Sandy Bannerman: An appreciation

ALEXANDER (Sandy) Bannerman, who has died at the age of 94, was one of the leading architect planners in the internationally respected British New Town movement.

Like many post-war planning professionals, he drew his inspiration from the challenges offered by the movement in response to the ravages of the war and its devastating effects on the urban environment and the rebuilding of an impoverished nation.

He fervently believed in social justice and a mixed economy with a highly robust private sector to drive up living standards; in everything he undertook, he demonstrated a deep sense and understanding of social and environmental considerations. He was able to rise above the noise of bureaucratic debate and visualise the inherent potential in any given circumstance.

In the 1960s Sandy led the planning, design, and implementation of Craigavon New City, which was created in County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

He placed great emphasis on landscape architecture in building an environmental and landscape framework that integrated a major urban development and transport system into a rural setting of small fields and hedgerows and two pre-existing towns.

His visionary leadership and example gave inspiration to urban planning and development throughout Northern Ireland, including Belfast’s highly successful transformation from a war zone – a damaged, socially divided and visually degraded city – into the confident exemplar it is today, one of outstanding urban renewal, and an enterprise resulting in great beauty.

Bannerman was born in Aberdeen in 1927 and was a warm-hearted and kind, yet reserved and circumspect professional, who never sought the limelight but went into full flight with great enthusiasm on the advent of a good idea, whether of his own making or that of others.

As a genuinely inspired architect planner, he enlivened the design atmosphere around him and engendered full confidence in members of his team.

He studied at the School Of Architecture at Gray’s School Of Art in Aberdeen, then studied Town Planning at the Glasgow School Of Art. In 1955 he was awarded the Hunter Bursary to study housing and town planning.

He gained first-hand experience in New Town development with posts in, successively, Harlow in Essex, East Kilbride, and Cumbernauld, before starting work in Glasgow in 1961.

As leader of the design group for Glasgow’s Comprehensive Planning And Development Programme, he was responsible for setting the design briefs for areas selected for comprehensive redevelopment.

He was a star performer in raising the sights of his peers, whether colleagues, councillors, the public or his bosses. He was known and respected for his firm logic and visionary ideas.

In joining his team as Glasgow’s first landscape architect, in January 1962, Sandy asked me to carry out a comprehensive survey of private and public open space in the city. His brief was to provide an understanding of what would become Glasgow’s first official inventory of open space. It was recorded on “ticker tape” then subsequently, years later, computerised.

This task included a preliminary assessment of the facilities and state of each park, and to propose ways of interconnecting parks and recreational open space as a central theme in the city’s regeneration.

Sandy agreed to me taking on six summer-break geography students to join the Landscape Section to assist me to undertake the field work and data recording. He became hugely excited and enormously supportive of the project.

On leaving Glasgow, he was appointed as chief architect planner to lead the planning and design team of the New City of Craigavon. I was appointed chief landscape architect for the Craigavon Development Commission, in June 1966, re-joining Sandy and other former members of the Glasgow Design Group team following four years in the US.

While never formally a landscape architect, Sandy was one of the profession’s most informed and ardent supporters. He gave unprecedented priority to landscape issues and supported Craigavon’s landscape structure and recreational network.

The latter included the innovative Tannaghmore Botanic Garden, Oxford Island Nature Reserve, the Kinnego Marina on Lough Neagh, the Seago 18--hole golf course and the formation of Craigavon’s celebrated central park and lakes.

The landscape architecture profession owes Sandy a major debt of gratitude for having done so much to develop landscape architecture in Ireland. It is worth highlighting that since 1966 some 75 professionals have either qualified or have been trained while working in one of Craigavon’s Landscape Division’s four teams.

After retiring from government service he joined WJ Cairns & Partners as director NI, initially to oversee the satellite development of Poleglass, a new township near Lisburn, Greater Belfast.

He later joined Glenrothes New Town to oversee the continuity of planning, design, and development services when the Corporation’s functions were absorbed by Fife Regional Council.

Sandy and his first wife, Elizabeth, who sadly died in 1957, had two daughters, Claire and Anne. He subsequently married Maureen, with whom they had a son, John. Maureen pre-deceased him on 1 October, 2017.

He is survived by Claire, Anne and John, and their six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.