Friday, 27 December 2013

The year of town centres

A typical old Scottish town centre - horribleYou know, 2013 has certainly been the year in which planners were forced to admit to their failures in dealing with town centres over the past 40 years or more. The Scottish Government decided to do something about it through the Sir Malcolm Fraser Commission but we will have to wait and see how effective the recommendations will be. As I understand it, their approach is based on the idea that town centres are valuable when in fact, they are not.

My take on this is that town centres are in a mess because people want to shop in nice places like the totally unique Braehead near Paisley or the equally unique Silverburn close to the slums of Pollok in Glasgow. In fact all these great shopping centres the length and breadth of the country are completely unique! It's the market that determines where people will shop - not planners.

But as the Scottish Government says, it's not all about retail - there are other problems too. Drive into any old town centre tomorrow and you will see groups of overweight women gossiping on street corners. Quite often, they take up so much room on the pavement that pensioners have to walk round them in the gutter while they cackle away. This is disgraceful and inconsiderate! I recently thought I saw six large women gossiping at a bus stop in Elgin when I was there with the boy recently - in fact there were only three of them - I need new glasses but I’m worried about what might be revealed once my sight is restored. You can have as many hanging baskets as you like but if there are fat people ruining the look of your town centre and stopping people getting to it easily it you will struggle with a regeneration agenda - mark my words. Of course it is also a health issue!

Another serious problem with some old town centres is middle-aged men wearing shorts and sandals. You may have seen this sort of thing in your own town. Often these folk use bicycles as a sort of disguise and pretend that they keep fit and are part of a healthy living agenda - when in fact they are perverts. Sandalism is one of the creeping threats to our town centres and while it was ignored in the Fraser Report, sooner or later it will have to be exposed as the menace that it is. People will avoid a town centre if too many men there appear to be dressed in an over-casual manner - it gives the impression that a town prefers having a carry-on to focusing on entrepreneurialism and serious business activity. Frankly if someone turned up for work at Auchterness wearing shorts and sandals his coat would be on a shaky nail. I would certainly ask him to think very carefully about his future. Well he might not be wearing a coat with sandals and shorts but you know what I mean.

Finally there is the problem of card and candle shops run by dreary middle-class housewives - often as a hobby. The presence of these emporia is a sure sign that a town centre is on its last legs but they also act as spiders' webs for schoolboys, fishermen and farmers who are drawn into them by the feminine charms of mature ladies and the smell of incest and candles.  Planning authorities need to do more to keep these shops under control or banish them completely. 

Anyway, I've shared some of my views on town centres with a few friends and colleagues who suggested I publish them here. I hope you find my expert planner views to be refreshing and radical compared to the normal planning 'thought piece' from the RTPI echo chamber.

Hope you are enjoying your holidays and not eating too much!  I'll bet you've been out at the sales and hopefully you will have gone to one of our wonderful new out-of-town centres instead of one of the stuffy old traditional town centre that planners mistakenly bother about.  Remember, if you are passing Auchterness please drop by and we can have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit - and of course a wee natter about town planning! 

No comments: