Obituary: Frank Tindall

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The Independent Online
IT WAS said of Frank Tindall that he tended the beautiful county of East Lothian as if it were a garden - albeit he was a somewhat ferocious head gardener who was in no doubt as to what was good for the plants in his charge. For 35 years he was East Lothian's planning dynamo, from 1950 to 1975 for East Lothian County and from 1975 to 1985 for Lothian Region. The late Professor John Mackintosh MP placed him as one of the great Scots of his generation in pioneering forms of urban renewal and countryside management.

Tindall came of a family of civil engineers and builders. After Uppingham he read History at Clare College, Cambridge, taking as his special subject the years 1293-1301, the period that saw the growth of towns at the expense of the feudal system, and when the Second World War came he went straight into the Army.

He enlisted in the Rifle Brigade as a private, was sent to the Eighth Army, and commissioned into the Sudan Defence Force. Their military function was to provide cover and supply lines in south Cyrenaica, Libya, and in particular to provide supply points for the circumventing surprise attack on Benghazi. Tindall served in the Eighth Army from the Egyptian border, across North Africa, and up to the spine of Italy.

He was notably reticent about his military exploits, but his defining moment came in the freezing winter of 1945 when he was Major in charge at Klagenfurt. Wood was desperately needed to keep the population and the soldiers warm. He gave orders for trees to be felled. Within hours, an Austrian presented himself: "Sir, I am a forestry commissioner of the oldest forestry authority in Europe, that of the Habsburgs. Please do not cut those young trees; they are not sufficiently mature. I shall show you better, mature trees 20 kilometres away, which you should cut." He did. Tindall was converted both to forestry management and planning. Years later he was to be a founding father of Central Scotland Woodlands, now a hugely successful environmentally conscious organisation, and of the Scottish Countryside Commission.

Having gained a diploma with distinction from the School of Planning in London he worked for two years with Berthold Lubetkin, on the social and economic aspects of the master plan for the new town of Peterlee in County Durham. There was a row and he resigned with Lubetkin and the rest of the master-plan team.

He had the good fortune then to work with Sir William Holford, Professor Gordon Stephenson and Sir Colin Buchanan, with whom he shared a room at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. They were mainly concerned with the updating of The Manual for the Redevelopment of Town Centres, originally written in 1946 by Mary Miller, his wife-to-be, and with approving, after much modification, plans for rebuilding bombed city centres. (Mary Miller's first impression of Major Tindall was of his wearing a waistcoat and carrying an umbrella which she considered most unsuitable for a student; his of her was of the first girl he had seen wearing the "New Look" - a long brown suit acquired in Canada while in Britain clothes were still rationed.)

On the advice of Sir Frank Mears, the son-in-law of Sir Patrick Geddes who was their consultant, the East Lothian councillors appointed Tindall in 1950 as their director of planning. There were then only 18 qualified town planners working in Scotland; now there are 1,800.

The only concern that the East Lothian selection committee expressed over his appointment was how long the young graduate bachelor would stay. Tindall, who had a wry sense of humour, said that he would stay long enough to make it "worthwhile for us both".

In the 1950s there were three large collieries in East Lothian, two on the coast at Prestongrange, employing 694 miners, and Preston Links, where Cockenzie power station now stands, employing 836 miners, and one on the Fleets, south of Tranent, employing 595 miners, where the Inveresk research station was built. Tindall persuaded the National Coal Board to landscape this area, and demonstrated how the old scarred areas of the Scottish coalfield could be restored into good, beautiful countryside.

When he moved into East Lothian memory was still fresh of the catastrophic flood of 1948 when the River Tyne lapped at the doorstep of the Town House in Haddington. The survey report examined the river, its history of flooding and the sources of its pollution. In the 1950s most settlements and industries discharged through grossly overloaded septic tanks into the Tyne or its tributaries. By constant persuasion of the personnel of the Lothian Purification Board, Tindall transformed the situation. The Tyne now supports good fish and bird life with salmon and kingfishers as far upstream as Pencaitland.

With difficulty Tindall persuaded the water authorities to lengthen their marker boards to measure the optimum flood flows as well as the minimum flows which were their main concern. This innovation was to be of particular interest after the flooding in 1956. Tindall mapped the extent of the flood plain along the Tyne and then made it possible for any county planning committee to refuse consent for new buildings on it and also recommended that floor levels of restored or extended buildings should be one foot above the 1956 flood level.

Tindall's greatest legacy was perhaps in the many young planners and architects who came under his influence and went out to other authorities with the ideas they had learnt from him. George MacNeill, now Director of Planning for West Lothian, describes him as "inspirational".

After Tindall's retirement he threw himself into the work of the National Trust for Scotland and the Lothians Historic Buildings Trust. His autobiography will, I hope, be published. It tells of the pioneering days when there was more construction than there has ever been before or since, and, with the disasters of the 1930s still in mind, great public support for the concept of planning. "It was a time," Tindall writes, "when one could stretch the limits of planning to cover all aspects of the environment . . . embracing Folk - Work - Place": in the tradition of his hero Sir Patrick Geddes.

Tam Dalyell

Frank Purser Tindall, planner: born Englefield Green, Surrey 21 January 1919; Planning Officer, East Lothian County Council 1950-75; OBE 1969; Director of Physical Planning, Lothian Regional Council, 1975-85; married 1951 Mary Miller (two sons, one daughter); died Inverness 11 March 1998.