Monday, 27 December 2010
Well I told you so! This morning, the papers and the internet are full of the fantastic, life-affirming news that Aberdeenshire has been named as the place in Scotland which offers the best quality of life for the second year running. Aberdeenshire was said to rate highly as residents tend to be fit and well, with 93% reporting good health; the employment rate and pay is high; and the weather is better than in other areas.
Now I’m not surprised at all by this great news. I’ve been banging on for ages about the revolution taking place in the north east of Scotland as a result of the work of Dr Donald Trump, Sir Ian Woods, Aberdeen Football Club and Halfords as well as other giants of the retail park like Lidl, Argos and Homebase. It's the future of Scotland in miniature and everywhere else had better catch up quickly! It’s a part of Scotland that only sees green lights for an amazing new range of developments marching over the green belt, just like a Martian Invasion - only better!
So the massed forces of the media and the entire population of the north east of Scotland will be delighted to hear that the Auchterness Award for The Greatest Place Ever in 2010 goes to Aberdeenshire.
But what of the other areas that were supposedly in contention? Shetland and Orkney feature because according to the report, “These areas score well on high employment rates, low population densities and burglary rates, small class sizes and good secondary school exam results.” Well the obvious response to low burglary rates is that in these other areas there is nothing worth stealing - an old pair of Wellington boots or the bit of rusty chain that keeps the collie dog from trying to swim to the mainland. And small class sizes? You would be pushed to have large class sizes in these places because hardly anyone lives there!
Elsewhere it seems that east is important - East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian and East Renfrewshire so if you want to live in a good area, perhaps make sure it has East in its name.
But back to Aberdeenshire and some final points. The picture at the top of this post, courtesy of PA and the BBC, shows a winter landscape with wind farms in the background near Inverurie - scene of one of my terrific posts last year. Now wind farms have been a theme of mine in a couple of recent posts - they represent enterprise and a new modern Scottish landscape. Climate is also important - the north east gets a lot of snow and they tend to have proper winters which is good for wee beasties hibernating properly (I read recently). So if you are a nature lover in Aberdeenshire, while some of your favourite frogs will be sleeping safely in their burrows over the winter, don’t be surprised if others have to face the Grim Reaper - it’s only natural.
Of course it’s the same for towns and villages - some will, and should perish as their life drains away to more modern locations which are better positioned and more prosperous. And this is certainly happening to some of the welfare towns and villages in Scotland as we speak. But that’s all for now - well done Aberdeenshire!
Friday, 24 December 2010
I will miss Bell and Scott's daily Sector Knowledge newsletter (the last one till the 5th of January was yesterday) and I urge each and every one of you to sign up for it now. It's the clearest possible view into the future of Scotland, transformed into a dynamic new country on the back of market led development without restraint.
Anyway, I hope you like my wee Christmas Tree - I put it up last night and I'm very proud of it. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas, including all those who have been cruel and insulting to me over the past year. Please keep dropping in to Auchterness where you're always welcome. I'll put the kettle on and we'll have a wee blether.
With every best Christmas wish - yours in planning.
Thursday, 23 December 2010
You know, it was gratifying to read of the impending battle between the middle class snobs of Newton Mearns south of Glasgow and Lifetime Recycling Village Ltd, a company which aims to process some 1.5 million tonnes of commercial and industrial rubbish at a former farm just off the M77 south of the dreamy slum suburb. The company claims that the rubbish dump will have the capacity to generate enough electricity to power 100,000 homes.
This is fantastic news and yet another example of how Scotland is moving forward towards increasing self sufficiency in energy production. But it's also a typical class battle in which a small section of nimbyish middle class folk try to deny the rest of Scotland the opportunity to recycle waste and produce power from it. Apart from those living in a huge council estate there which is at the hub of the community, it won't have dawned on the other good folk of Newton Mearns, who heat their SUVs in the garage at night and who have special fridges for their white wine, that their actions are undermining the whole concept of a Smart Sustainable and Successful Scotland - it makes me sick. . They are also blind and deaf to the wildlife opportunities of the tip and the potential for new habitat creation which can attract a range of new environments for seagulls and a host of cuddly small animals which make their homes in the rubbish.
I wonder if it has occurred to the owners of the Lifetime Recycling Village (a very good combination of three key buzzwords by the way) that these good folk can easily be bought off. You only need to read my article on the monetisation of planning to realise that this is ideal territory to hand out Waitrose vouchers, memberships of exclusive wine clubs, nail bars and other desirable personal services. Opposition to the proposal could collapse overnight because all these folk care about is money - especially property values.
You see, the other side of a Smart Successful and Sustainable Scotland is a Self-interested, Short-sighted and Selfish Scotland. Let battle commence!
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
As Christmas approaches and the office runs down for the year, I'm usually left to mind the shop while others take a sickie to do some last minute shopping. At lunchtime today, I received my personal email from Bell and Scott giving me the run down on some of the best property development proposals around. I clicked on the top link entitled 'Creation of a community' and almost choked on my sandwich - here we have an absolutely stunning new proposal which is important in all sorts of ways and is truly a thing of great beauty.
You know, many people write to me and ask, "Dave, how did you become such an expert on town planning? How can you tell when something is important? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?" Of course it takes years of experience working at the coalface of cutting-edge development but you also need to have a nose for a good project. It's like good wine in a way - I discovered Blue Nun many years ago and because it was such a sound choice, I haven't felt the need to change my taste. So when I saw this proposal for a place called Newton, close to Rutherglen and Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire I saw straight away that it was a winner.
Okay, let's have a detailed look at this from my expert planner's perspective. First of all Taylor Wimpey and Ashfield Land say they are delighted that South Lanarkshire Council have unanimously granted planning permission for this mixed-use regeneration scheme at Two74 Cambuslang Road in Glasgow. I'll bet they're delighted - it's the ultimate Christmas present! The development will be anchored by a major food store and will also offer restaurants, a nine storey 170 room hotel, 9 screen cinema, 50,000 sq ft sport retail, 55,000 sq ft of employment with over 800 car spaces. The value of the scheme is £50 million for a site covering 20 acres. Incredible! Note the use of certain important words here - 'mixed-use regeneration' and 'anchored' for example. These guys are serious.
Now of course, this is basically a new town centre that will see off the existing centres of Cambuslang and Rutherglen in one fell swoop. That is exactly why South Lanarkshire Council approved it - so that they don't need to bother propping up the existing knackered centres with facelift schemes, public art or other cynical urbanistic placebos. It's actually quite common for planners to do this these days though they won't admit it openly.
So once again, the market has triumphed - the old is erased from the earth and the brand new, profit-creating development is welcomed in - in fact planning permission was just a formality as usual these days. No one was going to stop this magnificent beast from proceeding!
But there's more - the scheme will be known as Two74 and lies at Junction 2 of the M74, which is currently being extended to link Glasgow to Europe, and of course is in close proximity to the site of the Commonwealth Games taking place in 2014 when our cousins from many foreign parts will come to entertain us with their dancing and strange customs.
I have given this development a gold star and a big tick with 9 out of 10 in my little notebook. My hearty congratulations to everyone involved.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
You know, I was speaking to one of my friends in industry this week who told me that green shoots of recovery are beginning to show in his garden. I can tell you, it was so refreshing to hear people talking again about the way in which the market provides for the country, how big is good, how profit-making and profit-taking is a natural human instinct, yes - just like greed, and of the will of enterprise to fight communities who think it is their business to block development of any kind. Yes, I was literally quivering with excitement as you can imagine - so much so that I got out my personal copy of the Project Scotland Year Planner Wall Chart and wrote 'REMEMBER TO FIGHT THE LOCAL COMMUNITY' at the start of each week of 2011 to remind me of what was worthwhile and good.
Here we have a typical unemployed community activist. Now don't get me wrong. I don't dislike the locals around here but I do hate all their talk about small things - a nice wee meeting room, a wee allotment, a wee bit of social enterprise, a wee hub with wifi - you know what I mean. Then there's all the green talk about cosying up to frogs and buttercups, creating habitats everywhere, damming streams and letting beavers run riot with bears and wolves across the countryside - a hazard to road users. It doesn't stop there of course - before you know it, top planners like me will have to get permission from the community to go to the toilet. Intolerable!
Well things are going to be different for the great unwashed in 2011 - believe me. First of all, 50% of them won't have a job as they will have been made redundant by the Council. Wee Fat Alex Salmond will probably repatriate the English so there won't be so many trouble makers around. But most important, developers will be able to buy off local Councils and community groups with offers of cash and inducements, including free pie suppers from the local chip shop. Some say that this marks a radical change in the way that the development industry operates - but does it really?
Planning has always been corrupt - developers have always bunged councillors or officials a holiday, a wee trip or sexual favours for planning permission. That's what makes the world go round. Soon all this will be out in the open. It's been called the monetisation of planning. People get in the way - they get paid to clear off. A Council gets a bag of money for allowing development - a wee trip to MIPIM included. A local community get sunbeds and au pairs to shut up and smile as more fields are ploughed up for volume builder housing. It's great!
It's a fantastically brilliant idea that comes from the Tories down south - aren't they just great at oiling the wheels of industry? Big is good. Greed is good. Small is ugly and green is uglier. The sooner these ideas take root in Scotland the better!
Thursday, 16 December 2010
You know, an article in the Press and Journal last week has put me in a brown study for the past few days - is it inaccurate or mischievous? One thing I do know is that it is certainly untrue and probably a misunderstanding. The Great Dr Donald Trump is reported to have clashed with rival developers over plans to build a windfarm off the stretch of north-east coastline where he is creating his magnificent £750 million golf resort. Dr Donald is quoted as saying, “These turbines, if ever built, will in one fell swoop destroy Scotland’s magnificent natural heritage. They are noisy, unsightly and we will oppose the siting of this windfarm vehemently. Every component of our project is based upon sea views and we cannot allow the construction of what is tantamount to 11 65-storey structures off our beautiful coastline.”
This must be rubbish - it is a fabrication invented by the press to smear my hero at a time when he is being hounded by the media because of his successful dispute with some old coffin-dodger. In detail, a pensioner threatened with eviction and a legal bill of up to £50,000 after she tried to block Donald Trump’s north-east golf course has lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights. I haven't reported on this as it is so unimportant and unworthy of your interest. But the press have seized on this of course despite Dr Donald's great love for old people and his kindness and generosity to the people of the north east of Scotland who will benefit in a thousand ways from his new golf course and associated developments. In other words, they have forgotten about the economic argument and foregrounded the issue of the coffin-dodger. Disgraceful!
Now let me tell you why there is no dispute between Trump and the wind farm developers. As I explained in a recent post, wind farms are a big asset in the landscape and represent the modern face of the country and its economy. In addition, there's a pile of money to be made from wind farms - they are part of the renewable energy economy, which incidentally also keeps a lot of my planning colleagues in their Mercs and BMWs.
Donald knows these things as he is not stupid. What he is actually saying is, "These turbines, when they are built, will in one fell swoop immensely improve Scotland’s magnificent natural heritage. They are quiet, beautiful and we will support the siting of this wind farm vehemently. Every component of our project is based upon sea views and to actually see something beautiful instead of the dreary North Sea will be an enormous boost to our project. They are just like eleven magnificent 65-storey structures off our beautiful coastline.”
So you see, you can't believe everything you read, even in the Press and Journal.
Monday, 13 December 2010
You know, I don't often write about public transport as I prefer my car but I'm making an exception today because of the great news that was quietly announced over the weekend for junkies and alkies across Central Scotland. Yes, the Airdrie to Bathgate railway link has been completed, allowing vagrants and jakies from the welfare villages of Caldercruix, Armadale and Blackridge to visit Glasgow and Edinburgh. But if their ambitions are not quite of a metropolitan leaning, they can visit Airdrie, Coatbridge or Bathgate instead for their methadone and Super-Lager.
It cost £300m to re-establish this passenger service between North Lanarkshire and West Lothian enabling the plebs to visit the big cities of Scotland for the first time in 54 years. The new 15-mile track allows trains to run all the way from the West of Scotland through Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh, via Airdrie and Bathgate. That's a lot of money to undo the good deeds of Dr Beeching isn't it? I mean if there were any respectable people living in these forgotten airts, they would surely have a Mercedes, a BMW or a big fancy Jaguar like some of the property surveyors I know, so they would never use the train. The idea that the creative classes of Blackridge and Armadale can be literally fast-tracked to the Edinburgh Festival seems ridiculous to me and is a complete waste of public money.
Moreover, some of the wonderful examples of public art along the route, which had become a cycleway for nature lovers and perverts, have been destroyed. It's a badly thought out scheme in many other ways - for example the route runs through the proposed Protestant Village known as Edinburgh's Garden District designed by Rangers FC owner Sir David Murray but there is apparently to be no station which would enable residents to get to Ibrox or Tynecastle more easily. Little things like that have been ignored in the planning of this linear white elephant.
Wee Fat Alex Salmond seems to be playing with his electric train set instead of pump priming the economy by supporting more retail developments - this is disgraceful at a time of national crisis and clearly, this £300M could have been better spent.
Saturday, 11 December 2010
You know, it's always a great honour to be able to point young people in the right direction. It's a source of great sadness that I'm perhaps failing with my own son who is turning out to be a bully and a hooligan but there are special circumstances there relating to my beautiful wife and her young lover which I won't go into here.
Anyway, last week I gave the first of my Christmas talks to schoolkids and boy were they enraptured! Fantastic! Clearly they were filled with respect for me as an able and important person doing a much more difficult job than their teachers - or probably their parents too. I offered them a glimpse into the future and used it as an opportunity to explain in layman's terms, some of the business philosophy behind the Auchterness project. Here's a brief extract:
Good Morning trainee adults - how are you today? At Auchterness, we are all about our people and our values, constantly refocusing and concentrating on our cause. To be good at planning, you have to think outside of the box 24/7 and keep discussion on a high level. We must shift paradigms and walk the walk but once the final issues are resolved, we run a final meta go-no-go decision matrix, as maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. We touch base with our customers every day and push the envelope with a win-win philosophy but of course, it's time to backstop things if we ever feel we have lost control of what we are doing. Trying to get corporate approval is like herding cats of course.
We contribute positively to our community and environment although sometimes we have to guesstimate the deadline for this or that project. We take ownership of problems and don't pass the buck. We deal with great ideas during meetings or off-line. Embracing diversity as an essential component of the way we do business. We get together and really drill down on this as the need to alleviate our human capital is paramount. You are definitely not cool if your company is not running at internet speed.
We establish strategic partnerships with another entities by going back to our roots to connect the dots and focus on the low-hanging fruit. We are proactive - we run the skills matrix yes, but if we do not upskill ourselves, we may become unemployable. So breaking out of the victim mindset and engaging with business in a more positive and effective way is the way to go. We don't look at this as a problem but as an opportunity. We refocus and concentrate on our core business while realising that our competitive advantage is great customer service. We have the computing power and we have the intellectual infrastructure. We constantly operationalise our strategy starting with the historical data and after that, we can double-click on the proformas, double-checking that the customer is still in a good mood. Our core purpose is to provide an uplifting experience that enriches people's daily lives. Let's take a short bio-break before moving on to action plan the options.
Great isn't it? There was a tremendous round of applause when I finished and I felt uplifted, valued and just brilliant. I hope these kids have a really good Christmas when it comes.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
You know, a lot of local authority planners get their knickers in a twist about wind farms - trying to block them in order to justify their pathetic existences. Well, a lot of planners in the private sector make a lot of money out of wind farms and I could name one who dines out on his retainer every week. Also a lot of people make money out of having wind farms on their land. So there we are - three compelling arguments for wind farms and I've barely started!
Okay so let's look at one of the main issues here - impact on the landscape. Now in Scotland we are a modern nation - it's just over ten years since we got our own parliament. A modern nation needs a modern landscape - it's logical really - and what could be more modern than a hillside covered in shiny new windmills! You just need to look at the nice wee photie above to realise how much the original dreary landscape has been improved with these glistening whirling dervishes. Add to that the simple fact that money is being made with every revolution of those fine blades and you can see that any argument is futile.
It's another example of planners holding the wrong end of the stick, trying to refuse perfectly good proposals, forcing public enquiries and generally being negative in the face of the development industry. I'll bet not one of them has stood on a wind farm in gale force winds and heard the deafening roar, the terrified stampede of sheep or the sound of seagulls being whacked by the huge blades. My goodness you almost feel that the whole hillside is taking off - it's so exciting. But this is the sort of thing that planners, aided and abetted by conservationists, naturalists - and I'm sure nudists and other perverts - are trying to stop. It's a disgrace!
So next time you see a big story in the papers about the merits of this or that wind farm proposal, just think that behind it, there is a horrible little specky planner in a tweed jacket trying to stir up trouble and stop technology advancing across our new nation's landscape. Praise the windmills and turbines of the future! Down with Council planners!
Sunday, 5 December 2010
You know, when I received my personal copy of Planning on Friday I was underwhelmed to say the least. At £2.70 a copy it is grossly overpriced considering that there is usually nothing of interest in it so it's just as well I get it for nothing as a fully qualified planner. But this week they have published the results of their annual Planning Consultancy Survey - fascinating reading but with a big sting in the tail.
This year, Barton Willmore won top spot again in the leading employers category with a fee income of £18.1M for 2009-10. That makes them the Tesco of planning consultants I suppose. They've never worked for me but are due some respect I suppose. One of my all time favourites only managed to come in at =13th - the mighty Halcrow Group - with a fee income of £21M for 2009-10 - and to continue the supermarket and retail analogy, they are perhaps the Morrisons of the planning consultancy world. Nevertheless, that's £21,000,000 well spent on the thickest reports that you can put through a plastic ring binder these days so a very hearty congratulations to the clients who coughed up for this.
As I scanned down the list of top dogs, I became increasingly concerned about the absence of my favourite all-time planners - Keppie Design! Eventually I found them at =63rd with an undisclosed fee income. I couldn't believe it! I was downcast for most of Friday - Keppie Design appear to be the Lidl or the Iceland of the planning consultancy world and that hurts, I can tell you. At sixty-third equal, they have a long way to go and I will be writing to them to offer my help and full support in their climb to the top.
I got the boy yesterday and today. We've all had a lot of snow in the past few days so it was inevitable that he would use me as target practice for an almost constant bombardment of snowballs and the butt of practical jokes for the entire evening on Saturday. Normally I would join in the fun but the news about Keppies has cast a dark blanket of depression over me. I will shake this off though and put on my thinking cap to bring you a new item from the Planner's Bumper Fun Book in the next few days. So cheerio for now and stay warm.