Monday, 30 June 2014

A New Vision for Planning

The bold Derek Mackay
The bold Derek Mackay

You know, last week when Planning Minister Derek Mackay launched the Scottish Government's 'vision for planning' he set out an agenda that I can identify with. Apart from a passing reference to plaice-making which will please the dreary cliché-ridden mouthpieces of RTPI Scotland, everything is big, upfront and business-like. Many traditional planners will feel uncomfortable with the tone and content of the vision and for some, Derek Mackay has literally stepped up to the plate and opened a can of worms. For me it was the icing on the cake and the cherry on the doughnut that will melt in my mouth for years to come.

I read about this in more detail over my porridge on Sunday morning. It has been hailed as a watershed moment - a chance to unblock the pipelines of enterprise and deliver a geyser of entrepreneurial activity in which clever people with money get a fair chance to defeat the restrictive planning system. Some say it is just another pipe dream but business is already flushed with success after a series of historic victories, some of which I have documented here on my lovely wee blog.

A key part of this tsunami of new planning measures is the introduction of a presumption in favour of development. Of course this is nothing new for the good people of Aberdeen who have seen their city become a hot tub of property development - literally a Jacuzzi of wealth and employment which has delivered a cold shower for those interfering busybodies dressed in shorts and sandals who try to stop things happening. There couldn't be a clearer sign that business and enterprise is more important than quiche-eating communities and the loathsome serpents that represent them. The days of the badly-dressed snake-in-the-grass community activist are over.

Infrastructure is key - we are talking about carbon capture, thermal generation, pumped hydroelectric storage, high-speed rail and airport enhancement. It's a long way from squabbling over a new Subway outlet or protesting over some old city hall that is an impediment to development. All that is from the past. The Bold Derek has set out a Big Vision and it is just fine with me.

House building is another area where change is inevitable. I have documented many circumstances in which local planning authorities have ignored my advice and tried to refuse developments which have subsequently been approved on appeal. In other cases I have drawn attention to land that is ripe for development but where nothing is happening.

You know, I personally can't take on the responsibility of ensuring that Councils meet the housing targets so a presumption in favour of development is a positive move. A Right to Build would be even better! Too much time is spent by Council planners reading the Daily Record in the toilet or going out for bacon rolls every morning at 10 o'clock. The effect on the economy is staggering - in 2013, fewer than 15,000 new houses were built in Scotland - that's 20,000 less than the Scottish Government target. This is all down to planners sitting about doing nothing instead of approving every application they receive.

I'll be back in a wee while with some exciting new updates on planning and property development in Scotland. Cheeriebye for now.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Novar Drive will explode with enterprise

The site of the great proposal - just behind the wee red car

You know, when a friend of mine drew my attention to a wonderful and clever proposal for a new supermarket and offices at Novar Drive in the slums of Glasgow's West End I was thrilled to bits. At the time, I happened to be in Glasgow on important Auchterness business so took the bus out to the area to get first-hand knowledge.

As we all know, Glasgow's West End is a tenement area filled with Multiple Occupancies, rats and overflowing litter bins yet it is one of the chosen areas for professional types as well as footballers and their wives. Strange, but it's quite different from some of the peripheral housing estates like Broomhill and Jordanhill where most of the schemies live and cause trouble every night.
The depressing tenemental environment of Hyndland Road
- and the fat ladies cafe

I stopped off for a nice wee cup of tea and a biscuit at one of the many cafes in the area. I could hardly get in the door – the place was filled with big women with huge prams yapping away to each other, gossiping and talking about fridge magnets or whatever trivial things came into their empty heads.  I saw many stylish men in tight trousers, bunnets and beards strolling along Hyndland Road on their way to the gym or to their therapists. Some of the women also had beards and most were overweight. Thin men with big fat women - that seems to be the Glasgow look. Not so different from the Broons all those years ago!
The Broons - a typical Glasgow family - a wee man and a big woman
Anyway I digress. Now like many other areas, the West End has been getting rid of its depressing legacy of mixed use - garages, studios, offices, second hand bookshops and workshops are all being swept away and replaced with residential development. It's called mono-use and is the latest thing - remember that you heard about it first from Auchterness! From an expert planner's viewpoint, all these new people moving into the area need somewhere to shop. Enter the G1 Group and their dynamic partners Root & Branch. These folk had the clever idea of building a new supermarket on the site of some derelict properties just off Hyndland Road. It's a braw wee proposal - submitted in colour too! I don't know who the architects were for this building but they have done a great job in the circumstances - it even has a nice wee pitched roof!

The excellent Novar Drive Supermarket proposal
The excellent Novar Drive Supermarket proposal
Predictably, a few local residents are up in arms about this - around 500 objections to the planning application were received by the Council. Why? I honestly can't understand why people would object to this. They complain about congestion but don't think that their own cars are causing congestion all along Novar Drive. They will literally have a pint of milk on their door steps but they still complain. This proposal will be a shot in the arm for many local shops, especially those just next to the new supermarket on Hyndland Road - they will get an amazing uplift in business. The area could become a dynamic hub of enterprise once the Council sweep away the interfering nosey-parkerism of a few misguided residents. I am sure most of the objectors simply signed a standard letter that some expert had prepared. The Council should get wise to this sort of thing and throw out objections that are identical except in name and address. In fact there should be new legislation!

As I stood in awe on the corner of Novar Drive and Hyndland Road a wee jakie approached me with a cardboard cup with some coins in it. "Scuse me Grandad, have yous got a pound for the bus hame?" A gave him some money - the poor soul. It seemed obvious to me that the young lad could easily have got a job in the new supermarket and that would solve at least some of his problems. But interfering nosey parkers always think they know best and of course they are usually wrong. They are heartless, loud, mean-spirited and usually badly dressed in my experience.

I heartily support this application and offer my congratulations to everyone who was involved in putting it together. I'm sure it will be approved by Glasgow City Council and everyone will be happy. It gets a gold star in my wee black book.

Cheeriebye from Auchterness – enjoy the rest of the week!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Dressing up in Aberdeen

Cheerz Bar - apparently a favoured venue
for those in Aberdeen's development industry

You know, I was travelling back home after an important business meeting in Aberdeen last week on the fabulous ScotRail Express to Inverness when an extraordinary series of events took place.

I was with a friend of mine called Cameron and we were chatting away when I overheard three young men further down the carriage discussing the business environment in Aberdeen. My ears pricked up! In particular they were speculating that to be successful, you have to be a member of one of the city's many Freemasonry Lodges. These young men were having a great laugh and mentioned some of my heroes in less than flattering terms, suggesting that they were all part of secret society in which all sorts of locker room activity and dubious public school games are rampant. I rose from my seat to confront them but was pulled back by my friend. I was absolutely furious! How dare they besmirch the reputations of my heroes - in public! It took me quite a few miles, a cup of tea and a Tunnock's caramel wafer to calm down. I have to admit that Cameron is more a man of the world than I am so I listened carefully to what he had to say.

First of all he told me that freemasonry is of course rife in all successful companies and organisations in the city - this is a given. Women are regarded as a sub-species and at a typical black tie event the after-dinner speaker will routinely demean women. It's great fun apparently but would be rather embarrassing for most enlightened people - like me.

Then came the second revelation. Apparently the Hon Dr Donald Trump is a symbol of virility and a gay icon in Aberdeen and the North East! That's why his photograph appears so frequently in the Press and Journal. It also explains why my lovely wee blog gets hundreds of hits every time I write something that features the Great Man. It seems that fishermen and farmers from Fraserburgh to Tomintoul are already tuned into this and have a huge appetite for all sorts of Trump imagery and memorabilia. I can imagine the Great Man as a figurehead on a trawler being very popular - or even on a tractor!
The Dr Donald and Sir Ian Show

Thirdly, Cameron went on to tell me about 'dressing up'. By this time I was in turmoil and completely speechless. When I published my highly popular post entitled 'The Dr Donald and Sir Ian Show' about the Great Donald being awarded an Honorary Degree from Robert Gordon's University which was of course presented to him by Sir Ian Wood, I simply didn't realise that this was another dimension of Aberdeen's LGBT scene venturing out into the public eye - for the ignorant out there that is the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community. The same thing happened when Hon Dr Wee Stewartie Milne got his degree - they all got dressed up and allegedly had a whale of time - off camera as it were. As Cameron said to me, these ceremonies are more to do with coming out, dressing up and having a laugh than a serious academic occasion. Boys will be boys I suppose.

We had only reached Huntly when Cameron suggested that I was a complete simpleton not to have seen this and that my lovely wee blog was rubbish. He used the expression IOTTMCO about the Aberdeen situation - which apparently stands for Intuitively Obvious to the Most Casual Observer. I bristled but inside I felt crushed - could I really have been so blind? What he was implying was that the entire success of Aberdeen as the economic dynamo of the Scottish economy was not based on the entrepreneurial talents of rich and clever people but on their membership of masonic boys clubs in which they dress up for each other, visit gay bars, game the system, fast-track job opportunities and divvy up contract awards on a routine basis. At that point in the conversation, the only trickle-down I felt was a cold bead of sweat running down the inside of my arm.

Now as an expert planner, I'm familiar with many forms of regeneration – the RTPI is always inventing new terms for our work - but I haven't heard of masonic regeneration. Perhaps it will have its moment in the sun and Auchterness will have been the first to have brought you news of a coming trend.

Unfortunately I can't name names in this story - in any case, the list would be too long. However it is absolutely amazing that architects, public sector bodies, quangos, developers, bankers, contractors and business people - all based in Aberdeen - are part of this incredibly successful secret society. Personally I would like to be part of it and I'm sure I have much to offer - especially when it comes to dressing up! Apparently though, I have to be invited first.

Cheery-bye for now and best wishes from Auchterness. I will be back again soon with more insights into the world of the town planner.

Friday, 6 June 2014

New Waverleygate

The New Waverleygate proposal - fantastic!
The New Waverleygate proposal - fantastic!
You know, I'm always filled with admiration for clever people who have the courage to use all the tools available to them to help get what they want. I wrote a few weeks ago about the humble bridge on the Borders railway that had become a 'vital link' and what a clever piece of management and PR speak this was.

The week before last I noticed an important story in the Edinburgh Evening News - it won't be news to some of you and I apologise for that but for others outside the Capital it may be interesting. It concerns the Caltongate development and those loveable rogues Artisan Real Estate. Although this development ticks all the right boxes for me, it hasn't exactly gone down well with the quiche-eating middle-classes of the Capital's inner slums.

The solution of course has been to rebrand the development. It is a tour de force in creative thinking and demonstrates complete mastery of the puppet strings of civic life. Instead of being called Caltongate, the new development will be known as New Waverleygate. It's a name that combines New Labour's 'new-ness' with one of Sir Walter Scott's most popular novels while retaining the familiar 'gate' word which has become incredibly popular since Watergate all those years ago.

Add in some new visualisations featuring  slightly fatter women than before - I'm sure it is cunningly intended to give the proposals 'broader appeal' - and promises of retaining some useless old buildings (which will never be kept) and we have a complete makeover and a fantastically positive new image and brand. In other words, like the 'vital link' on the Borders railway, this is now an “international benchmark for sensitive and innovative development”. Amazing! There is even some planner-speak in there too where the developer talks about improving the “overall look and feel of the area”.

Artisan Real Estate, working in close partnership I am sure with the City of Edinburgh design team, have produced an outstanding revision of what was already a strong proposal. What makes it extra special is the fact that they haven't really changed anything except the name. This makes it a very clever piece of work and a great outcome for the developer and the planning department.

My hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved in this work which gets a gold star and a big tick in my little black book.  Cheerybye for now!