Saturday, 28 September 2013

Great happenings at Dunblane

Former bus conductress Ann Gloag OBE
You know, I was delighted to read the other day that Dunblane has been recognised by developers as a suitable case for treatment and an opportunity area for enormous swathes of profit-making projects that will expand the settlement over former agricultural land.  Leading the charge to move Dunblane into the 21st Century is the redoubtable Ann Gloag OBE, one of Scotland's greatest businesswomen.
development sites at Dunblane

Speaking as an expert planner, the principal development sites at Striling Road and Hillside, and at Anchorscross seem to be entirely natural enlergements of Dunblane. It's a bigger building envelope of course but it contains a fabulous letter of intent for hungry housebuilders and others who are ready to step up to the plate of profit.
Major development opportunity off Strathmore Avenue
The site at Anchorscross is an absolute gem. It has a great view of the road to Aberdeen which is incredibly important and presents an opportunity to bring development closer to the lovely Stirlingshire landscape which is currently too far away for people with visual impairments to see properly. I should say that it will have great views once a considerable number of trees have been felled but this won't be a problem - this will also make the site more visible which is a major bonus. You can imagine in future years, the happy residents of the Anchorscross Estate waving to the traffic on the Aberdeen road providing much needed interaction between drivers and local community.

I haven't seen any artist's impressions of the Anchorscross development but I'm sure it wil be excellent in every way. In any case, hardly anything is refused planning permission these days as developers go into the final phases of their battle with local authority planners - who are now on the back foot as they try to answer legitimate claims that they have been throttling the UK economy and are the enemies of enterprise.
The Stirling Road and Hillside development - Fabulous!

The development at Stirling Road and Hillside is a splendid roll-out of all the best things that the dynamic property development industry can offer - a new supermarket, housing, community facilities, public amenity space, public services use and associated works. It's a well intentioned development that contains so much for the people of Dunblane.

Typically the people of Dunblane and especially people who will be living next to the new developments are unable to see the benefits of change as they are too mired in their selfish bourgeois me-first attitudes, filling their wine refrigerators and polishing their BMWs. It's a great shame that they cannot see the light.

I urge the local community to accept these fabulous developments and I congratulate everyone involved in these projects - a gold star in my little black book.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Reaching out

The guy at the front right is my son's role model
You know, I don't often reach out to people on personal matters but I must admit that I'm humiliated tonight. The boy is in serious trouble at school and my beautiful wife and her young lover don't seem to be able to help.

I saw the boy a couple of weeks ago and I was uneasy to say the least - well horrified actually. Back in August of last year I feared that he was turning into a hooligan, a Ned and a future member of the Tory party. He told me that his role model is the lead character in the film Neds - many of you will have seen it. He has also been on the Buckfast with his mates.  Today he phoned me up at work to boast about vandalising the school toilets - pulling the sinks off the walls and causing mayhem. He's proud of it! It hasn't dawned on him that it is wrong.  I can't repeat how he described me but it involved one of the four letter words that you sometimes find in the comments here. Preceded by the word 'old' of course.
A young hooligan drinks Buckfast - courtesy Daily Telegraph and PA

Apparently the boy hasn't been at school for over a week.  A parent of one of his friends went round to the house to find out what was happening and my wife answered the door. She was still in her dressing gown at 4.15 in the afternoon, smelling of drink and she had a fag hanging out of her mouth. Her young lover was there as well - shouting from the kitchen and telling her not to answer the door. I'm lost for words - last thing I knew she didn't smoke and only took a wee sherry on our birthdays or at Christmas when we used to play Scrabble after watching the Queen.

I will bring you an update soon but it seems that while my professional life as an expert planner and sought-after commentator on property development in Scotland is reaching new heights of respect and esteem, my personal life is falling to pieces. Sorry about this outburst and goodnight.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Green Light for St Nicholas House

The fantastic redevelopment of St Nicholas House, Aberdeen
You know, I'm almost exhausted after my multiple reports to you over the past few weeks. After this one, I really will have to sit down in the peace and tranquility of my lovely wee garden and take some time out with my brassicas.

I wrote to you recently about Sir John Halliday and his plans for the eradication of Union Terrace Gardens from the map of Aberdeen.  This is simply a wonderful project which showcases what can happen when Council planners are not involved in projects. Sir John's big pencil was guided on that occasion by the firm and experienced hand of an older man - none other than one of my long standing heroes Sir Ian Wood - and it is a triumph.  When I learned that Halliday Fraser Munro were also involved in the St Nicholas House site I realised that it actually might be possible for cities once again to be designed by one great architect or planner. It's a throwback to the days of Sir Patrick Abercrombie and others of his ilk and a smack in the face for the parasites who promote public consultation or even worse, the folk who try to get the great unwashed to contribute their ideas to projects that have already been designed. What does a hairy-arsed fisherman know about planning anyway?  Much more than his wife I'm sure!

Anyway, here's my take on the project from the expert planner's point of view. It's what we call a mixed use development featuring offices, a boutique hotel, cafes, restaurants and shops, as well as creating a significant amount of public space and pedestrianising Broad Street. That's at least three boxes ticked in one sentence! Fantastic!  There are also plans to create a garden area which will be known as Marischal Square - that's another box ticked to keep the Green idiots happy.  It's a ten-storey development so it will stand out proudly from surrounding traditional buildings of little merit - they will be demolished in due course. It's a golden addition to the Silver City!

Council leader Councillor Barney Crockett said: “The decision to appoint Muse as the preferred bidder for the site puts us in a strong position to not only press on with regenerating the city centre, but also to reap both the short and long-term benefits of the scheme. It’s an historic decision by the council and it’s a great one for Aberdeen." Absolutely! This is the language of success and confidence - I recognise it and I hope you do too.

Aberdeen must be one of the easiest places to develop in Scotland at the moment.  The Council wisely allows anything to be built although in this case residents should have no fear as Sir John's big pencil expertly penetrates the gap left by the old Council HQ, producing a degree of ecstasy hitherto unknown to the local population. It is likely that his silver tongue will also induce great pleasure as he describes his erections to the public. I'm sure there will be a token piece of public consultation - possibly in the form of a pantomime event held around Christmas - but this will be meaningless. It's another full speed ahead job for Halliday Fraser Munro and my hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved. Simply a great project for a great city!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Triple Kirks to be demolished!

The amazing Triple Kirks development by Dandara
You know, I've often said that Urban Realm is the best source on the web for all sorts of gossip and tittle-tattle about our great property development industry. I don't go there often enough but today I noted that another devastating blow had been struck in Aberdeen against the dark forces of conservation and the heritage industry. I was quivering with excitement as I read every word - then read them all again. Presumably they were written by John Glenday, one of the country's greatest architectural critics and a bloodhound with a studded collar when it comes to ferreting out a story.

I've written about the Triple Kirks before when Wee Dr Stewartie Milne first developed the exciting concept of enveloping the existing buildings in elegant offices. Well sadly that fell by the wayside but a company called Dandara has picked it up again and dusted it down. Now Dandara have been around the block for years but their track record is impeccable - just look at the locations!  They have been involved in Glasgow Harbour (one of my all time favourite developments), the Isle of Man and Jersey (both tax avoidance and money laundering enclaves), Hemel Hempstead, Manchester and of course Aberdeen. What could be better?  They may also have been involved in Ireland so they know a thing or two about developing in difficult circumstances.

When I saw the proposals for Triple Kirks I was in ecstasy.  I almost choked on the fly cemetery I had bought from Mabel the wee tea lady and left the office early.  I rushed home in a haze and put on my old LP of Kenneth McKellar singing the Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen.  I sat in tears for an hour just letting my emotions wash over me.  I saw Union Terrace Gardens demolished and replaced by Sir John Halliday's fantastic new proposal, I saw new spit-and-sawdust bars all along Union Street developed by billionaire Allan Henderson - all orchestrated by the imperious Sir Ian Wood, strutting like Darth Vader along Schoolhill. It was fantastic!

It's an absolutely top-notch architectural solution to the development of the site - even the Council is lost for cliches and has had to praise it.  Deputy leader Marie Boulton said, 'This is wonderful news. The Triple Kirks was a shining example of some of Aberdeen's finest architecture. The re-development of this historic landmark is something citizens have wanted to see for many years and I am delighted Dandara plan to start work so quickly."  So it's in the bag!

My hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved in this amazing project.  It gets a gold star and 10 out of 10 in my book!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Off the rails with Richard Florida!

One of ScotRail's super-fast trains
You know, last week one of my fans alerted me to an important thought chunk from celebrity academic, world renowned genius and thought leader Richard Florida. Obviously, my recent commentary on the depressing continental rail travel experience in Denmark - compared to the diesel wonders and impeccable customer care of ScotRail - marked me out as a great thinker on regional transport infrastructure.

Richard Florida appeared on BBC television to wax lyrical about the benefits of high speed rail.  He thinks that central Scotland has what it takes to be one of the world's forty mega-regions. Rubbish! Obviously he has not taken Aberdeen into account and certainly the idea of a high speed rail link between Aberdeen and Peterhead is the sort of thing that might get some folk excited. It could be a hole-in-one for Dr Donald Trump's God's Own Golf Course or a drive straight into the rough. I imagine that most of Dr Donald's clients arrive by Rolls Royce so even a high speed train wouldn't get much traction.  In other words it would be nothing to get steamed up about. You can't have rich and intelligent folk mixing with hairy-arsed drunks off the rigs or with farmers travelling into Aberdeen with their favourite sheep on the seat beside them.

But wait! Why does Scotland need to mimic European countries and embrace the me-too mentality of latte and capoochinoe? Why can't we be the only country in Europe without high speed rail - apart from England? That would make us distinctive, with a real identity. Planners talk so much rubbish about identity - don't they? I know I do! But there are easier ways of achieving this than doing something involved, complicated and expensive. Why not do nothing instead? Just leave it all to market forces! It's cheap! No more Capital Programme or Best Value. No Single Outcome Agreement. This could draw a line under the dubious practice of 'enabling' once and for all. This could be an alternative future for lazy and incompetent council planners.

I'll tell you one thing though - who needs a train? The private sector would jump at the chance of providing a little country bus running between Aberdeen and Peterhead - it could be a real winner - or even a Feature! Recalling the days of Wells Fargo, important businessmen could board the bus at a new transport interchange on the site of what once was Union Terrace Gardens and take their time over their porridge and a slap-up breakfast as the bus slowly headed north from the hub of the Scottish economy to the edge of civilisation itself. Or even beyond civilisation to Fraserburgh itself - the town that was the inspiration for the 1960s television science fiction series The Outer Limits. That's just one of my great ideas - I have many more!

So I appeal to planners not to be fixated with high speed rail transport or with Richard Florida, even though he is a thought leader, consultant and guru. It's just a quicker way of getting nowhere - especially if the destination is Fraserburgh. It has now become clear that most local authority planners are best suited to doing nothing - it's their natural modus operandi - so my advice to them is to just relax and let the days go by.  Soon you will all be made redundant anyway.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

My Aarhus nightmare

my hotel in Aarhus
You know, it isn't everyday that I am invited by important people in the European Community to attend a three day conference. I've been keeping it a secret for months in case there were accusations of junketing but I was away for most of last week in Aarhus which is a city in Denmark. It's a little larger than Aberdeen but not by much - maybe only 100,000 more people.  I have to say that this trip was an absolute nightmare. Still my hotel was okay (pictured above) but I couldn't stand the Swedish food and opted for the Burger King!

I flew to Copenhagen with SAS and then travelled by rail to Aarhus.  I was very disappointed that we were not reminded to use our own passport (rather than someone else's) to get on the plane and that it had to be open at the page with the photograph on it. Easyjet remind you to do this properly on every trip - it's the modern idea about service which recognises that a lot of people who travel these days are completely stupid. In fact they shouldn't be allowed out by themselves.
Glasgow Airport's excellent safety video
As soon as I arrived at Copenhagen's Airport I realised that things were going to be tricky. The first incident was walking to the arrivals hall with my tartan roller bag and having to use an escalator which had no instructions on its safe use whatsoever.  Luckily I knew to hold onto the handrails as the nice lady at Glasgow Airport always says, but I had to judge the exit point with great care.  There was no announcement that we were coming to the end of the escalator so I had to use my initiative and leap to safety.  When we reached passport control no one was there to shout out instructions as to which desk we should go to - very confusing - unlike the UK Border Agency which is so great.  All the foreign types seemed to know what to do though.

The next set of problems were to do with the trains. Neither the metro into Copenhagen or the proper train out to Aarhus had Passenger Safety Information Notices and there were no announcements about when to get off. Very confusing after the devoted care and attention that we get on Scotrail. They haven't invented diesel trains over there yet so we travelled on an electric train - almost completely silent and very disorientating.  You could hear other people talking and I fair missed the roar of the diesel units and their distinctive smell.  Looking around the carriage I was appalled at how thin everyone was - we are led to believe that European countries are prosperous and advanced but judging from what I have seen, most people are starving and emaciated.  You could search high and low for a fat burd without success.

A polite young skateboarder on the metro offered me his seat which was a bit of surprise to me. I got the impression that the cheeky wee swine was taking the mickey. Maybe not - we Scots are so used to insolence from the young folk.

No 'deep water' safety notices or hand rails on the right
We eventually arrived in Aarhus and got a guided tour of the centre. Frightening! The first thing I noticed was that there was water everywhere but no safety railings or notices advising people that deep water can be dangerous.
near the Conference Hall - dangerous open water

The conference centre was beside the sea - nice enough - but again I was terrified that someone less able than myself could easily fall into the ocean.  I simply cannot understand why this sort of thing is allowed to happen in a civilised country.  I'm fairly certain that if some of our best Scottish designers - like the great Sir John Halliday of Halliday Fraser Munro or anyone from Keppies - were involved in these designs it would turn out much better - safer for everyone.

So it's with much regret that I say to Europe, "You have got it wrong!"  Scotland is by contrast a caring nation that looks after all of its stupid people - young and old.  Let's celebrate that!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Union Terrace Gardens - my analysis of the new plan

The new plans for Union Terrace Gardens prepared by John Halliday
The genius of John Halliday
You know, I've been thinking long and hard about Sir John Halliday's plans for Union Terrace Gardens and his spectacular appearance on STV News in which he explained the design of the project. I imagine the plans were prepared under the watchful eye of the imperious Sir Ian Wood who guided Halliday's pencil all the way.

To me, Union Terrace Gardens have always been a ladder in the tights of the Granite City. The hard unyielding urbanity of Scotland's greatest city with a soft hairy valley of sordidness that shouldn't be there. When Sir John penetrated it with his long thin pencil the outcome was certain to be positive - and exciting! I've watched his video many times now and here is my expert planner's view of what he said.

John Halliday has come up with a design which would see the gardens partly raised but remain sunken. Clever! Neither one thing nor the other so those opposed to the plans are immediately confused by this brilliant masterstroke. The plans feature an arts centre, civic square and the rail line and Denburn dual carriageway covered over to link to Belmont Street. So if you are a motorist you will have to switch your headlights on as you drive through the new gardens.
Somewhere on Union Street
Beautiful women strut about Aberdeen

Now here is the killer punch. The plans will feature a new entrance from the station - truly there is no end to this great architect's imagination. Every garden needs an entrance doesn't it? I listened entranced as Sir John explained his proposals in his soft Doric dialect - it was as if a beautiful woman was pouring warm milk in my ears. He said, "...then of course you need a roof over what's below and the roof becomes a city square. Then you have a city square where you can have markets, you can have gigs, you can have demonstrations if you wish, you can meet people there. Uniting the city rather than dividing it." I was in ecstasy - so anything below needs a roof and the roof becomes the city square. It's a conundrum cleverly placed to deceive the doubters - but I hope it isn't a pitched roof! Many planners would insist on that - as an expert planner I know about these requirements. Certainly 45 degrees would be too steep for a city square especially if Marley Modern tiles are used.

I hope you find this analysis helpful. I knew that when Sir John brought out his big pencil and guided it down the garden path the whole world would be in awe. I know I am!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Union Terrace Gardens - it just got better!

The fantastic new plans for Union Terrace Gardens
The fantastic new plans for Union Terrace Gardens
You know, I could scarcely drive home in a straight line today after I heard the ground-shattering news that the Union Terrace Gardens project had taken off again and that Sir Ian Wood - one of my great heroes - was poised to invest his £50 million pot of gold in the Silver City's Diamond Heart!  Fantastic!  People across the political divide are talking about 'Transformational Change' - a phrase that's straight out of the expert planner's handbook in case you didn't know.  We use it at Auchterness every day!
The imperious Sir Ian Wood - yes Aberdeen is his
The imperious Sir Ian Wood - yes Aberdeen is his!

I watched the video on the STV News website.  It was breathtaking.  Not only do we have a plan and political support but Sir Ian Wood actually appears on the video together with John Halliday of Halliday Fraser Munro.
Sir John Halliday of Halliday Fraser Munro - one of the top architects in the world
Sir John Halliday of Halliday Fraser Munro - one of the top architects in the world

He is acknowledged to be Scotland's leading architect and is sought after across the world for his cutting edge designs and his willingness to bend right over the drawing board to satisfy developers and their commercial requirements!  Rather like Keppies who are another favourite of mine!  I'll tell you this - when I saw him in the flesh on video I was completely overcome!  When I saw the colossus that is Sir Ian Wood actually moving close to the Gardens I almost passed out!  The staff here at Auchterness had to help me to my car - the tears were gushing like a tap with a burst washer.

It's so frustrating being a spectator on these world shaking events. I know that I am no more than a plook on John Halliday's backside (if you pardon my French) but I'm sure I can help to make this happen.  Sir John talked today about grasping the nettle - you know, he was talking about the current state of the gardens wasn't he?  A wilderness of weeds, sheep-shaggers, single parents and the few unemployed to be found in the dynamo of the Scottish economy which is Aberdeen. Last time I was there I saw a woman pushing a pram with a dog in it - I'm sorry but yes it is as bad as that. So the sooner Transformational Change comes the better it will be for everyone.

I am confident that this excellent project will proceed unmolested and my hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved.  It is really Scotland's project and should be accorded the highest priority.