Greenock Plans Ahead

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greenockflats

Council flats on the Vennel, Greenock, by Frank C. Mears

Frank Mears was appointed planning consultant to the Corporation of Greenock in 1940.  It was the only consultancy in which he directly confronted the problems of the industrial west of Scotland.  The plan he prepared, entitled Greenock: Portal of the Clyde, was published in 1947.  It outlined a programme for the long-term development of the part of Renfrewshire lying to the north of a line between Kilmacolm and Wemyss Bay.  Besides Greenock, it encompassed the burghs of Port Glasgow and Gourock and the villages of  Inverkip and Wemyss Bay.

During the Depression, the slump in shipbuilding had resulted in high levels of unemployment in Greenock and Port Glasgow.  As in Scotland’s mining areas, reliance on a single heavy industry had resulted in a particular vulnerability to recession.  Mears argued that future security depended on diversification of the area’s industrial base, with particular emphasis on the creation of employment for women.

On the basis of an analysis which traced Greenock’s history to its 18th century origins, Mears concluded that the town should should seek to build on its long-standing local industries based on tobacco, sugar, distilling and marine engineering, and that priority should be given to industries geared to export.

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Clyde Valley Regional Plan, 1949

Patrick Abercrombie’s Clyde Valley planning team had identified a serious deficiency of open spaces in the lower part of the town.  In Greenock: Portal of the Clyde (1947) Mears proposed redevelopment at lower densities, the creation of new industrial areas, and accommodation of the displaced population in a constellation of new neighbourhoods laid out in the Kip Valley on American Parkway lines to create a “federal Garden City”.

Mears also prepared layouts and designs for council housing in Greenock and a scheme for the redevelopment of part of the town centre which had been badly damaged by wartime bombing.

Mears’ proposals for Greenock received considerable publicity.  The work of the documentary film-maker John Grierson had stimulated an interest in film-making in Scotland.  The Scottish Office had been quick to appreciate the usefulness of film as a means of informing and influencing the public and had sponsored a number of documentaries on aspects of social and economic reconstruction.  Inspired by these precedents, in 1948 Greenock Corporation commissioned a documentary film on Frank Mears’ planning work in the burgh to complement an exhibition in the Town Hall. Greenock Plans Ahead was directed by Hamilton Tait and narrated by Frank Phillips.

A Garden for Granton’s Renaissance!

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Proposals by the Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden

The EDI Group has appointed architects to prepare a new masterplan for the Granton Waterfront and on 15 August the Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden met with them to share their ideas on the restoration of the Renaissance garden as a focus for community renewal.

Afterwards, landscape architect Ellie Clarke facilitated workshops at which the Friends agreed the features of their proposal for a community garden.  These will be presented to the EDI Group Management Team at a meeting on 5 October.

On 8 September, the Petitions Committee of the City of Edinburgh Council considered a petition organised by the Friends calling on the Council to support them in opening the garden for sustainable uses which promote community well-being.  The Committee decided to refer the matter to the Council’s Economy Committee, which will consider it at its meeting on 22 November.

Meanwhile, Granton Castle Walled Garden features as the focus for a local walk in More North Edinburgh’s Hidden Gems, a guide to six short walks in Pilton, Muirhouse, Granton and Drylaw produced by the Pilton Community Health Project.

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Image courtesy of Peter Stubbs, EdinPhoto

An illustrated article on How Granton Lost its Castle was published in the May/June issue of Edinburgh Life. A more detailed article by Gillean Paterson entitled Echoes in the Garden: the last days of Granton Castle features in the Autumn 2016 issue of Scottish Local History.

What will happen to the England-Scotland border following Brexit?

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This piece by Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University provides a valuable perspective on the prospects for collaboration across the Scotland – England border following the EU referendum result. The point he makes about collaborative opportunities in areas such as rural development, farming, tourism and renewable energies being dependent on EU investment and support is very important. But overall, I think his conclusions are too gloomy. Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and progressive forces in England share a common interest in maintaining open borders and building effective mechanisms for cross-border collaboration within these islands. These are the objectives on which we must make common cause in shaping the ultimate outcome of the Brexit vote.

ESRC blog

Between 2013 and 2015, the ESRC funded a seminar series examining the changing relationship between Scotland and the North East of England. While the series highlighted the many challenges facing the North East’s economic fortunes in the context of an even more powerful neighbour north of the border, it also explored the opportunities provided by the Scottish independence campaign – and the aftermath of the 2014 referendum – to forge new, creative, cross-border collaborations between two ‘close friends’ united by common bonds and shared traditions.

Keith ShawHere Professor Keith Shaw, of Northumbria University, who led the seminar series, speaks about the effect on the relationship between Scotland and the North East of England and forthcoming potential outcomes following Brexit.

One of the collaborative opportunities identified – and subsequently taken up – in the ESRC seminar series Close Friends’? Assessing the impact of greater Scottish autonomy on the North…

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A Farm Scene

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Farm Scene

What is almost certainly my oldest surviving artwork has been discovered in a shoe box in West Edinburgh. What say you, Fiona Bruce?

Thought to date from around 1962, the painting provides evidence of an early interest in rural themes and the striking topography of the scene suggests connections with the Borders. The fact that the black bull is in a separate field on the extreme right of the picture indicates some knowledge of the practical challenges of animal husbandry, possibly acquired from a grandfather.

A Man with a Plan

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Frank Tindall

‘Memoirs and Confessions of a County Planning Officer’ by Frank Tindall (1998), The Pantile Press

This book provides a fascinating account of the professional career of Frank Tindall, who was Planning Officer for the County of East Lothian between 1950 and 1975.

Tindall acknowledges his debt to the holistic planning philosophy of Patrick Geddes and his son-in-law Frank Mears. Indeed, he followed directly in the footsteps of Mears, who was planning consultant for East Lothian from 1937 until 1950. Between them, Mears and Tindall established a tradition of sensitive conservation and renewal from which the area has greatly benefited.

Like Mears, Tindall promoted policies designed to check rural depopulation. Considerable effort was put into the improvement of infrastructure and the environment, safeguarding rural schools and consolidating villages through the provision of new housing, small workshops and community facilities.

The book contains numerous references to Tindall’s efforts to safeguard and extend woodland cover. Notable achievements included the saving of a number of the County’s remaining fragents of ancient oakwood, securing public access to Pressmennan Wood and the transformation of Woodhall Bing at Pencaitland into a popular recreational woodland. He made a particular point of encouraging tree planting in development schemes and concern over the potential impact of commercial afforestation of the Lammermuir Hills led him to advocate that planning control be extended to cover forestry schemes.

For the last ten years of his working life Tindall was Director of Physical Planning for Lothian Region. During that time he was instrumental in creating the Regional Council’s Land Reclamation Unit. He was also responsible for the establishment of the Central Scotland Woodlands Project, which had its origins in Mears’ Central and South-East Scotland Plan of 1949.

Survey work for the County Development Plan revealed the extent of neglected and degraded woodland in East Lothian. Tindall and his staff sought to promote positive woodland management and were ground-breaking in encouraging the planting of upland catchments to tackle problems of flooding and erosion. There remains considerable scope for extending tree cover in East Lothian and a renewal of effort in that area would be a fitting tribute to Frank Tindall’s memory.

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This review first appeared in Reforesting Scotland 20, Spring 1999.

Some Branch Against the Sky

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Some Branch

‘Some Branch Against the Sky: The Practice and Principles of Marginal Gardening’ by Geoffrey Dutton (1997), David & Charles

In the autumn of 1996, some of the participants in Reforesting Scotland’s Meigle gathering were lucky enough to visit Geoffrey Dutton’s ‘marginal garden’ on the edge of the Forest of Alyth. His remarkable transformation of an exposed upland site through judicious planting of native and exotic tree and shrub species is an inspiration to anyone interested in creating and working with a reforested environment.

In his earlier book, Harvesting the Edge: Some Explorations from a Marginal Garden (The Menard Press, 1995), Dutton dealt with the scientific, environmental and spiritual interests and concerns which drew him towards marginal gardening. If that work addressed the why, this book is concerned primarily with the how. It contains a wealth of information on the practice of marginal gardening through the seasons, drawing on the experience of some forty years. An annex offers general principles for making and maintaining a wild marginal garden.

The book is full of valuable advice on matters such as site elevation, the creation of shelter, developing the character of a site, and the performance of tree, shrub and herbaceous species in the challenging climatic conditions of the eastern Highlands. It displays a keen aesthetic sensibility and is written with style and a dry, self-deprecating humour. ‘Essential reading for wild and marginal gardeners everywhere!

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This review first appeared in Reforesting Scotland 18, Spring 1998.

Corporate Edinburgh’s Secret Garden

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Granton Garden - Autumn 2015

Granton Castle Walled Garden

In North Edinburgh, a community-based campaign is fighting to prevent one of Scotland’s oldest surviving walled gardens from being lost to a luxury housing development.  The Friends of Granton Castle Garden want to restore it to use as a community garden.

The late-Medieval walled garden could be more than 500 years old.  It survived the demolition of Granton Castle in the 1920s and continued in use as a market garden until relatively recent times.

Some 10 years ago, the garden was acquired by Waterfront Edinburgh Ltd., a company wholly owned by the City of Edinburgh Council, to add to its wider portfolio of land in the Granton Waterfront redevelopment area.

In December 2003, Waterfront Edinburgh had submitted applications for planning permission to erect a residential development of 17 luxury houses within the walled garden.  The company’s original proposal was for a gated development, but the security gates were subsequently dropped from the scheme.  In October 2004, the Council’s Development Management Sub-Committee agreed to grant planning permission subject to a legal agreement in relation to affordable housing and a financial contribution towards education infrastructure.  A draft legal agreement was prepared in 2008 but the economic crash intervened.  The agreement was never concluded and planning permission never issued.

Despite the garden being identified as open space in the Council’s Open Space Audit and the Edinburgh City Local Plan, Waterfront Edinburgh remains intent on building luxury housing on the site. In January 2015, the EDI Group, of which Waterfront Edinburgh is a part, revived its interest in the development.  The Council’s Planning Department erroneously informed Historic Scotland that the planning applications relating to the garden had been withdrawn along with others for adjacent sites, but EDI managed to keep them alive on the basis that the Council had previously been minded to consent.  The Council considered the proposals under its procedure for dealing with legacy planning applications, which requires them to be re-assessed in the light of more up-to-date development plans, changes to policies and revisions of guidance.

There have been a number of important changes in policy and guidance since Waterfront Edinburgh’s proposals were first considered by the City Council.

In 2014, the Scottish Government revised Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) which now states that decisions should have regard to the principles for sustainable land use set out in its Land Use Strategy.  One of these principles is that where land is highly suitable for a primary use such as food production, this value should be recognised in decision-making.  The SPP also states that decisions should be guided by the need to protect, enhance and promote access to cultural heritage, including the historic environment.

A resurvey undertaken by Historic Scotland in the light of evidence of a history dating back to 1479 led to its listed status being upgraded from Category C to Category B in July 2015.  Historic Scotland also issued new planning guidelines on historic gardens and designed landscapes in 2015.

The emerging Strategic Development Plan Open Space Strategy identifies the garden as a key location for action to create a network of connected green spaces in North Edinburgh.

Value to the Community

A driving force in the Friends of Granton Castle Garden is its Chair, Kirsty Sutherland, who is a horticultural consultant.  Under her leadership, the campaign has developed an impressive momentum, winning the support of organisations as diverse as the Pilton Community Health Project, North Edinburgh Arts, Nourish, Edible Edinburgh, Scotland’s Garden and Landscape Heritage, Common Weal and Edinburgh College of Art.  Research by the Friends has uncovered a great deal of new information on the history of Granton Castle and its garden and an initial survey of the garden’s walls has been undertaken with the assistance of Historic Environment Scotland staff under the Scotland’s Urban Past scheme.

Granton Castle Walled Garden is an irreplaceable resource and one of the few areas of deep, unpolluted, well-tilled soil in the area.  The surviving apple trees at Granton are prolific fruiters and their stock has made an important contribution to apple cultivation across Edinburgh.

The garden could be an asset of great value to North Edinburgh and the city as a whole if it were to be restored as a community garden.  With the establishment of the Friends of Granton Castle Garden, there is now an organisation with the skills, capacity and commitment to make that happen.  The Friends have engaged with EDI with a view to gaining access to the garden to undertake survey work and an archaeological investigation.  They have also indicated an interested in purchasing the garden.

Corporate Dilemma

On Wednesday 13 January, EDI’s Operations and Finance Director, Eric Adair, wrote to Kirsty Sutherland to inform her that the EDI Group was withdrawing its legacy planning applications to develop housing on the garden site. However, he indicated that the EDI Group remains committed to developing the site for housing and intends to submit a new planning application in the future. The Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden is pressing forward with its campaign to restore it as a working garden under community ownership, but the EDI Group is currently declining to meet with the Friends to discuss options.

A development of luxury houses would benefit very few people and make no significant contribution to meeting the city’s housing needs.  There is no need for the garden to be developed for housing, as it is surrounded by large areas of vacant post-industrial land which is much more suitable.

EDI has made it clear that its preference for a housing development in the walled garden is based entirely on financial considerations, the sale return on a niche housing development being much higher than sale for restoration as a working garden.  Awkwardly for the City Council, doing the right thing now will call into question the wisdom of Waterfront Edinburgh’s purchase of the walled garden for development in the first place.

There is no compelling rationale for sacrificing a unique civic asset to luxury housing, but a real risk that it will be lost to the citizens of Edinburgh as a result of the narrow perspective of the City Council’s commercial arm.  The Chair of the EDI Board is the SNP councillor for Inverleith, Gavin Barrie.  Other members of the Board are the Labour councillor for Leith, Gordon Munro and the Conservative councillor for Inverleith, Iain Whyte.  It must be hoped that the city’s politicians will see the merit of giving greater weight to the interests of the community than sparing the blushes of their development company.

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A version of this article was published in Bella Caledonia on 10 January 2016.

If you are a resident of Edinburgh, you can sign the petition to save Granton Castle Walled Garden here.

Can We Restore Civic Consciousness and Public Enterprise?

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The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2015-16 announced a Review of the Scottish Planning System to identify “the scope for further reform with a focus on delivering a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process, in particular increasing delivery of high quality housing developments.”

Crawford Beveridge

Crawford Beveridge

In mid-September, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice and Communities, Alex Neil, announced that review would be undertaken by a three person panel chaired by Crawford Beveridge, the other members being Petra Biberbach of Planning Aid Scotland (PAS) and John Hamilton of the Scottish Property Federation.  The omission of any qualified planner from the panel ruffled the feathers of the profession in Scotland.

The remit of the review is broader than initially announced, focusing on 6 key issues:

  • development planning;
  • housing delivery;
  • planning for infrastructure;
  • further improvements to development management;
  • leadership, resourcing and skills; and
  • community engagement.

However, the suspicion remains that the primary purpose of the review is to ease the regulatory burden on volume house builders.

Leadership and Resources

Not listed first in the panel’s remit, but of crucial importance, is the question of leadership and resources.  If we are to get the best from our planning system, the Scottish Government needs to set out a vision for future development which is inspiring and empowering rather than simply sticking with the narrow and increasingly tired narrative on speedy and efficient delivery.

The challenges we face around delivering development are frequently attributed to deficiencies in the planning system, but to rely solely on that explanation is to take far too narrow a view.  Technical fixes alone will not provide a solution.  We need a broader revival of civic consciousness and public enterprise and that means culture change.

We have lost the civic vision which informed and inspired burgh development in previous generations and new development in our towns and cities is too often seen in narrow commercial terms.  Since the financial crisis in 2008, public policy has, understandably, been strongly focused on the delivery of development as a means of promoting economic recovery.  We should now be looking to move beyond that to a broader perspective on development and urban renewal, one which embraces not only its economic and commercial benefits, but also its importance in social and cultural terms.  Consensus can only be built if there is a vision people can buy into.  Scottish Ministers should be giving a lead by promoting a revival of civic consciousness.

There is widespread concern that cuts in public expenditure are reducing the capacity of local authorities to lead, innovate and initiate projects in the public realm and depriving planning authorities of the expertise they need to assess development proposals with implications for the historic or natural environment.  The planning service is asked to deliver on a wide range of public interest agendas.  It needs to be adequately resourced if we are to achieve our aspirations for new development in terms of scale, quality, social well-being and climate change targets.  An increase in planning fees could certainly make a contribution towards that.

Community Empowerment

There is abundant evidence of community spirit and a desire to be active in making our towns and cities more socially and environmentally rewarding places.  We see that in the demand for allotments, the proliferation of community festivals, markets and orchards, phenomena such as urban gardening, and the growing interest in community ownership of a wide range of public assets.  Some elected representatives see civic activism as a threat to their authority and officialdom finds it difficult to engage with it in a positive way.  Sometimes local authority responses to attempts to develop the potential of community assets can be very negative.  But I suspect that resource constraints and community expectations will drive things in a more enlightened and positive direction.   Planning authorities and their officials need to get better at working in partnership with communities to realise the economic, social and cultural potential of local assets.  Confidence will grow with experience.

It is high time we repudiated the outdated corporate model of community planning imposed by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 2003 and replaced it with one which is genuinely focused on communities and reflects the community empowerment agenda.  The efforts to improve links and communication between spatial and community planning are to be welcomed, but if we see the challenge solely in these terms we are in danger of simply making planners more complicit in a top-down and technocratic approach to community development which falls short of contemporary needs.

Housing Delivery

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Flats under construction in Edinburgh

The questions about housing delivery posed by the review reflect the perspective of volume housebuilders and appear to assume the continuation of a private-sector led model which has been failing to deliver since the crash of 2008.  That model cannot meet the social aspirations which animated public debate during and after the independence referendum.  The public sector should play a more active and assertive role in the delivery of strategically important development and place-making, as it does widely on the Continent.  It should be prepared to intervene in the land market to assemble the sites required and then provide the necessary supporting infrastructure, funding the process from the uplift in land values.

Underpinning the current review is the familiar neoliberal narrative of creative and dynamic private enterprise held back by the bureaucracy and inefficiency of the public sector. The economist Mariana Mazzucato has very effectively debunked that narrative in her book ‘The Entrepreneurial State’, and the Scottish Government has been enlightened enough to appoint her to its Council of Economic Advisers.  Let us hope the current review will lead to a reinvigorated planning system empowered to play an important role in building the constructive partnership between public and private sectors which is essential to a successful social democracy.

The Scottish Government is hosting an online forum on the review of the planning system.  The review panel is expected to submit its report to Scottish Ministers in March.


This article first appeared in Bella Caledonia on 30 November 2015.  I gave oral evidence to the panel undertaking the Review of the Scottish Planning System on 23 February 2016.

The Merchants of Milna

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Dalmatian Coast 104

The port of Milna on the island of Brac

From the 13th Century, the Dalmatian coast began to fall under the dominion of the Most Serene Republic of Venice.

In the little port of Milna on the island of Brac the people became concerned that prosperity was passing them by and, after much deliberation, they concluded that the cause lay in a deficiency of wisdom.  All agreed that the best wisdom was to be found in the great city of Venice, so they sent two of their merchants to the capital to buy some. After some searching, they found a wealthy merchant who traded in wisdom and they agreed a deal.  The merchant handed them the wisdom in a small box and warned them not to open it until they were safely back in Milna.

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The Venetian Republic and its Dalmatian colonies, 1560

The merchants of Milna expressed surprise that sufficient wisdom could be contained in such a small box, but the the Venetian merchant told them not to worry.  He instructed that on their return to Milna they should immediately assemble all the townspeople.  When they opened the box, they would find that there was more than enough wisdom for everyone.

On the way home, all went well until a violent storm forced them to seek shelter on the small island of Mrduja, just short of the safety of their home harbour. Crouched miserably over their little fire under the shelter of the trees they were overcome with curiosity and decided to open the box for a quick peek. Immediately. a little mouse leapt out and scurried off into the forest.  In the morning, the merchants continued their journey to Milna and reported what had happened.  On hearing the news, the townsfolk jumped into their boats and set off for Mrduja to search for their lost wisdom.