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Quality and/or Authenticity?

CairnoMohrMost of us have come to expect certain standards these days. Unfortunately, common denominators often produce bland outcomes. This applies in all walks of life, but for now I’m interested in roadside catering and visitor attractions.

The Carse of Gowrie lies between Perth and Dundee on an alluvial plain by the River Tay. It’s an area famed for soft fruits and largely responsible for one of Dundee’s famous “J’s” – jute, jam and journalism. The polytunnels are everywhere, ensuring Scottish raspberries are available in supermarkets even in late September. On a fact finding tour around the Carse last week, I made my first visit to two well known local attractions.

The first is The Horn roadside cafe off the A90. It’s impossible to miss – a building with a rounded front, in a sea of caravans, with a dairy cow perched on the roof. This is no chain-owned motorway service stop! The decor is dated, the layout is cramped and you won’t find games arcades, burger chains or a 24 pump filling station. However, the gargantuan bacon rolls are legendary for their ability to satisfy the most demanding trucker, whilst maintaining Scotland’s proud position as world leaders in heart disease. They also sell traditional cakes which look more like the pies the Dundonians are famous for.

A few miles down the Carse lies the Cairn O’Mohr Winery (try saying it out loud). There are a number of Scottish wineries, but this one is unique. If Ben & Jerry’s had set up shop in Christiania instead of Vermont, their visitor centre might have looked something like this. Surrounded by giant heads carved with chainsaws from whole tree trunks, this Easter Island of the north uses reverse psychology and guerrilla marketing to sell drinkable wine made from those same local soft fruits. When you buy a bottle, it comes with a free slice of Cairn O’Mohr attitude.

Neither establishment conforms with the modern formula but that’s exactly why they should be treasured. They are Carse institutions. If you visit them with an open mind and take the rough with the smooth, maybe you’ll agree. Otherwise, enjoy your Starbucks coffee, wherever you are………

Richard Heggie

Can Councillors Give Us A Fairy Tale Ending?

FairyTaleWe’ve been working with TPS Planning and Brodies, helping Scottish Councillors come to terms with Local Review Bodies. It’s a town planning fairy tale – everything looks Grimm at first but our ugly ducklings ultimately emerge as swans, gliding gracefully through a murky pond of development plans and material considerations. If LRB don’t work, it won’t be down to lack of effort from our finest local representatives, who generally seem willing to meet this new challenge head on.

Change is at the heart of planning and urban design – but we need to see the issues of the day in the wider context and offer flexible solutions. We also need to realise some concepts are no longer valid. Zoning policy in the 1960s removed ‘bad neighbour‘ industrial uses from residential areas. Do we really think 21st Century office jobs are incompatible with homes? Are we building real communities or
Levittowns?

We’re encouraging Councillors to see the Local Development Plan as an embodiment of their vision and an instrument for change. They seem to like that idea. Many of them have a surprising appreciation of the benefits of ‘urbanism‘ over ‘suburbanism’. Some are exploring place making in conjunction with the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, enabled by the Scottish Government. Planning departments may need to modernise their outlook, or our newly empowered Councillors could find themselves ahead of the game.

Ultimately, we might well end up back where we started, with homes next to jobs and services, walkable neighbourhoods and compact towns and villages. A happy ending?

Richard Heggie