Saturday, 30 November 2013

Portobello Snobs clash with Subway

the new Subway shop in Portobello
The new Subway shop has met with resistance from Portobello residents.
From Edinburgh Evening News. Picture: Esme Allen
You know, I'm always fighting in support of big business in their quest to revolutionise our cities towns and villages. It is only money and power that can change things so why stand in the way of progress? Often I think the battle has been won and then something happens which reminds me that we must remain ever-vigilant. I was alarmed this week to read a dreadful tale about middle class do-gooders intent on keeping Portobello in the 20th century by trying to block the fast-food giant Subway from opening on High Street.

Now I must lay out my stall in the first place to show that I have no side or bias in this matter. I'm a Greggs man through and through. But while I love their pies and sausage rolls and enjoy a fly cemetery from time to time, I know that competition is absolutely essential to the health of High Streets. 
a lovely fly cemetery
A lovely wee fly cemetery - thanks to Mhairi Little Hands
So when I read a story about interfering residents and quivering local businesses branding Subway's dynamic business expansion as 'a disgrace' I have to say something.

Speaking as an expert town planner, the food industry is one of our greatest assets. I know plenty of people who work in it - from Wee Heather who wheels the tea trolley around at Auchterness to a friend of mine who actually moved from planning to retail. He was hungry for new skills so enrolled for an introductory course on the food industry. It was a sandwich course but he had an appetite for it - as would most breadwinners in his position. Married to an upper crust wife with a bun in the oven, he thought he could have his cake and eat it. And he was right - he has never looked back and brings home the bacon every month without fail.

Portobello is the kind of community you need to stay on the right side of or otherwise you’re doomed.” Isn't this just terrible? An appalling attitude to progress. “I’m worried (about) what they are doing to the building which is in a conservation area." Ah - pulling out the conservation area chestnut. There are plenty of good reasons why this move by Subway is an excellent one. Many people in Portobello will be poor or suffering from multiple deprivation - why deny them the opportunity to have some decent food at a good price? There is plenty of room outside the shop for seats and litter bins and there is even a pillar box into which some of the local neds can place their half-eaten foot long sandwiches. It's an excellent use for this derelict shop unit. It's close to bus stops and just across the road from the Police Station - and I'm sure the local constabulary will be important patrons of this excellent establishment.

In my book, this is all too typical of the bad attitudes to change that are wrecking our town centres across the country. Too many vested interests, a fear of competition and too many sandal-wearing middle class do-gooders. Most will probably have taken early retirement from local government and will see out their days trying to block The Enterprise. Our towns are full of them - they have nothing better to do with their time than sit around writing protest letters about litter and potholes and trying to prevent entrepreneurialism. Many of them will have been development control officers - or worse. It's time to take a stand against these folk - I hope you agree!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Wonderful Woodside

The work of genius - Halliday Fraser Munro at Woodside, Aberdeen
You know, last week when I was presenting my expert professional view on a range of boring town planning journals, my curiosity was aroused by a little snippet of information from Scott Leach, one of the Halliday Fraser Munro magicians who have brought so much to the fascinating world of town planning. I'm referring to architecture that leaves us all speechless with delight and great plans which rank amongst the finest strategies and town planning solutions across Scotland and Europe - or even the world!

Scott had made a passing reference to a 400 home development at Woodside in the great city of Aberdeen - the epicentre of dynamic growth in the Scottish economy and a place which extends a warm welcome to rich and clever people, especially if they are promoting fantastic money-making development proposals and trampling over sandal-wearing middle class do-gooders, conservationists and public sector layabouts. Well I looked up the Woodside proposal on the world wide web and was astounded by what I saw and read. It led to an evening of total exhaustion and fulfillment here at Auchterness.

Initially, there was disappointment. HFM hide their lights under a bushel - their website is simply a contact page. Clever because when you think about it, a firm like that doesn't want to expose itself to the first person that comes along. There has to be courtship and understanding first - trust and mutual appreciation and consent. John Halliday won't get his big pencil out of his trouser pocket for just anyone!

After a quick expert search of Google I discovered a file in PDF (that's Portable Document Format to the uninitiated) which promised to reveal all. I was quivering with excitement. At first I thought I had been led astray - this work was commissioned by the Aberdeen Lads Club among others. I didn't know that sort of thing existed in Aberdeen but you learn a little every day. Shocking!

I downloaded the document and printed it. As I bent over the printer, a bead of sweat dropped from my forehead, smudging some of the print. I wiped it away and caressed the pages as they slowly emerged. Then I carefully punched two holes so that I could file them in my big folder of important things and settled down with a cup of cocoa.

To be perfectly honest, I have never read anything so inspiring or seen drawings that made my heart beat so quickly - I thought I was having a seizure. Take this for example: "The character of old Aberdeen is derived from the scale, proportion and grouping of buildings and the spaces created by them". Wonderful and almost poetic! A 1:1 spatial ratio - that will bamboozle the numpties!

There's a lot of box ticking going on too - which is great! Shared spaces, a 'destination' village square, surface finishes, buildings defining streets, street hierarchy, planting areas in front of houses (a garden) and no footpaths. Challenging! I found myself sweating profusely as I read and re-read these wonderful pages. It's planning at the very cutting edge!

When it was all over I was completely exhausted. It was as if John Halliday's big pencil had penetrated the walls of my wee home here in Auchterness and spread a warm flow of architectural and planning goodness across my living room floor. It was a very special evening. I would like to congratulate everyone involved in this project - it gets a gold star on the top right hand corner and 10/10 in my little black book.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Deluge of Journals

Two dreary Professional Planning magazinesYou know, last week I was completely bombarded by planning publications. Yet another issue of The Planner (the business monthly for Planning Professionals) from the Goons in Botox Street then an issue of Planning (the Independent Newspaper for Planning Professionals) from Richard Garlic's Haymarket Press. On the face of it you would think that both publications were aimed at me - as an expert planner and professional of many years standing - yet I felt very remote from both of them.

You do seriously wonder if there is enough planning trivia to go round and how much of these supposedly learned journals are actually just made up. Boring? Let's just say that I only realised I had fallen asleep when my mobile phone vibrated itself off my desk and into the wastepaper basket.
A Big Man - Huw Morris, Consultant Editor of the Goons Rag
The Goons rag, edited by the ever-serious looking and weighty Huw Morris starts off with 'convenient footballs', 'good kickings', 'heading off trouble at the pass' and 'penalty clauses' which 'reverberate for decades'. There is also a lot of forelock tugging and crawling to Westminster ministers, Lord this and Sir that. Honestly I'm struggling to deal with so many cliches and misplaced reverence and respect. Something is wrong with the RTPI in London - why do they pay so much attention to these snobs and Tories? But perhaps this is nothing new.

Let's have a quick look at Richard Garlic's boring little rag - Pickles here, Pickles there, Pickles almost everywhere, Heseltine, the Welsh Assembly (really!), Lady Clark, John Gummer, etc etc. What is this all about - why so much respect for clowns and gentry? It's just the same as Huw's rag. But wait! What's this? An article entitled, "What's it like to work for...?" featuring Savills, Barton Willmore, Nathaniel Lichfield and HALLIDAY FRASER MUNRO! Fantastic! I was enraptured and decided that I would take this fine publication to the executive toilet for a good read later.

Now as many of you know, I dream of being a famous and well respected planning consultant so getting the inside track on the firm that is steered so expertly by Big John Halliday is the event of the week - if not the month! I can imagine the internal CPD sessions at HFM when Big John brings out his big thick pencil with a rubber on the top and demonstrates how to tickle a Councillor's fancy with a few expert strokes! Honestly my double Twix bar and milky tea from Wee Heather's trolley never tasted so good! I was savouring the moment, anticipating my trip to the Thunderbox!

Well I final made it to the toilet - great!  The article is about one of Big John's most trusted lieutenants - a man called Scott Leach - he's a project manager for a 400 home development at Woodside, Aberdeen - I must check this out later as I'm sure it will be the masterpiece of all masterstrokes - straight from Big John's hand. Now as I suggested above, HFM have an internal CPD scheme which, 'aims to help staff contextualise their work as part of the wider process of development'. Doesn't that sound fantastic? Leach moved to HFM from Aberdeenshire Council a few years back and says that things are very different in the private sector. I can believe that! He is no longer walking through a treacle sludge of lazyness, indecision and frequent trips to the toilet to read the Daily Record! Quite wisely though, he gave nothing away about Big John or any of the other geniuses in the company. No matter though - I can imagine what a fantastically creative environment it is in there with plenty of contact with the rich clever people who have made Aberdeen a paradise of culture and entrepreneurialism.
The RTPI Centenary Lapel Badge

One sad note to end with. I received my subscription renewal from the RTPI this week. It included a beautiful little lapel badge featuring appropriately enough, a woman called Lex sitting on a fence. It's a clever logo isn't it? With a very appropriate message. Sadly my badge arrived broken in two - the pin had become detached from the badge so I will never be able to wear it. It's a cheap piece of trash from the RTPI - typical. I was distraught though - I would have been so proud to wear it walking down Union Street in Aberdeen, commanding the respect of all who saw me.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Grandhome - Fear of a Massive Suburb

An artist's impression of the Grandhome development
You know, I was scanning the pages of the Press and Journal the other day when I came across a fantastic article about plans for the biggest expansion of the Bridge of Don area of Aberdeen in decades. It's a complete smack in the face for sandal wearing middle class busy-bodies. They're too lazy to get a job on the rigs so all they can do is moan about the progress of the New Scottish Enlightenment. Happily there is plenty of enlightenment in the Aberdeen area which continues to be voted one of the best places to live in Scotland. This stimulating environment is based on rich clever people doing what they want and bullying Councils and their pathetic, interfering, lazy and incompetent planners into approving their great projects.

Anyway, this development by the Grandhome Trust took a major step forward last week as plans were lodged with the City Council for approval - and they will be approved of course. Of that there is no doubt.  The scheme aims to create a new community with 4,700 houses, schools, shops and health facilities as well as new land for business use.

It's suburban living with a new twist - the design is based on “walkable neighbourhoods”, providing easy access to shops and facilities. In my view as an expert planner, this is either a clever bargaining counter, a cynical piece of branding or a big mistake! People in Aberdeen don't like walking so why should folk living in Bridge of Don be any different? Walkable neighbourhoods have been doing the rounds for years but they will never catch on - especially in Aberdeen!

Predictably, the local populace have raised concerns that the development could lead to “mayhem” on the already heavily congested Parkway as farmers and their sheep look for new grazing land.

You can read about the fantastic suburb here. It's great the way these developers create a lovely cuddly feeling around their proposals....planned and designed by a team of community development experts and leading Scottish practitioners. Really? I've heard of Fairhurst but that's it. No sign of Keppies or Halliday Fraser Munro at all! Apparently thay have all been working closely with Aberdeen City, national agencies and other stakeholders to ensure the delivery of the masterplan. I can imagine that the Grandhome developers are laughing up their sleeves at the ineptitude of all of the above mentioned public bodies.

For me, this Massive Suburb has all the characteristics of the New Age of Scottish projects in which rich people roll over local communities and their objections, vanquish public sector impediments and obliterate farmers to create amazing new developments and generate a great deal of money. It's straight out of the Donald Trump, Sir Ian Wood and Ewan Jamieson school of planning. It's Glasgow Harbour with Sheep! The Grandhome Trust folk are apparently landed gentry so they can do whatever they like- that's the way it has always been. It's the correct and only way! The good folk who will buy homes and drive about in the new suburb can tug their forelocks and bow and scrape when they see the Grandhome Family and their Estate Managers passing by. It's part of the sales pitch.

I think this development is an amazing and positive step towards driving progress in the suburbs of the greatest city in Scotland. It gets a gold star and 10/10 in my little black book. My hearty congratulations to everyone involved! I look forward to seeing it built.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The mirage of Washington Exchange

Washington ExchangeYou know, I was down in Glasgow during the week at another of these important meetings where I find it quite hard to stay awake. Dreary women droning on about KPIs, picking their noses then ferreting about in the plates of sandwiches and biscuits. Disgusting! One hatchet-faced harridan stared at me for most of the meeting - perhaps it was my green corduroy suit and my purple shirt. By early afternoon I was anxious to leave and made my excuses. I had an appointment with something wonderful.

I rushed down Hope Street and crossed Argyle Street heading for the magnificent International Financial Services District or IFSD as we planners call it. It's a part of the city that used to be a slum - like everywhere else - but has stepped up to the plate in recent years and provides many of the riches that are typical of a Scottish Enterprise led development. This isn't surprising since almost all of the country's thought leaders have worked for SE over the years - I know I have.

Anyway, one of my readers recently pointed me in the direction of a fabulous new development called Washington Exchange - a name redolent wth profit, exclusiveness, success and rich clever people. Sir Ewen Jamieson of Clydeport has his offices near there where he can oversee all the goings on in the River Clyde as huge liners tie up and smaller vessels potter happily around them - Sir Ewen of course is the power behind Glasgow Harbour, one of my all-time favourite developments, and he is truly one of the world's most gifted, cultured and intelligent people.

Now while Aberdeen is very much the economic and cultural capital of Scotland it's important that other places such as the slums of Glasgow get a slice of the cake. So when I saw the photies of this development on Urban Realm I was delighted for the city. I don't know who the architects were but this is something that has Keppies name written all over it or perhaps Halliday Fraser Munro. It wouldn't surprise me if Big John had had his pencil out and dashed off a quick one on the riverbank.
Washington Exchange
However I am disappointed to say that I couldn't find the new development. I asked around and showed some Buckfast Boys the photies from Urban Realm but they said it was just a drawing. Slowly it dawned on me that what I was looking at were the most wonderful and realistic artist's impressions I have ever seen in my life. I was completely taken in by their incredible accuracy and attention to detail.

I felt such a fool as I wandered disconsolately along the river bank with my shoes covered in dog mess. I threw the drawings into a litter bin that was overflowing with ginger cans and juice bottles and walked slowly back to Queen Street Station. You see, even an expert planner can be taken in by a pretty picture. I still wish to congratulate the movers and players, stakeholders and client account executives, artists and quantity surveyors who created this gem. It gets a silver star in my little black book and the sooner it is built the better.