Council’s planning boss retires after 20 years
YOU may not recognise his name or his face but, if you live or work in Paisley, you can be sure that Crawford Russell has had an impact on your life.
Crawford has been the head of planning at Renfrewshire Council for the last 13 years and was a senior official with the local authority for a further seven years prior to that.
And, in those 20 years, he has been involved in some of the major planning decisions made by Renfrewshire Council.
The pedestrianisation of Paisley’s High Street, the introduction of an expensive programme of public art in the town centre and the re furbishment of Anchor Mills have all made the headlines over the years – and not all of them have made good reading.
Now 63-year-old Crawford has removed himself from the firing line and is looking forward to enjoying retirement.
But, before he left, he sat down with the Paisley Daily Express to talk about the impact that planning decisions have had on the town during his tenure.
Crawford began his career with Renfrew County Council as a trainee planner in 1963 and then became a planning assistant in 1968.
In 1972, he left to join Lanark County Council as a senior planning officer and worked his way through the ranks, eventually becoming chief planning officer for Hamilton District Council from 1979 to 1989.
He then returned to Renfrew District Council as senior depute director of planning and development and became head of planning in 1996.
“In 1963, when I first worked in Paisley, there were about eight or nine members of staff in the department,” said Crawford. “Now there are 53.”
Crawford grew up in the Thornly Park area of Paisley and was educated at the John Neilston Institution.
He believes his Paisley background gave him a greater understanding of the town’s needs and challenges.
Crawford said: “There have been major changes to the town of Paisley which have been quite significant, partly for the good and partly because of external situations.
“Pedestrianisation and enhancement of the town centre was a major project, with £10 to £12million worth of public investment on environmental improvements.
“The other side of the coin is that there has been competition from external shopping centres.
“Shopping habits have changed as more people are shopping online and going to out-of-town shopping centres.”
The project to pedestrianise the town centre began in 1994 and had a significant impact.
Some Buddies argue that the move has killed off the High Street, while others claim it has made it a more pleasant place to shop.
Crawford, unsurprisingly, falls into the latter camp.
“I personally think the pedestrianisation of Paisley has been a major benefit,” he said. “I think people forget too quickly how bad it was.
“There were large trucks and lorries going down the High Street and there were all the exhaust fumes. It cut Paisley town centre in two.
“Pedestrianisation was a very important thing and we won an honour in the Civic Trust UK Urban Design Awards for it.”
Crawford is also proud of the redevelopment of Paisley’s historic mills.
He said: “When I came back to Renfrew District Council in 1989 as a senior planner, I was given very clear instructions to save the Anchor Mills at all costs.
“The council spearheaded the work which has now resulted in the redevelopment of Anchor Mills and the Hammills.
“I’m very proud of the result at Anchor Mills. It embraces the industrial heritage of Paisley and symbolises the resurrection of Paisley’s importance.
“The Mile End Mill at Seedhill is now an office and residential development.”
Crawford, who now lives with his wife Susan in Hamilton, also believes that out-of-town shopping centres such as Braehead and Silverburn have had a huge impact on Paisley’s retail scene.
He said: “Both Renfrew District Council and Glasgow District Council were strongly against the plans for Braehead when they were first mooted back in the 1980s.
“Strathclyde Regional Council, as it was at the time, also opposed the plans and the matter was referred to the Scottish Office.
“The Reporter to the Scottish Office granted approval for the plans after a long public enquiry. It was the Secretary of State for Scotland who approved the Braehead plans. The thinking was that it would help regenerate the southern bank of the Clyde, which it has done, but there have been consequences for Paisley.
“We objected to the plans for Silverburn as well but that development was also approved.”
However, Crawford does admit that some mistakes have been made during his time in the hot seat.
He said: “The public art which was introduced in the town centre wasn’t a success.
“We were being supported with funding from the Scottish Arts Council, who gave us the biggest grant and steered us in a certain direction.
“The Rain Tower in County Square was never popular with the people of Paisley and it was removed.
“If we had to do it again, we would do it from the grassroots up instead of the arts body deciding. We would want the people of Paisley to decide.”
As for Paisley’s current state, Crawford admits the town is suffering badly as a result of the recession.
He said: “Planners can’t directly build shops or bring companies into Paisley. What we can do is build an environment and the context where retail can thrive.
“All other towns in Scotland are suffering as a result of the recession, it’s not just Paisley.
“We’ve been affected by national chains closing their shops. The problem has been a lack of people lining up to redevelop those sites.”