyway. It was taken by the boy on Saturday as we sat in Burger King just next to the Vue Cinema at the ever gorgeous Inverness Shopping Park.

I didn't have time to write an in-depth assessment of the Shopping Park but I knew I was somewhere special. The way in which the cold prevailing winds drive people into the shops is a very clever touch. You will get an in-depth perspective from your favourite expert planner at a later date.

I was very tired after the drive and slept through most of the film - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - which was not my cup of tea. While I was asleep, the boy stuck a big piece of chewing gum on my head and I didn't even notice to till we got back to the car. Oh how he laughed. There's a streak of badness in him which I think is being encouraged by his unfortunate home environment. I'm not sure what to do about this and I worry sometimes that he will end up in care or become a social misfit, a hooligan or even a Tory. I haven't seen his school report card but maybe they don't do that anymore. I do recognise though that he is rebelling against life and in some ways, I quite like that.

We spent Sunday morning in the garden - I was chopping wood as usual but instead of helping, he threw stones at some beer cans he had put up on the fence. I suggested that this wasn't the best thing to do but he just said, "Shut it Grandad". You know, it's tough being a father these days.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Three cheers for Lomondgate!

the fantastic handmade drawing of Lomondgate
You know, a friend of mine gave me a heads-up on this astonishing and ground breaking development in the Glasgow Herald today. I rushed out to buy it! I don't take the Herald regularly as it is sadly parochial - unlike the Press and Journal which is, what shall we say, just local, but the property pages today offer a mouthwatering selection of tasty treats so I might have to break the subscriptions budget and sign up for it!

Anyway, entitled Business park to bank on, (cleverly combining three words which mean so much to entrepreneurs today not to mention the general public), this article describes a stunner - a one hundred percenter right between the eyes. Lomondgate Business Park will transform the Vale of Leven and Loch Lomond into something unique and wonderful. Like a conflation of Trafford Park and Lake Como, this fires a big cannonball across the bows of other unique developments in Scotland. Businessmen will be speedboating up and down Loch Lomond with their mobiles glued to their ears! Balloch cafes will be filled with suits doing deals and all this enterprise will trickle down into local employment of course as I've explained before!
a dreary horse sculpture by Andy Scott
It's fantastic! Cliché artist Andy Scott has been commissioned to produce a stag sculpture as a dramatic entrance to the business park - it's just another of his horses of course - but with horns this time, so it's an easy win for him. Amazing how even he has become commodified by the wonders of the business world.
fantastic aerial impression showing Loch Lomond in the background
I've picked out some of the main features of the proposed development below and you can see the rest here but just look at this list:

  • buildings will have a 'Very Good' BREEAM rating, cleverly avoiding committing to the 'Excellent' rating
  • carpet tiles - amazing!
  • male and female toilets - that's one box ticked for the inclusiveness agenda
  • tea preparation areas on each floor - a thoughtful touch indicating that women will indeed be employed there

Of course this development was approved before a planning application was submitted as we expect nowadays. The area is no stranger to classy upmarket developments so there's plenty of precedent as we expert planners say. I haven't written about the fabulous Lomond Shores yet or the other well known retail outlets in the area but this part of Scotland is literally studded with different ways to shop and do business. A veritable dynamo of the Scottish economy.
The Masterplan!
Two final points. The word Lomondgate suggests there is something wrong - think Watergate and many others, so not a great choice guys. Also, I make the comparison with Lake Como because of the timeless beauty of that area and the fact that it has historically contained much development. So the people who live in Loch Lomond needn't feel that they are being raped by enterprise or that the character of this well known beauty spot will change. After all, the Italian Fascist Party choose to have one of their headquarters buildings on the shores of Lake Como in the 1930s and people still travel from far and wide to see that today. No comparison intended with the Lomondgate Business Park of course.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Royal Wedding and Planning

the Tory couple -  Kate and William
You know, I can't abide the fuss that's being made about the scrubber Kate Middleton and the inbred royal halfwit Prince William getting married next year. Apparently David Cameron was banging the table in sheer molten joy at the news and that says it all - thank you Julie Christie for that one. Of course it is a Tory wedding for Tory times, likely to be the main event in England next year, celebrated by street parties of inebriates across the land, banging their colonial drums and wishing that their stupid country was great again.
a typical Royal Wedding style of house
So why am I mentioning this? What can an expert planner like me have to say about this that is relevant to our dynamic world of Scottish property development? Well, it's a conservationist's dream event - just look what happened in the 1980s after the the Charles and Di show. Wall to wall historicism, half-timber and red brick - yes, you've all forgotten that - so red alert! The backcloth to that royal wedding was the everyday grim environment of brick terraces and houses with bits of wood stuck on that became a wash of English suburbia which we still see lapping on the shores of Cumbernauld and Inverness. The Persimmons, Barretts and Wimpeys of this world knew exactly what to do - build more of it - everywhere. Now I'm not opposed to a bit of development as you know - in fact I'm highly partial to it - but the likely outcome of this in Scotland is more half-timbered Highland Housing Expo junk - but all over the place.

But wait - there's more! St Andrews is a place that is tainted by royalty. William met her there didn't he? It's actually like a wee bit of England sitting like a bunion on the coast of our fair land - like Milltimber or Eaglesham, but more royal. I know St Andrews well and I'm always appalled by its horrible tweedie tidiness and its tearooms for old women. So they must takes some of the blame for the conservation wash - and maybe for New Urbanism too!

So anyway, I'm ranting on now. Good luck then to the enlarged Munsters, the Addams family or whatever you want to call them. And to the rest of us, look out for a conservation revival soon. In particular, the rise again of the Royal Wedding House.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The role of women in planning

me at a recent public meeting - hating it
You know, I meant to write a few weeks ago about the deep poison in our professional planning world that is public consultation and the needless interference of busy-bodies - usually women - who obstruct our activities. I suppose it is a natural thing for women to interfere with men - as natural as doing the dishes or dusting the mantelpiece, sweeping the front path, making the bed or ironing their man's shirt. If they have a man that is.

It was the last issue of the Scottish Planner that really annoyed me but so much has happened in the last couple of weeks that I couldn't get round to writing this post. Everywhere in that issue, women with short hair are spouting about community engagement, mentoring, youth coaching and other namby-pamby activities which are almost entirely irrelevant in today's business-driven world of property-led planning and development. It's a clear case of trying to ring-fence an area of activity and calling it their own because they are so useless at the real meat of planning - enabling development by rich people.

The President of the RTPI is a women I think - but maybe that was last year - or even next year. Who cares? Even the President of the RIBA is a women - I saw her on the TV giving an award to Polish architect Zaza Hadid at the Stirling Awards which I commented on before. Some might say it's a conspiracy but I'm broad minded enough to think that there should be a role or two for women in planning - it's only fair. For example, receptionist duties or typing are both worthwhile areas of employment as is making the tea for meetings. Better still, all of these job areas can be found in the public and private sectors - the world of planning is so broad and inclusive isn't it?

I have a day off tomorrow. I'm waiting on a delivery of more logs for the fire and I will enjoy chopping them up at the weekend - I will think about the Scottish Planner as I am wielding my axe. It's my turn to get the boy for the weekend so I'm looking forward to that - even if he isn't - and I have some plans to take him to see some astonishing new developments. Stay tuned!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Smart Successful Scotland!

a wee guy doing some plumbing for Donald Trump
You know, I am guilty of concentrating on success stories on this blog - the work of Dr Donald Trump, the imperious Sir Ian Wood and lately, the brave Sir David Murray and his 1690 Village near Edinburgh called the Garden District. These will be the crown jewels of a smart successful Scotland - a risk taking culture shifting environment filled with generators of intensified economic activity, like Halfords, TK Maxx and of course B&Q - those elder statesmen of the retail park.

But what of the destitute towns of Central Scotland such as Kilsyth, Shotts and Bridge of Weir? What of the pauper villages of Aberdeenshire and the north east like Kemnay or Mintlaw where you can hardly hear yourself speak above the rattle of beggars' tin mugs?

Well, as we expert planners all know, the answer is through the trickle down of wealth from these three very rich people. Some guy in Mintlaw can do the plumbing in one of Trump's lavatories at Menie Estate - problem solved! Someone else can cut down the trees in Union Terrace Gardens for Sir Ian - that's more money in the local economy! There is even a job for a wee guy from Kilsyth hanging up the Union Jacks in Sir David's Garden District! Fantastic yes? So regenerating Scotland isn't rocket science now is it?

But when I think of the goons in London, the Royal Town Planning Institute, playing at their elections, it's hard to see some connection between them and the dynamic world of Scottish regeneration. Junior Vice President Colin Haystack and his band of place-men exhorting RTPI members to vote for who will be President in 2012. Humph - it's enough to give you the dry boak! Perhaps these guys would recommend a nice wee building facelift? Perhaps a new bench or a special tree in a public space? A bit of public art as a nice wee feature? Maybe give something planning permission? Turn the country around with a few advertisement hoardings? All these things come from the bumper fun book of planning ideas but for Scotland, they are irrelevant in the face of self-sustaining trickle down economic growth which will enliven our communities and bring riches beyond measure.

By the way, I tore up my ballot paper despite the chance to win a £5.00 book token for returning my vote. I will either resign from the Institute soon or stand for election to the Scottish Branch.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Orange Tide hits Edinburgh!

Rangers fans welcome the new development
You know, it isn't really surprising that Sir David Murray, owner of The Huns, the Sons of William and Govan's Finest, the Teddy Bears - otherwise known as Glasgow Rangers Football Club - is so keen to obliterate green belt on the west side of Edinburgh. Think about it in terms of Central Scotland sectarianism for a moment - Celtic and Hibernian FCs will have no answer to this. It isn't a coincidence that the roofs of his new development called Edinburgh's Garden District will be orange pantiles throughout. Connect these facts with the likelihood that the Purple Hun, Heart of Midlothian Football Club, may well be playing in a fantastic new stadium in the middle of the new housing scheme and you have a development which is the match of any in Scotland at the moment - with significant prominent exceptions of course.
the vast new Garden District from the air
Let's go back and look at this through my expert planners eyes. I noticed in the Press and Journal this week that people have been getting their knickers in a twist about this brave new development so what is it exactly? Well it's a vast new extension to Edinburgh that dwarfs other proposals around the city - mixed use of course. The main feature of this is a boulevard centrepiece designed for all sorts of ceremonial marching events but especially Orange Parades. Built on derelict green belt, the proposal will revitalise the whole of Edinburgh. All the right boxes have been ticked - sustainability, transport, lifestyle and economics - all wrapped up in a charette process. It's an amazing idea put together by the Reverend Andrew Duany who does most of the planning for big business in Scotland these days! Andy knows how to oil the wheels of industry!
unusually, the new development will have few roads
Now some might say that this proposal has no legs. But wait! Sir David has the endorsement of Scotland's Chief Planner, Wee Jimmy Mackinnon - already! It's a fantastic coo and sums up what I have been saying over the past few weeks - the need for planning permission is becoming increasingly redundant as all major developments are effectively being approved before planning applications are submitted. Look at the Great Dr Donald Trump saga at Menie or Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen - the epicentre of dynamic growth in Scotland, if not Europe.

It's a trend that knocks the conservationers for six and ushers in a whole New Enlightenment for Scotland in which the sandal-wearing lefty hippies are ground down and used as fertiliser. In the case of Edinburgh Garden District, Greenwash is replaced by Orangewash tricked out in red white and blue as Masonic Temples, homes for retired policemen, retreats for homosexual football referees and Orange Lodges punctuate the residential and retail plots with Union Jacks flying from every lamp post.
Chief Planner Wee Jimmy McKinnon - a lifelong Rangers fan
At the end of the day, kites may have been flown, but people with money and power will always know what is best and how to get it. It's obvious that Wee Jimmy Mackinnon is a powerful man anyway but it seems he is also a lifelong Rangers man - not that this has in any way swayed his judgement. So there you have it - full marks to everyone involved in another fantastic Scottish development stamped all over with excellence. Personally I can't wait to see it happen.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Banzai on the waterfront!

the derelict ship appearance will go well with the rest of the waterfront
You know, everyone in Dundee will soon be speaking a few more words of Japanese than they do at the moment. In a few years time the five Japanese words known throughout Dundee - Banzai, Sushi and Tora! Tora! Tora! - will be supplemented by U~ōtāfuronto ni howaitoerefanto, or White Elephant on the Waterfront.

The announcement this week that Kengo Kuma and Associates will build the English Museum known as V&A as the centrepiece of the otherwise derelict waterfront project is a devastating body blow for the elite forces of the Scottish architectural fraternity. Sutherland Fussey, RMJM, Gareth Hopkins and others have seen their projects kicked into the Silvery Tay by the judges. Even my own favourite, the proposal by Snøhetta, which could have continued life as an Asda Superstore after it failed to attract any visitors, has been rejected!

Well, I'm reminded of the old Japanese proverb "Ti no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu" or "the frog in the well doesn't know the sea". The judges of this competition are certainly the frogs in the well. To live in a thermos flask, isolated from the realities of property development is a major flaw and shows a complete lack of understanding of the forces at work in Scotland today. Everywhere we look, retailers and housebuilders are getting planning permission to build anywhere - no one will say no! Fantastic! So why bother with an English Museum when Dundee could have more shops? As I've said many times before, what will attract more people? A Superstore or a Museum - it's obvious isn't it? The loons in Brechin and Forfar won't be travelling down to see the English Museum - they will be too busy getting high in Council estates and dunking their bridies in their beer for that. But they would go to a spanking new shopping development.

So too much gazing into the darkness of the well has brought Dundee to this sorry state of affairs. A quote from Emperor Hirohito is appropriate, “We have resolved to endure the unendurable and suffer what is insufferable.” That's what the good folks of Dundee have been saying for years and this proposal won't change it. Maybe a wee trip up to Aberdeen for those in charge would help - they certainly know how to do development with style and panache!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Chop! Chop!

the result of the last two Sundays
Impressive photie isn't it? Yesterday, and the Sunday before, I spent the day chopping wood for the fire. I was reminded by a friend on Facebook that wood warms us three times - when we chop it, when we stack it and when we burn it. I would like to add a fourth. When we burn someone at the stake with it.

Out in the garden amidst the advancing autumnal colours, every log had someone's face on it. So when my axe fell, those who had tried to derail my career over the years were dispatched to oblivion. Very therapeutic. Those women at the public meetings with their smug husbands wearing baseball caps. The people who once wrote graffiti on my desk or in the executive toilet at the office. The consultants who treated me like a lower form of life - even though I desperately want to be like them. They were now firewood.

Anyway I was angrily chopping away when I began to realise how good I felt. I felt purged and clean - but I needed more! Slowly a strategy began to develop - as an expert planner, this was easy. I looked at the potato patch. It had done its work for this year - six potatoes at the most and not a great success - but the recently turned over soil reminded me of something I read in a book.

I waited in the kitchen for darkness to fall, then waited for another hour. It was a clear moonlit night - then the time was right. I stripped naked and ran into the garden, throwing myself onto the earth of the potato patch. I lay on my back looking at the stars with my hands digging into the soft earth. I did some forward somersaults. I lay on my front writhing around, grasping at the soil and pressing myself into it. I almost lost my glasses. I felt a sense of déjà view - it was like visiting the landscaping at Ferry Village near Renfrew all over again where I was transfixed by the work of those Goliaths of Scottish design - Ian White Associates. Bleak and unsettling, tactile and spellbinding.

When it was all over I needed a bath of course then settled down to watch Desperate Housewives - the less said about them the better. All in all a great day and a grand primer for some great planning this week.