Posts tagged ‘planning’

March 23, 2015

Master Planning in the Granite City

P1030506

How Aberdeen’s ring road was once envisaged, intersecting with the beach boulevard.

In the foreground an assembly hall and theatre.

That was in 1949. Time now to consider the latest version of Aberdeen’s Master Plan so brace yourselves for an onslaught of fatuous bureaucrat-speak.

Key, transformation, vibrant, reawakening, deserves, accessible, enhanced, significant, enhanced, shaping, stakeholders, did I say? enhanced, revitalisation, dynamic, did I say enhance? ambitious, vision, opportunities, did I say enhance? = an exercise in verbiage.

Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future’s Economic Manifesto, and Action Plan (yes, really) states that the City Centre must act as a key business location, retail centre, major tourist destination, historical and cultural centre, leisure and entertainment centre, key transport node, and a place where people live and feel safe.

It will not have escaped your notice the order of importance listed by Aberdeen City Council – historical and cultural and indeed a place where people live and feel safe as well as transport trail behind retail – as usual.

You cannot ever accuse Aberdeen City Council of understanding the real worth of the city and its own responsibilities.

Aberdeen City Council has never sought to complement and enhance Aberdeen’s unique identity. On the contrary it has sought and succeeded in burying anything unique about Aberdeen in its drive to prove Aberdeen can look like any other town with a bland urban landscape devoid of uniqueness and interest – a cultural desert.

In its Masterplan the Council uses the analogy of the human body to describe the city with Union Street as the spine. It is tempting to suggest that while the city may have a spine the council does not.

For all its high-faluting language we only have to look around at the flimflam chaos and lost opportunities to discover where reality lies. Instead of me setting out what might, but probably won’t, materialise I’m reviewing what has been dished up in the name of planning.

Take the fairly recently built bus station – could it be any more alienating to passengers? People struggle to get there with luggage, from taxis and cars. Families find it virtually impossible to see off family, rushing them out of cars with their luggage from no waiting streets such as Guild Street and Market Street. Why was seating not provided for waiting bus passengers? Why do buses have to perform hazardous reversing manoeuvres when leaving bus stances? Whoever designed the bus station and whoever sanctioned it should have been sacked for incompetency. As soon as it was built it was discovered the place was not fit for purpose, as the man from the council might say. You can be fairly certain those who designed it don’t use it.

Take the Green, or the Merchant Quarter as we are encouraged, unsuccessfully, to call it, where charges for cafes providing seating outside put obstacles in the way of creating a relaxed café atmosphere that the council made such a hoo-ha about wanting yet had no idea how to implement. And it is typical that these guys don’t appreciate the area’s name used and recognised by generations of Aberdonians, the Green. If they don’t get this they won’t get any of it.

Take the ugly, ugly mini retail park at the historic Bridge of Dee. Who but a group of madmen on speed would sanction that?

Take the traffic nightmare on Guild Street, all manufactured by the well-paid jobsworths of Aberdeen City Council.

Take the current state of the once majestic Bridge Street transformed into a state of tacky ugliness.

amadeus

Take the beach Esplanade nice enough it runs along a magnificent beach front but don’t look landward at the horrendous erections city planners let companies away with. Why has this choice site never been reclaimed? Another sacking offence surely?

Take the demolition of old Torry. That sums up the short-sighted, blinkered, ignorance that marks out Aberdeen City planners over the years with no conception of the value of heritage.

Take the Castlegate. Once bustling and a traffic hub it was killed stone dead by planners who thought shutting out traffic would make it people-friendly. It didn’t it made it a no-go area.

Take the shoddy and shabby upper deck at the St Nicholas Centre that closed-off the historical St Nicholas Street and in its place created a dead space; unfriendly and creepy area after dark. Name and shame the architect responsible and the planners who ticked his box. st nich deck 2

Take the approval given to the bland, boring and out-of-keeping blocks that will surround Aberdeen’s only red brick spire at the Triple Kirks. Shameful.

I could go on because quite honestly it’s think of an area and chances are the cack-handed touch of Aberdeen Council has damaged it in some way.

Aberdeen bureaucrats speak a good game, as good as any in other parts no doubt. They don’t deliver on their prattle.  They deliver all that is vulgar, uninspiring and tasteless.

Pedestrianisation is back on the agenda. Pedestrianism is a tricky trick to master. It can deprive areas of life – again those dead spaces, far from creating pedestrian friendly areas cut them off as useable.

Do not pedestrianise Union Street. Remove the pedestrianisation of the Castlegate and bring buses back there and reinstate a direct route to the beach.

I wholly agree with the intention to utilise upper floors of Union Street buildings. Where they cannot be turned into shops or offices I think upper floors that are not used should be taken over by the council and used for social housing. This would bring life back into the centre of the city.

Another ambition, they claim, is to encourage high quality architecture. That is precisely what has not been happening and will not be delivered in the disastrous Broad Street shopping centre nor those bland boxes at the Triple Kirks.

Making our towns and cities comfortable and safe and practical places for the people who inhabit them is too important to leave to the whims of dubiously qualified planners, developers and their cronies.

Following World War II the city plan shows how those then charged with responsibility for modernising Aberdeen considered thirty years the lifespan of a building and after that it was fair game for replacement having outlived its usefulness.

‘…it must not be overlooked, that sooner or later, buildings of all classes, no matter how well preserved structurally, become out-of-date from a functional point of view.’

It was this mindset that lost Aberdeen its interesting old wynds and courts and old Torry. The drive for modrenisation that involved ripping out and tearing down. We saw it during the years of Harold Wilson’s government when dead-eyed concrete towers sprang up in all our towns and cities as a harbinger of the new age which unfortunately turned out to be an age of instant slums and social alienation.

Back in 1949 there were good ideas mixed with bad in its Master Plan such as an entire ring road, not only Anderson Drive, that incorporated a bridge over the harbour mouth to permit industrial traffic from the eastern parts of the city and the fishing ports of Fraserburgh and Peterhead, the harbour, fish market and so on, easy access north and south.

The proposed assembly hall at the beach (see top picture) did not materialise and neither did the graceful bridge that would have offset the burden of traffic crawling through the city and away from the congested Bridge of Dee. Something of the kind could have be built now in place of the western peripheral route but the vision wasn’t there.

Notice, too, the elegant line of the banana pier that has been lost by the addition of an ugly light at its end and wire mesh to keep people off. It is another mark of how in this country people are stopped, blocked, prevented from getting close to the nooks and crannies and places familiar to previous generations by increased private restrictions and overarching public regulations.

harbour

You’ll see what I mean with this ’49 proposal for Market Street; a working area of the city. No high fences to keep people out but the integration of people and space. I struggle to understand how it is people elsewhere survive wandering around harbours when we are deemed incapable of walking past water without succumbing to the urge to fall in.

So much of urban life is about alienation. People are valued for how quickly they will part with their cash – hence the preference for shops over community spaces, as in a Marischal Square. It is as if our councillors work for private business and not citizens. Their concerns are purely economic. The well-being of the citizens of Aberdeen comes way down any list of priorities, if it makes that list at all. There is a shallowness that pervades Aberdeen Town House, a general incompetency and disregard for their roles as guardians of the past as well as the future.

st nich deck

It is interesting that the creation of space in the 1949 plans was regarded in keeping with the concept of functionality. Space now is at a premium and as we know from the Marischal Square debacle must give way to yet more retail – as far as the eye can see.

The spaces that would have been created in ’49 would have come from flattening what was there. Flattening there certainly was but those bold ideas remained on paper and never found expression into bricks and mortar.

beach

The illustration of how the beach might be transformed at the end of the Second World War with a short pier and play pool areas to the north of the Broad Hill looks child friendly but were never built. But at the same time thank goodness those acres of flat-roof blocks, like some prison complex, did not see the light of day. But a pier would have been nice.

When future plans are written we can be sure they will contain key terms then current, variations on

key, transformation, vibrant, reawakening, deserves, accessible, enhanced, significant, enhanced, shaping, stakeholders, revitalisation, dynamic, ambitious, vision, opportunities

as an exercise in ticking boxes but our children and grandchildren will left to ponder when those terms lost all meaning, leaving their value only as word count to bulk up planning documents.

Meanwhile the little that remains of Aberdeen’s unique heritage is dependent on the whims and abilities of this and the next incumbents of the Town House. It is an absurd method of determining the future of the city that is guaranteed to plunder its past and waste opportunities in the pursuit of short-term ambitions of a few men and women of dubious capability. We have seen it before. We see it now. And we will see it in the future. One thing is certain, planning officials don’t change their spots.

March 21, 2015

Rubislaw Quarry versus the Planners from the Dept of You Couldn’t Make It Up

Rubislaw Quarry

 

Rubislaw Quarry

Rubislaw Quarry

You could not make it up, as they say.

I think there ought to be an inquiry into the quality of planners at Aberdeen City Council. At the very least those employed there should have to undergo an aptitude test – and fast.

There is no logic, no understanding the poor unintelligible decisions that emerge from this dismal department.

They approve the worst sorts of development that offer the city neither architectural merit nor understanding the area’s historical references. It is as if Aberdeen City planners are basically ignorant and talentless as well as devoid of any positive vision to enhance the attractiveness of the city.

The latest shambles is the planning department’s negative response to a proposed heritage centre at the iconic, and it really is iconic, Rubislaw Quarry.

The concept is brilliant and admirable. The guys behind it should be lauded for its potential impact on the city as a tourist attraction. What is there not to like?

This type of development is precisely what Aberdeen is desperate for.

Aberdeen and the northeast is defined in part by the granite industry and this idea would provide it with a fitting memorial. Something of the kind should have been constructed decades ago. Years ago I suggested that when St Nicholas House came down a granite look-out tower should be erected, to mark the industry, from where people could view the city, the sea and over the land. Of course nothing came of it. The truth is Aberdeen City Council is as good as its officers and their impact on the cityscape speaks for itself. This is a council that understands nothing beyond the mundane – beyond retail and more retail. When it comes to culture and heritage there is a gap as wide and deep as Rubislaw Quarry. There is no comprehension of the value of heritage. No concept of collective pride that comes from a shared industrial or cultural inheritance. No pride in the past. No veneration of local craftsmen and women. No understanding that heritage tourism is an immense economic driver that attracts visitors to places to discover what makes them distinctive.

It came as no surprise a recent poll showed Aberdonians feel less pride in their city than elsewhere in Scotland. In Aberdeen the past is brushed aside like so much detritus. Look around there is very little to see and this reinforces the idea that there is nothing of Aberdeen’s past worthy of commemoration.

There is NO museum dedicated to Aberdeen and its surroundings. That says it all. So much of immense importance happened in Aberdeen but so little is widely known and as a consequence Aberdeen and the northeast are largely written out of the histories of Scotland. Aberdeen City Council is complicit in this state of denial.

The people behind the Rubislaw heritage proposal should be welcomed with open arms instead of being met by carping petty obstructiveness. They are doing what the council should have done. Their attempts to preserve this amazing landmark from which the city was built is commendable.

Rubislaw Quarry

So why are the planners at Aberdeen City Council not falling over themselves to grasp this opportunity with open arms?

They are so blinkered they cannot understand why the visitor attraction should be based at the quarry – the very quarry that is being commemorated and one of the biggest man-made holes in europe. Yes that is what they said. The Rubislaw Quarry visitor attraction could be anywhere – because frankly, these jobsworths do not have the first understanding of how heritage works.

Plonk a visitor centre anywhere and you might attract visitors. Position a visitor centre within the context of its subject and you immediately enhance its value.

It appears the dullards at Aberdeen City Council’s planning office are more concerned with some trees that would have to be felled than losing a great granite memorial and potentially first-rate tourist attraction.

I love trees and don’t like to see them taken out but sometimes you have to for the greater good. This is one of those times. I do not recall the same outcry from the Council when removal of mature trees from Union Terrace Gardens was being approved.

Several years ago a handful of people promoting culture in the Council tried to get a development underway at the Quarry. It was hoped it might be drained and something like the proposed centre built, an indoor rainforest experience created at the bottom of the drained quarry and perhaps sports activities such as climbing walls within the quarry. Drainage was going to be hugely expensive and nothing came of the plans – but they were within the auspices of Aberdeen City Council so of course nothing came of the plan.

 

 

It is time to tip these planners out of their cosy existence with Aberdeen City Council and have them named and shamed. They do Aberdeen a great injustice by their feeble timidity and the people of Aberdeen deserve and should demand much better.

Show your support for the Rubislaw Quarry proposal and give Aberdeen City  council and its planning department the bird.

 

http://www.rubislawquarry.co.uk/history/

August 6, 2014

Keep it Simple Aberdeen. Simply a Square.

Marischal College

Keep it simple Aberdeen City Council.

You started this by talking about a civic square – Marischal Square.

Now deliver on your word.

Nothing more. Nothing less. A wonderful large and photogenic

Marischal Square.

Thanks for voting folks. Result of the poll, completely unscientific and none the worse for that, is 97% for an open square and 3% for the proposed Muse development.

It doesn’t prove anything other than people who are interested in Aberdeen’s architecture and how the city develops who read this blog are overwhelmingly against putting crass commercialism before preserving the little piece of magnificence there is in the city.

I hope Aberdeen City Council takes notice but I’ve been around long enough to know that other factors influence its members and permanent staff that have nothing to do with doing the decent and aesthetic considerations.

 

 

 

February 10, 2013

What have they done to Downies Village?

The coast off Downies near Aberdeen What we do with the past tells us much about our present.   The past can be a place we wish to return, seeing the present as nothing but a moment in a downhill race to mediocrity and degeneration.   In the world of architecture and community, or claimed community, this finds its doleful and reactionary expression in the nostalgia of Prince Charles and his acolytes who wish to return to a world where everyone knows their place and architecture expresses fixity by mimicking forms from the days of pre-modernism.   The dream is of neat and ordered villages and small towns with residents abiding by the moral strictures of those who know best.  DSC02449 However, as much as we might deride the nonsense pedalled by the Prince he does make the valid point that the metaphorical and literal bulldozers of developers should not be allowed untrammelled right to build whatever and wherever they like.  DSC02423 On a recent visit to the village of Downies I was astonished to find that in the midst of this historic fishing township there had appeared a housing development which would not be out of place on the heights of Westhill.   Downies is not a planned village.   It is unlike the “model” villages which were promoted by progressive and paternalistic landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries.   No neat grid or geometric layout sits above these cliffs at Portlethen.   Prince Charles’ dream of order is confounded by the lack of a clear and obvious pattern (at least to this observer).   Cottages go off the road at either side, with asymmetric position and irregular gardens.   Prince Charles’ Poundbury it is not, although one can well imagine the new houses at Downies fitting into a Poundbury landscape with attempts at regularity within the compound of the “scheme” Its break with the feeling of community is emphasised in the developer’s own description: The development is served by a private mono blocked access road with a central court yard area.   Is this the developer attempting to create a closed community around its own square, separate and distinct from the picturesque locals?   Whatever it is the spirit of the enclosure is at odds with the openness of all else around.          DSC02426 It is not that there are many houses going up at Old Portlethen, five are in progress; rather it is the proportions relative to the existing properties and the sympathy for the landscape, the sense of place, and the present householders which is in question.   Where older houses gradually follow the line of the increasingly steep slope towards the cliff- edge the new buildings, in their bulk and their height show little care or appreciation for the historic site.   From what can be seen at the moment, February 2013, the houses seem architecturally unexceptionable.   Dull perhaps, “aspirational” even, well able to be lived in and no doubt will provide comfortable homes for those who can afford them.   The developer says: they are A select development of 5 homes in the picturesque village of Downies with some breathtaking views of the North East coastline.   Of course what it omits to say that the monster 5 bedroomed house called Isla is parked directly in front of an older, but not original, property called Bayview.   I suspect that a bay view is now wishful thinking but the owner has the comfort of knowing that the behemoth Isla has the advantage of being fitted porcelanosa tiles in its striking main bathroom.    DSC02436   But this is not the point.   The point is is there a place for these beached monsters in a village typified by low level housing following the contours of the land, and which crucially gives us some sense of the way our ancestors lived?   Please note I am not saying that Downies of today is and should be the village in which the fishermen and their families lived, not only would such a desire be unattainable it would also be unwanted, imposing as it would poor sanitary conditions and no electricity upon residents.  One of the joys of the older buildings in Downies is that, with additions here and there of kitchens and bathrooms they have managed to improve the living conditions without losing a sense of the old, much improved from the derelict village Peter Anson found in the early 20th century.   This incremental growth and improvement was organic, not keeping the village in locked in timeless aspic yet still maintaining historical continuities. DSC02428   As can be seen from the photographs this is not the case with the present development.   We can hardly criticise the developer for doing what developers do that is making the most of market potential.     There was no practical reason why a developer could not have followed the style of the single storey cottages but financially it presumably makes more sense to go for bigger is better.  We might just as well wail over investment bankers’ lack of probity or cats eating birds.     No, the real problem is that permission was given to the project.   We must ask what were the planners thinking of? – although thinking is perhaps too strong a term here.  DSC02431   The Director of Infrastructure Services at Aberdeenshire Council, wrote that the new properties were quite acceptable as they were no more than, an amendment in design to what has previously been approved.   He also stated there was no conflict between the traditional forms and the developer’s proposals, rather they new builds were said to respect the character of the old and were worthy addition to the village and would, in his words, integrate successfully.   Of course by integration what the planning officer means is the technicalities of building regulations and local plans.   When the Scottish Government Reporter approved the plan he said that the houses would unite the village’s historic core with its outlying elements.     Downies I defy anybody now visiting the site to show how the houses have brought such a unity.   There appears to be a confusion of terms here: there might be similarity with outlying elements but unity?   At the more meaningful level of historic continuities and community feeling planners have little to say.   They deal with bureaucratic regulations not the experienced lives of residents.    DSC02446 Speak to the folk who live in Downies and you come away with the feeling not that they want to remain a closed community rather they tell you that it’s a respect for the history of the area that they want to preserve; a respect for the generations who, perched above the North Sea, carved out a precarious living and managed to establish an identity through the lives they lived and the village they inhabited.   Just as respect is given to structures such as Skara Brae so also should it be allowed villages like Downies.   Sadly, and short of demolition, it looks as if this is another battle for historical integrity which has been lost.   All who put the rubber stamp to this travesty of planning should be ashamed of their actions.    DSC02458           Contribution by Textor