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A changing landscape

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Derek Lovejoy Partnership is building on its heritage in Scotland while moving with the times to have a positive influence on the planning process

The reserved Georgian exterior of Derek Lovejoy Partnership's (DLP) Scottish headquarters in Edinburgh gives little impression of the lively and colourful office within. Bright colours and contemporary furnishings seem a suitable context for the buzz of activity which characterises the operation. As far as DLP's work is concerned, it is apparent from the breadth and the rigour of its approach that preconceived notions of landscape architects as glorified gardeners are not only naive but far short of the mark.

The Derek Lovejoy Partnership draws together the disciplines of land planning and landscape architecture. Urban design is also a significant part of the practice's remit. Although its current team is proud of the practice's major successes in past decades, it is quite clear that, in response to demands from the planning system, DLP's present approach has a new emphasis. The lead directors in the Edinburgh team, James Welch and Tim McCann, acknowledge that the practice's present thrust builds upon its history but that the remit has expanded and changed with the times.

In the recent past the notion of sustainability has been a growing preoccupation within the design community, almost to the point of the term becoming hackneyed. However, the environmental issues, which are addressed under the banner of sustainability, are fundamental in contemporary land planning and design. In the urban context, well-designed environments, which people enjoy and embrace as their own, act as a catalyst for regeneration.

In economic terms DLP's assessments may have a huge influence on the value of land. This is an obvious incentive to developers to employ its expertise. However, more fundamental gains are in social amenity and environmental factors, which are much more difficult to quantify. The late Sir Robert Grieve, one-time chief planner for Scotland, notably described these issues as being subject to the 'transcendental cost- benefit analysis'. Undoubtedly, much of DLP's recent success has resulted from an ability to identify these issues, define them and, on occasion at least, to come close to quantifying the unquantifiable.

Positively influencing the planning process is a day-to-day preoccupation with DLP. A keen awareness of how the planning system works helps.

Ensuring that new development provides an appropriate balance of gain for the community with financial benefits for the client is a substantial aspect of the added value which DLP brings to the multidisciplinary teams within which the practice frequently operates.

Changes in the Scottish scene in recent years, particularly the advent of the Scottish Parliament, have brought new thinking in planning policy. The notion that Green Belt land is sacrosanct is increasingly being questioned in favour of a much more pragmatic attitude which considers the overall balance of open and built landscape.

The Scottish Executive's recently issued draft NPPG 1 emphasises the role of such an approach and of high-quality design. The policy headings outlined in this document, which should, in due course, be enshrined in legislation, stress the importance of land planning in supporting 'regeneration and social justice'. The draft also views this planning process as instrumental towards the maintenance of 'the quality of the natural heritage and built environment'.

Welch comments: 'We would like to see the recent Architectural Policy for Scotland develop into a more embracing spatial policy which addresses the environment in a more holistic manner. ' DLP's endeavours, particularly in Edinburgh and Lothian, provide practical demonstration of the efficacy of these arguments.

Given the awareness on the part of some members of the Scottish Parliament, of a number of notable DLP schemes, it may not be wishful thinking that the practice's work has influenced the evolution of this new enlightenment.

As DLP's wider UK experience has demonstrated, in, for example, its review of De Montfort University's property holdings in Leicester and Lincoln, the practice's masterplanning role can help in identifying opportunities not previously perceived.

In the De Montfort case DLP's work helped to define and secure the university's strategic ambitions, within the framework of local planning policies, in ways which will realise important environmental benefits for Leicester and Lincoln. In Scotland the practice is currently involved in a long-term vision for Dunblane which acknowledges that the real duration of the process of change is measured in decades rather than in the short to medium term, as has been the case too often in the past.

Much of Derek Lovejoy Partnership's work comes through referrals from architects. McCann describes these approaches as 'initially tentative but invariably enthusiastic after the event'. This enthusiasm is confirmed by the volume of repeat work that comes through architects. On occasion, of course, the partnership is in the position of returning the favour, introducing architectural practices to new clients with whom DLP has an established relationship.

Such mutually beneficial working relationships reflect the different emphasis of the separate disciplines within the team. Welch believes that while architects are, rightly, preoccupied with 'the object' and concerned with its immediate relationships with the other buildings around, DLP brings significant experience of working in much wider contexts. As McCann comments: 'The issues are always much bigger than the site. '

The office's projects range from corporate headquarters, such as Scottish Equitable's at the Gyle in Edinburgh, to projects where highly developed computer visualisation techniques have been deployed to project the environmental impact of new development at the planning stage.

At Coryton in Essex, accurate computer visualisation assisted in early approval of a substantial, Combined Cycle Gas Turbine power station for Edinburgh-based Inter Gen (UK). Similar skills have been deployed with success in Inverness, where the company has recently helped Royal & Sun Alliance realise its approval for the Eastgate Shopping Centre.

Well-designed, sustainable landscapes, in both urban and rural contexts, have a profound effect on the wellbeing of communities. In addition to the recognised economic boost brought by such endeavours, their influence on social amenity and as a catalyst for further change can be immense.

The involvement of Derek Lovejoy Partnership's Scottish office in key projects has increased steadily in recent years. There is no doubt that the practice's work assists both public-sector organisations and major developers in the careful process of releasing the potential in Scotland's landscapes.

Urquhart Castle

The immense popularity of Urquhart Castle arises not only from the ancient history of the site but also from its location on a promontory on the shores of Loch Ness. The joint attractions of the ruins (most of which date from the sixteenth century) and the ever-elusive Nessie draw more than 250,000 visitors each year.

Access to the site, which is in the care of Scottish ministers and managed by Historic Scotland, has presented problems for a number of years. The turn-off from the winding lochside road has frequently been a focus of long traffic queues, and numerous visitors have been thwarted by the fact that the 39 car and four coach spaces currently available are often full. As a result, many eager tourists are turned away.

To overcome these problems, Historic Scotland decided to increase parking provision and to provide a visitor centre for the site. The scope of the project and potential impact on the surrounding region brought both interest and objections, leading to a public inquiry. To address the objectors' criticisms, DLP carried out a landscape and visual assessment, preparing computer visualisations and assessing growth patterns for the proposed new planting on the site.

Landscape proposals ensured that the new parking facilities and building would not disrupt the historic authenticity of views from existing viewing locations. Montages of five, 10 and 15 year planting growth demonstrated how well the new facilities would settle into their surroundings.

Overall DLP's work demonstrated that the proposals would improve safety, security and amenity for visitors while minimising disruption of visual amenity for local people and visitors. At public inquiry. DLP's evidence proved decisive. Works are currently under way, scheduled for completion by August 2001.

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

DLP has been involved in the evolution of the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary since 1996, when the site was being selected.

The sensitivity of the Green Belt location and the proximity of historic Craigmillar Castle required a substantial environmental assessment process to ensure that what will be Edinburgh's largest building, sits comfortably in relation to the existing community, without disrupting views of the landscape and Castle beyond.

At the conclusion of a lengthy and detailed appraisal and close liaison with the planning authority, full planning permission was awarded to what is currently the only major greenfield land release in Edinburgh. This is also the first element in the development of the south east wedge of the city.

Within the perimeters of the new hospital itself, DLP has designed 18 courtyard spaces to add to the healing atmosphere which will be created within this major new facility. Roads, parking and perimeter landscaping have also been designed to further enhance the visual amenity as well as optimising access.

Bonnyrigg Wilcon Homes (Scotland) invited DLP to work with planning consultant Montagu Evans to review the Draft Midlothian Local Plan as this affected the town of Bonnyrigg. Among the key arguments in favour of amending it was that appropriate expansion of the town boundary, with high-quality residential development, would enhance the local economy.

A further benefit of the development would be the balance of the Bonnyrigg relief road, providing access to the 1,000 new homes which will be created during the next two decades and removing congestion from the town centre.

Containing the proposed expansion within the encircling relief road and determining the detailed expansion plan within existing natural constraints produced a strong case in terms of creating defensible boundaries for the community. The landscape and environmental strategy will also ensure a high level of amenity for the new neighbourhoods, particularly where former mining spoil is to be reclaimed as open space along the burn.

By marshalling these arguments, DLPwas able to present a strong case to officials and councillors for expanding the town by about 15 per cent. The coherence of the masterplan was persuasive and ultimately resulted in an area of more than 40ha being allocated for housing within the finalised Midlothian Local Plan.

Glasgow New Neighbourhoods Study

The Glasgow diaspora, which reduced the city's massive overcrowding in the years after World War II, and the subsequent loss of much of its heavy industry, have left a city depleted of people with large tracts of brownfield land. The New Neighbourhoods Study, undertaken for the Glasgow Development Agency by DLP in conjunction with the architects Cooper Cromar and Hypostyle, reviewed four substantial project areas within historically deprived suburbs. The aim was to identify opportunities for the creation of sustainable neighbourhoods and to stem Glasgow's population drift.

Development potential within the four areas - Castlemilk, Drumchapel, Garthamlock and Ruchill/Keppoch - was appraised. Where the areas abutted the Green Belt boundary, the study also assessed opportunities for greenfield release to help consolidate these communities.

Plans for future development of the neighbourhoods identified the capacity within each area to accommodate large-scale new development while optimising amenity. As advisory documents they are intended to inform the debate and assist in stemming the outflow of earning population from Glasgow through provision of a better choice of housing for second-time buyers.

City Inn, Glasgow

The creation of a small hotel on a riverside site in central Glasgow provided DLPwith a challenge. Within a modest budget, it had to improve pedestrian access, provide car parking and enhance the river frontage itself. A number of low-cost measures were undertaken to enhance the visual impact of Keppie Design's elegantly detailed new building.

Cost-effective design measures included polished concrete steps at the entrance contrasting strongly with the black pavement surface. Existing mooring bollards along the river edge were painted black at their footing and metallic silver above, and the railings surrounding the neighbouring landmark crane were also repainted.

In the car park area west of the hotel, the existing stone setts of the former quayside were lifted and relaid and, in addition to paviors on the river front, wooden decking was provided in the area fronting the large dining room. This deck creates a whole new experience for the relatively few days in the year when the Glasgow weather permits outdoor dining. Provision has also been made in this decked area for a future tensile structure which will further enhance the hotel's amenity and popularity.

Overgate Centre, Dundee

DLP was engaged by developer Lend Lease Projects to ensure that Dundee's major new shopping centre would be perceived as enhancing the changing landscape of Scotland's fourth largest city. The client was particularly concerned that the external spaces around the new building responded to the history, environment and life of its location. As one side of the building faces Churches Precinct, an acknowledged area of historic importance, care was taken in ensuring that appropriate forms and materials were adopted. At the rear of the building, two pocket parks were created, disparate in form, one including parking. A varied palette of polished concrete walls, pleached trees and subtle, contemporary lighting enlivens what might have been neglected as the 'back' of the building.

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