Thursday, 30 October 2014

Figures of Light

Planners together - Sarah Boyack (left) and Henry McLeish (right)
Planners together
Sarah Boyack and Henry McLeish
You know, I felt so proud this week when I heard that Sarah Boyack MSP had thrown her hat in the ring and announced her candidacy for the Leadership of the Labour Party Branch Office in Scotland. As we expert planners will know, Sarah like us is a town planner, as was Henry McLeish, Scotland's second First Minister, famous for a pigs-in-the-trough incident that blotted his copybook. I recall that the Sunday Herald encouraged him to 'rent in peace' after his resignation. That incident gave planning the highest possible profile and that was terrific for the profession! Wasn't it?

You see, every planner has an inner desire to make the most of every situation - a drive to shake off the shackles of convention and rise above the humdrum. It's part of the expert planner's DNA and perfectly natural for someone like Sarah Boyack, who probably has very few talents other than planning, to aspire to lead the Labour Party Branch Office in Scotland, to enjoy the cut and thrust of First Minister's Questions and ultimately to become First Minister.

As an expert planner I do hope that Sarah Boyack rises to the top table and is successful in her latest venture. It will be an incredible boost for RTPI Scotland and will genuinely give them something worthwhile to boast about.

It's one of the great things about the society in which we live that people, and indeed companies, organisations, architects and planners with absolutely no skills or talent can prosper and grow in the modern Scotland.  You know, I've heard it said that leadership figures simply emerge through being understood and respected as 'figures of light'. People who have a kind of 'forcefield' around them. We've seen many in Scotland in recent years and they have all shared this incredible charisma - Jack McConnell, Wendy Alexander, Iain Gray and Johann Lamont to name but a few. I'm absolutely certain that Sarah Boyack will fit like a glove into this panoply of brilliant people that Scotland looks up to.

Best wishes from Auchterness! I'll be back soon so cheeriebye for now.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Declaration of War

John Glenday - please stick to gossip and tittle-tattle
John Glenday - please stick to gossip and tittle-tattle
You know, much as I like Urban Realm and enjoy the tittle-tattle and pettiness of the comment section under each news item, I'm personally affronted that John Glenday should choose Aberdeen, Scotland's most dynamic city and epicentre of sustainable growth, as a potential recipient of the upcoming Carbuncle Awards. Moreover, to rub salt into my wounds, he states that it is 'an early front-runner ... as the silver city fades to grey amidst a steady drip and questionable planning decisions.' (sic)

Glenday states that the oil capital has been accused of turning its back on its main artery, Union Street, by 'sanctioning the remorseless expansion of undercover malls'. How could he have got it so wrong? My lovely wee blog is full of articles describing proposed improvements, big ideas and a host of terrific new buildings for the Silver City. He has chosen to ignore these as part of a cheap publicity stunt!

Glenday goes on to say, “Aberdeen has a rich granite heritage and in the Victorian era the city was built to last, sadly the same can’t be said of the flimsy, ill-considered buildings going up across the city today". Well John, how stupid are you? Buildings aren't made to last these days - it's a fact of life that they are now temporary, maybe lasting 30 years at the most, so your Victorian era fantasy is just silly romantic nonsense!
 Matthew Hay emergency care centre by Mackie Ramsay Taylor
A great building - the Matthew Hay Emergency Care Centre
by Mackie Ramsay Taylor

He continues, “Serious questions need to be asked of planners who appear to be simply rubber-stamping the schemes that are put in front of them. There appears to be an attitude of ‘anything goes’ as long as it brings in immediate cash." Yes John - that is the whole idea!. The reality is that these planners are heroes! They are in the vanguard of new approaches to development which include the latest trends such as mono-use and non-planning which I have recently explained. I have to say to Mr Glenday, "Shut up foolish person!" What you are complaining about is totally deliberate and highly successful. Can you not see that Aberdeen is the powerhouse of the Scottish economy simply because it lets these great things happen and doesn't bother with the usual plaice-making rubbish or the routine time-wasting associated with getting planning permission?

I'm very angry and disappointed at Urban Realm and by its Editor in Chief. I know that the Carbuncle Awards are a useful source of publicity for the magazine and choosing Scotland's most successful city will give it even more media coverage. But this is a cheap and unwarranted attack - it is a declaration of war on the New Scottish Enlightenment and of course on Auchterness. So some words of advice - why don't you focus on things you are good at, like gossip and tittle-tattle, instead of trying to stir up criticism of things you don't understand - like town planning? You know absolutely nothing about Aberdeen or about planning - NOTHING!

I hope to receive a full apology in early course from Urban Realm and John Glenday, otherwise I will consider my position and may launch a significant counterattack. 

Cheeriebye for now from Auchterness - enjoy the rest of the week.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Doing the Quango at Shawfield

The magnificent new Gulag proposal for Shawfield, Glasgow
The magnificent new Gulag proposal for Shawfield, Glasgow
You know, I've often seen 'Clyde Gateway' mentioned in various reports and newspapers over the last few years. I thought it was a railway station or the entrance to a public park or even a terrible piece of public art by cliché artist Andy Scott until I read an article in Urban Realm the other week. It emerges that Clyde Gateway is a specially created urban regeneration company,  'tasked with driving forward a massive investment programme over a 20-year period ... to deliver unparalleled social, economic and physical change together with 1,200 football pitches'. Amazing and impressive!

Now apparently Clyde Gateway is seeking new investors 'to back its future development pipeline'. I was impressed again - here is yet another public organisation aspiring to be a switched-on private developer by adopting the language of management consultants, logistics and real estate.  A sound move, and they've commissioned 7N Architects (the folk who produced the joke plans for the Inverness Campus that I wrote about in 2010) to produce a master plan. Amazingly this is the largest commercial and industrial planning consent in Scotland - ever - and comprises Class 4 business space, shops, cafes, a gym, business centre and a hotel.  In other words it's big and ordinary but if successful, will make a handsome profit for someone. That's what it's all about isn't it?

And it just gets better for Clyde Gateway - 7N Architects are teamed up with Ironside Farrar who someone I know in Scottish Enterprise once described as the Death Star of Scottish consultants. The team is led by Mace, a consultancy that takes its name from a weapon with a heavy head on a solid shaft used to bludgeon opponents or a brand of teargas used by the police (Wikipedia). Either way it's a great choice of name! All in all this is a magnificent team of grim sloggers who will inevitably grind out a result of some kind.
A green landscape will be woven around the riverside setting
A green landscape will be woven around the riverside setting
- stop laughing at the back

A quick look at the proposals reveals a sun-dappled prospect which an Urban Realm critic described as looking like a communist ghetto. In my expert planner's view this doesn't matter. These CGIs are just a series of vacuous cliches - a sort of shorthand for 'we will do something but we don't know what it will be yet'. So what? We've seen recently that Non-planning and Non-design actually works and is a huge time-saver for architects. Frankly design is no longer an important factor at this stage of a development - these drawings are just meaningless bits of wallpaper to kid people on that some thought has gone into it. Well actually that is very unfair - a lot of thought has gone into it but it hasn't been architectural. Instead, the calculators have been out!

You can see how this is going to end. A developer or consortium of developers will do the Dance of the Seven Veils in the Clyde Gateway offices ( probably in reception) - that's what we expert planners call the initial stages of seduction by the developer. Chief Executive of Clyde Gateway Ian Manson's tongue will be hanging out and the rest of the Board will be consumed with desire. They will unanimously accept an offer. Some of the master plan may be built but it won't look anything like the CGI stuff in the Urban Realm puff - it will be even worse - but who cares? Job done and better than nothing!

This is a great development that earns a gold star and a big tick in my wee black book. It's just right for an area that has gone to the dogs. This team of sloggers will do their best to come up with the goods. A developer will make a stack of money producing some bottom dollar sheds and Clyde Gateway will massage the result as a huge success. So everyone will be happy. Welcome to the fantastic Tory world of Scottish quango-led property development.

Have a great week and all the best from Auchterness. Cheeriebye for now!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Anything but Armadale

the magnificent Southdale development
The magnificent Southdale development - near Armadale
You know, it's a few weeks since I brought you my expert planner's take on a new development. One of my fans recently drew my attention to a place called Southdale which is very close to Armadale which many of you will know is one of the darkest of Central Scotland's black spots - like the aptly named Blackridge - only bigger and blacker. In fact Southdale is a rebadged part of Armadale - a clever move, and much better than calling the area Legadale in my humble view.

As the developer's website points out via a useful timeline for the project, this has been many years in the making. Centuries in fact since the timeline starts in the year 1500.

We've seen before how important it is to get the name of a development right and often developers will change names in mid-course if it will result in higher profile and profits. We saw this happening at Caltongate in Edinburgh which has been rebranded as New Waverleygate. It's now a tour de force and an 'international benchmark for sensitive and innovative development' instead of  an 'incompetently designed clumping heap of over-developed trash' - not my words of course!

The Southdale Development seems to have been designed by Ema. It's great to see women taking a lead in our exciting world of planning and property development - isn't it?  I'm not sure who she is but she's done a great job.  It's what we could call Non-planning - look out for it as it's the coming thing and will soon be trending in exclusive planning and architectural circles now that I have mentioned it here. John Glenday of Urban Realm will inevitably ask me to write about it soon. Let me explain.

The idea of non-planning is that you take a piece of land owned by a greedy developer, divide it up into useful parcels and sell it off to whoever is interested. This is how Southdale was created. Honestly it is as simple as that! People like Taylor Wimpey, Arnold Clark, Bellway, Asda and Marstons will jump into bed with you before you can say A+DS! Non-planning means that you can forget about the usual stuff about plaice-making, public realm, mixed use (already outdated), walking distance and shared surfaces - my goodness I'm yawning already just typing these words!

As for architecture the great thing about Non-planning is that you simply don't bother - it really is a great timesaver and it produces the goods. No worries about materials, style, building heights etc - it's great and it looks as if Ema has captured the market here. Well done her!

This magnificent development gets a gold star and a big tick in my little black book. My hearty congratulations go out to everyone involved in it. It sets a perfect example for others who aspire to similar money-making activities across the Central Belt and I would be surprised if it wasn't up for an award or two in the near future.

All the best from Auchterness and cheeriebye for now.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Voices from the past

October 2014 The Planner - the business monthly for neoliberal planners
October 2014 The Planner - the business monthly for Tory planners

You know, when I received my own personal copy of The Planner the other day - 'the business monthly for planning professionals' as they call it - a cloud of gloom darkened my Auchterness sky. It was immediately obvious that while this issue seemed to be about 100 years of planning it was actually just about one important question:
  1. how can the profiles and reputations of the various dreadful people writing in this issue be restored given that most planners thought they were either dead or had retired many years ago?
So the theme of the issue is actually 'How can we get a bit of publicity for ourselves and give the impressions that we are switched on and care about what other planners think?'. Well that is a big ask isn't it?  The dry boke seemed imminent but luckily the tea trolley came round and settled me down again.

Take the article 'Who Leads Planning?' by Vincent Goodstadt. Now I remember Vincent from years ago though he won't remember me - he worked for Strathclyde Regional Council while I worked up the road at the SDA (now Scottish Enterprise) when it was at 120 Bothwell Street in Glasgow.

Quite frankly, his article was a severe shock for me. Yes it is full of cliches and management speak. It's another of these 'if I ruled the world' top-down perspectives that is patronising and remote. But it is full of spell-binding phrases that completely trump current planning jargon. Let's have a look:
reconnect with ethical and social foundations, bridge the gap between power and responsibility, step up its response, continuous virtual progression, regulatory creep, adversarial environment, seismic shifts, a managerialist culture (!), divided political and economic cultures, collaborative plaice leadership, supersede the silo and turf war culture, political football, draw a line in the sand, tokenistic checklist, bridge the chasm, short-term sticking plaster, etc etc
Amazing! I have never heard anyone speak like this! It was as if someone was pouring warm milk into my ears! Now some may say that it is the dreary mood-music of planning in 2014 - exactly the sort of thing that turns people off. But I found it to be intensely stimulating! Goodstadt has redefined the cliches of the profession before anyone could even say Use Classes Order! Well done Vinnie!

I noticed too that our leader in Scotland, Wee Craigie McLaren, has a nice wee feature in which he talks about light bulbs, stakeholders, enablers, facilitators and eureka moments. It's heady stuff and not for the faint-hearted. I'm sure he wrote it wearing his Sevco scarf! Later, we hear from John McNairney, Chief Planner with the Scottish Government that there are 'opportunities as well as challenges'. Well I'm completely amazed by this stunning insight!

Forbye these high spots, this issue of The Planner is a vile Tory rag. Stealing other people's ideas and re-badging them seems to be part of the culture of this rotten journal.  But perhaps we are all guilty of that from time to time. I know plenty of folk in Scottish Enterprise who've made careers for themselves doing it. The dreadful creepy advertisements from various planning consultancies congratulating the RTPI on its glorious 100 years made by stomach heave. I'm sure they all paid a hefty fee for the privilege of sending their best wishes to this pathetic organisation. It's all part of the incestuous back-slapping that is typical of organisations on the slide. Oh and another thing - a disgusting full page photograph of Prince Charles with a good coating of make-up hiding his grim flagellated features! Such ingratiating brown-nosing is typical of the Institute. Pathetic!

You know, it didn't take me long to decide what to do about all this. I threw this awful magazine on the floor of my office and stamped on it many times. I then went through to reception and asked Wee Heather for her big pair of scissors. I cut it into little pieces then went to the Executive Lavatory and flushed it away. I immediately felt better.

I'll be back with more exciting insight as soon as I can. I know that my fans can't wait for more news from the world of planning. Have a great week and remember, if you're passing Auchterness do come in for a natter. You can have a cup of tea and a biscuit - Gipsy Creams this week. Cheeriebye for now!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

New Lives, New Landscapes

the high street in the village on hirta st kilda by dawn menzies
Development opportunity - the High Street in the village on Hirta St Kilda
by photographer Dawn Menzies
You know, I was tremendously excited in the run-up to the Referendum. Like many thoughtful people, I was full of ideas for the future and had prepared a number of posts for my lovely wee blog that were guaranteed to have transfixed you with excitement. It's what planning is all about and exactly the sort of thing that is missing from the Barton Willmore Times - aka 'SP' - the Scottish Planner magazine.

For example, my plans for the regeneration of ports along the western seaboard of Scotland were original and groundbreaking and guaranteed to have you in a frenzy. These places could be literally buzzing with activity once my plans were implemented. Purdie prevented me from publishing them before the referendum but I can now reveal them to you.

A quick glance at the Wikipedia page 'List of outlying islands of Scotland' reveals a fantastic resource which many have forgotten about. Most of these islands were once populated. St Kilda, the Flannan Isles and Stroma are familiar names perhaps but little thought has been given to establishing new populations on them. Of course there is Rockall too although that is disputed by the Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Iceland.
A regeneration vsessel bound for St Kilda
A regeneration vessel bound for St Kilda

My plan was that these islands would be resettled after the referendum. The idea of Better Together obviously had great appeal to the majority of voters and it seems entirely appropriate that Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown, Joanne Lament, Jim Murphy, Ruth Davidson and Douglas Alexander should be in the vanguard of new residents on these islands. The Scottish Parliament would of course offer devolved powers including of course tax raising and defence.

Now before some of you start complaining as my colleague Cameron did, saying that these are basically revolting ideas from a bygone age, of course it doesn't need to be the Better Together folk and their ugly old No voting followers. It's just that they have demonstrated leadership qualities and a winning mentality that would be useful in their new lives.
a cruise ship visits the new community
a cruise ship visits the new community
by photographer Dawn Menzies

This isn't simply a question of deportation - it's about the regeneration of these wonderful resources coupled with a fantastic uplift in activity in ports such as Mallaig, Ullapool, Stornoway and Wick. Companies such as Northen Light Charters and other shipping companies would have to service the new communities and would need bases and an entire supply chain of fish fingers, baked beans and whisky for the new settlers. It would be Booming Benbecula, Sizzling Stornoway and Unstoppable Ullapool. But that's just the marketing angle!

You know, when I read the current issue of the Scottish Planner, especially the words of the Puppet Convenor and Barton Willmore Stooge Stephen Tucker, in the article entitled 'Delivery Through a Tory Plan Led System', quoting the great American Architect Daniel Burnham's tired old saying, 'Make no little plans - they have no magic to stir men's blood...' I feel nauseous. It's a hairy old chestnut that many planners roll out all the time - and not just in autumn. I really wonder about the state of our profession - ruled by cliche. These words are just trite posteuring. Planning in Scotland has sunk so far as to be almost invisible and the pages of the 'SP' sum it all up. Busy doing nothing is more like it. It's time for change!

Thanks for reading this - I hope you are as excited as I am by future prospects for Scotland. It will be a great journey and Auchterness will be at the helm. Cheeriebye for now.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

My Referendum Day

You know, I’ve been struggling to write anything since the referendum. Firstly I lost momentum with the onset of Purdie who stopped me from saying anything before the vote. Secondly I’ve found it difficult to feel that life goes on as normal since the 18th of September - but it probably does.

I remember going to vote. I turned up at the primary school to see lots of happy fat people wearing Yes badges and wheeling their children around in prams festooned with balloons - the idiocy of their dream-world beggared belief. I also saw lots of grim ugly old people with the same look on their faces as folk on an Orange Walk. Close to death, and deservedly so, they seemed determined to make one last effort to ruin the lives of future generations through their callous self-interest, fear of change and grovelling to the Royal Family.

You know, as an expert planner I could not allow myself to get involved in anything other than ‘the right thing’ for the profession. Trying to figure out which camp was better for planning was a challenge. Obviously there was much to be said for the way things are, especially in Aberdeen where rich people run rings round planners, but there was also merit in a fresh start. 

I sat outside the polling station for ages - thinking and wondering what to do. I tried to imagine what our leader, Wee Craigie McLaren of RTPI Scotland would do. I wondered what the RTPI Scotland Puppet Convenor and Barton Willmore stooge Stephen Tucker would do. Suddenly a big fat yes woman dragged me to my feet and started to dance with me in the school playground. I was wrestling with a gigantic jelly! A wizened no voter shouted abuse from his Range Rover while his hatchet-faced wife and their Corgi dogs looked on. It was totally humiliating. In the end I just went home.

I’m sure our lovely wee Scotland will become independent sooner or later and that planning will rise to the occasion. Meantime we all have to accept the fact that this is a Tory country in which some of my heroes have supported the status quo - Lord Wood of Union Terrace Gardens being particularly prominent. Ugly old people have won but next time, the gigantic jelly women may have their day.

Have a great few days till the weekend and best wishes from Auchterness. I’ll be back soon and I'll try to be more cheerful too - Cheeriebye for now.