You know, a friend of mine in a nearby local authority planning department called me up on Friday. He was agitated to say the least. He had just received the latest Scottish Planner magazine. I've spoken of this learned journal on many occasions. Previously sponsored by my friends Halcrow, it is now sponsored by international consultancy Barton Willmore (and a firm called Dwarf - DWF). It is the mouthpiece of RTPI Scotland, a Registered Charity, a Royalist organisation of course and supposedly the professional journal of town planners in Scotland. It is filled to the brim with tittle-tattle and the dreary opinions of people who feel that others want to hear what they have to say. I know a bit about publishing these days and actually getting content is one of the biggest problems. This might well apply to the Scottish Planner and if it does, they will basically print anything they are sent. That's why most planners put it straight in the bin.
My friend's concern arises from this new sponsorship from Barton Willmore. The new Convenor of RTPI Scotland is a Mr Stephen Tucker, Partner in Barton Willmore. The Scottish Planner is designed by Barton Willmore's graphics folk and produced by them. Well so what?
My friend's worry is that Barton Willmore have been given a megaphone by RTPI Scotland to broadcast their wares to the planning profession in Scotland, apparently without any obvious referral to members or proper scrutiny - though I'm sure this has all been approved. It's rather like the RSPB magazine being sponsored by Webley and Scott, the air gun manufacturer or the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland Journal being sponsored by a demolition contractor. He's completely out of line of course but you might see where he is coming from. How can RTPI Scotland be considered to be the voice of professional planning when it allows a partner in a firm of commercial planning consultants to use the Convenor's Comments section to talk about how wonderful he is and by implication, how wonderful they are? My friend asks if any and all consultancies can bid to sponsor the Scottish Planner and is this an equal and open process or is it part of the old boys' network? Why Barton Willmore and why Halcrow before them? Well I don't know and I don't care! Remember - hardly anyone reads this magazine so no one else will care either!
We had a long chat about this in the magnificent surroundings of a Burger King at one of my favourite retail parks. I told him that he had spent too long working for local authorities and that he was out of date, deluded and seriously off message. Perhaps folk worried about this sort of thing twenty years ago but in 2014? I don't think so. He told me that he will not speak to me again.
Personally I'm filled with admiration for Mr Tucker and his company, and the way in which they have persuaded the RTPI folk to let them do this. It's the way of the world these days isn't it? We need more enterprising behaviour like this in the wonderful world of planning. I'm sure that David Cameron would be 100% behind it as would our own Wee Smart Alec - PM and FM together!.
So my warm congratulations go out to Stephen and his company for this magnificent piece of self-promotion. The important thing is that they seem to have got away with it! Come to think of it, I might ask them to do a bit of work for Auchterness! That would be a good result for them - wouldn't it? Better still, they might want to employ me as an expert planner! Who knows?
Finally my thanks go out to each and every one of the many thousands of fans who visited my lovely wee blog in March - it's going from strength to strength. You know, it probably has more readers than the Scottish Planner! By the way, if anyone wants to sponsor my blog I'm open to offers! Cheeriebye for now!