Saturday, 29 September 2012

Catching up

The magnificent Silverburn Shopping Centre
You know, I'm just sitting here with a nice wee cup of tea and a biscuit looking at my personal copy of Project Scotland, the Scottish Construction Industry News Magazine, which is filled with wonderful stories about the men who are making Scotland great - the Action Men of the construction industry.  They are the people with the yellow hats who turn developers' dreams into fabulous reality creating such gems as the Braehead Shopping Centre and its deadly arch-rival, Silverburn Shopping Centre.  Both of these are totally unique!  They represent the most successful developments in Scotland - or perhaps in the whole of Europe!  More popular than going to church or most football teams - that's saying something about the brains behind retail these days. Fabulous! 

I'm also reading Dr Stewartie Milne's fabulous new timber systems aimed at the zero carbon market in 2016. It will be used to create some of the most amazing developments ever seen on Scotland - and it must be cheap or Wee Stewartie wouldn't be promoting it. It's a great advert for the Scottish property and construction sector!  Fantastic, and completely steeped in cost-cutting innovation! Beautiful too! There’s nothing like a nice bit of wood!
Slum clearance for the Commonwealth Games

There's a lot of talk these days asking if Glasgow 2014 can take up the baton dropped by the London Olympics. Project Scotland has an exciting breakdown of what is involved in building a Commonwealth Games fit for the 65,000 athletes who will come here to strut their stuff and dance before the Queen.  It's a great opportunity for foreign types to find out about how we go about creating great projects and that sense of 'let nothing stand in our way' that ensures success.  I'm thinking of the clearance of gypsies, tinkers, show people and other troublemakers from their slum properties - this is an area in which Glasgow City Council has excelled and my hearty congratulations go out to them for their focus and endeavour in this regard. Clearing the ground for RMJM’s terrific masterplan was essential. As any experienced planner will tell you, a strong masterplan is one that sweeps away existing features rather than trying to keep old buildings, trees or frogs. Reptiles can bring an area into disrepute after all - they tried that at Dr Donald's Golf Course from Heaven - but failed.

On a different tack, I noticed that Seona Reid has announced her retirement as Head Teacher at Glasgow School of Art following my devastating article on the missed opportunities for redevelopment on Garterhill.  She will be remembered as the Captain on the Bridge when the decision was made to demolish Keppies great modern buildings to the north of Renfrew Street instead of the old Mackintosh building which is an eyesore. Good riddance!
Wee Dr Stewartie Milne's HQ
I was supposed to be in Aberdeen again yesterday but it didn't work out.  It's a long journey for me and I was looking forward to passing Wee Dr Stewartie Milne’s Headquarters.  I wondered if I could keep me hands on the wheel as I passed those glistening flagpoles.  I wanted to stand to attention and salute but I might have crashed the car.  He is so great and his developments are so classy!  Sitting at work yesterday afternoon though I had another idea!

When I got back home I decided to climb the tree at the bottom of the garden. I don't know what came over me but I got my compass, map and notebook, rolled my trousers up above the knees and climbed to the very top of the tree. Once there, my superior planning and geographical skills came into play. I calculated the exact bearing and direction to Aberdeen from Auchterness, in fact to the Stewart Milne Headquarters on the outskirts of the city at Westhill - just off Enterprise Drive!  Slowly I arose facing that glorious location - balancing carefully until I was standing clear on the topmost branch. I was completely erect!  I knew I was in contact with the Entity - again.  I thought I could see its lights sparkling on the low cloud over the city.  Then I heard someone shouting, "Are you alright Mr Thompson?"  It was Mavis from the shop - she must have good eyesight. Too good!

So I reassured her that I was fine and climbed carefully back down the tree and went into the house and wrote this note. 
I must do it all again soon!  Cheeribye for now!

Friday, 7 September 2012

A Waste of Money!

Flanders Moss viewing Tower
You know, I'm known as one of Scotland's key commentators in the field of town and country planning.  Note what I've just said - not just planning or town planning but town and country planning.  That's what my degree says. My wife used to describe me as a planner or local government officer and she meant these to be derogatory terms. Maybe she had other reasons to speak badly of me.  It doesn't matter for now and certainly doesn't interfere with my critical faculties or my ability to distinguish between an Asda or a Tesco sausage and the backstory of the development decisions that resulted in these products becoming available to the good people of Scotland.

I was looking for something else on the Urban Realm website today - the best source of spurious gossip and tittle-tattle relating to our fabulous Scottish Property Development Industry - when I came across this ridiculous article about a viewing tower at Flanders Moss - yes the countryside! According to Wikipedia,  formerly passable with difficulty, using boardwalks, during the 18th century much drainage of the land was encouraged by the lawyer, historian and improver Henry Home but a substantial portion survived this development.  Flanders Moss is the largest raised bog in the UK - big deal!  Really - who cares?  Now they have built a tower financed by the state funded organisation known as SNH (Scottish National Heritage).  This is a ridiculous waste of money and gives the impression that Scotland is just a latter day outpost of the USSR or some other communist republic bereft of the sort of prosperity creating trickle-down initiatives that make me excited and erect with anticipation.  

Don't get me wrong, being able to look through a telescope at frogs and newts is fine for some but it isn't the answer to economic prosperity. A wee bit of heather is fine - perhaps sticking out of the radiator of some old junk car like a Riley or an Austin that has been saved by some eccentric pervert - but in the 21st Century, Scotland needs to look to Asda and Tesco for identity and, dare I say it, salvation!  This obsession with newts and frogs or old bits of peat bog will take us nowhere!  It is time for wee fat Alex Salmond to address a more exciting agenda - back to basics!  Back to retail!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Slum clearance at Otago Lane

the slums of Otago Lane in Glasgow
You know, I’m always pleased when one of my fans asks me to review a new development or comment on a controversial issue from the viewpoint of one of Scotland’s leading planners - that's me! A couple of people (thanks Phil) have been in touch about a development at Otago Lane in Glasgow and the overdue clearance of a number of slum properties near the banks of the River Kelvin.

To start at the beginning, it's obvious that developers will have had their eyes on this site for many years. Like the magnificent proposals by Clydeport further down the Kelvin which I’ve written about before, this is a perfect opportunity to create a Ribbon of Riverside Residences along the Kelvin connecting the fabulous and award winning Glasgow Harbour to the heart of the West End. It’s a logical move which is clearly supported by the City Council who recently swept aside objections and granted permission for the proposals (as has thankfully become the norm in Scotland). Who actually needs planning these days?

The proposal also includes the eradication of ’mixed uses’ - which are a nuisance for developers and residents - and their replacement by a single or mono-use. What could be better?  The idea of mixed use was seized on and promoted by American Planner Jane Jacobs many years ago but now that she is dead, it can be placed in the dustbin of town planning theory joining townscape, local plans, regional planning and urban design as historical subjects.

Of course as a developer, you can’t make a move these days without encountering resistance from sandal-wearing hippies and selfish Bohemian snobs poking their noses into other people's business but the real threat comes from people living in the past. One of the objections to the Otago Lane development was the necessary and timely demolition of a secondhand bookshop run by a French couple called Voltaire and Rousseau. Absurd! Have these people never heard of Amazon?  That’s what I mean about living in the past. Why would anyone in their right mind want to visit a slum clearance area to ferret about in piles of smelly books covered in rat droppings when they can just click online and get a nice new book in a lovely brown cardboard packet a day later?

The developer also played a Trump card in getting servile practice and journeyman architects Gareth Hopkins to prepare plans for the area - a move which has clearly succeeded. You will recall that this practice helped out Dr Donald Trump in masterplanning God’s Own Golf Course near Aberdeen so they are used to producing plans that flatten opposition. I would call them a very principled practice! They are not really designers of any consequence but are enablers - they’ve cornered the market in solutions for folk who want a problem solved in a hurry. It's a bit like unblocking drains - they are the Dyno-Rod of the development industry! I think this is an excellent niche activity for an otherwise boring architectural firm - more power to them!
one of the planning application drawings - poor isn't it...but it did the job!
The Council’s decision to approve this development is a hammer blow for the conservation lobby who will be sobbing into their Oxfam handkerchiefs and choking on their vegetarian quiches.It’s a completely justified salvo fired in the direction of the Enemies of Enterprise - and they’ve taken a direct hit!

My hearty congratulations to everyone involved in getting this marvellous project approved. I must admit that the design proposals are...let's say underwhelming and that Keppies would have been more able...especially compared to the Unite Student Housing block with its fabulous branch of Greggs just along the riverbank. Nevertheless I’m happy to give it a gold star and a huge 9/10 in my little notebook.