Friday, 10 July 2009

Speakeasy - Cost to the public purse?

The publication of the Speakeasy reports is already generating a significant amount of high quality comment from members and further to a committee meeting APT will be preparing a detailed response to the Summary Report.

However something stands out immediately:

1 How much does the use of a consultancy firm like this cost?

2 How much did it cost to produce the Summary Report found at:

and who is the intended audience for this Report? What was wrong with just a plain A4 sheet of paper. Surely in these recessionary times all effort should be made to conserve resources? Producing something like this takes time and money and it is, I assume, being paid for at consultancy rates whatever they may be? Is this best value?

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Speakeasy update

I have just picked up on this item which has been posted on the Council's Highland Wide Local Development Plan blog:

On the 23rd June 2009 a Delivery Forum at Eden Court in Inverness, was held to allow developers/landoners the opportunity to informally develop views on the delivery of the A96 Growth Corridor Framework; particularly with regard to short, medium and long term phasing.

Presentations were made by The Highland Council (Planning and Development Service) Transport Scotland and Scottish Water.

The presentations made, a briefing note about the day and a report of the proceedings are available to downlaod from;

If you link you get the following (plus other more 'historical' material on the A96 Corridor):

A96 Corridor Masterplan Latest

On the 23rd June 2009 a speakeasy was held to allow developers/landoners the opportunity to informally develop views on the delivery of the A96 Growth Corridor Framework; particularly with regard to short, medium and long term phasing. Presentations were made by The Highland Council (Planning and Development Service) Transport Scotland and Scottish Water. These presentations, a briefing note about the day and a report of the proceedings are available to download below:

Delivery Forum Briefing (pdf 32kb)
Report of Proceedings (pdf 4.7MB)
The Highland Council Presentation (pdf 2.4MB)
Transport Scotland Presentation (pdf 280kb)
Scottish Water Presentation (pdf 60kb)

"People are in denial about the new housing we need"

The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU) has claimed, ahead of their annual conference which takes place today at Central Hall, Westminster, that attitudes to new housing development need to change to tackle the national housing shortage.

NHPAU chair Professor Steve Nickell said: "Many people are simply in denial about the new housing we need. If we don’t provide enough new homes, more people will live in overcrowded conditions, more young people will be forced to continue living with their parents, and the aspirations of millions to live in the kind of homes they want, where they want, will be dashed."

"We cannot go on dodging the housing challenge. It is vital that regional and local planners give due weight to the obligations that the Government has placed on them to take account of affordability."

A report published today indicates more than half of homeowners would oppose more homes being built in their area compared to less than a third of non-homeowners.

The research, conducted by YouGov, also shows that nine out of ten 18-34-year olds who do not currently own their own home cannot afford to buy an average-priced first-time-buyer home.

[The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU) was established in response to the pressing issue of housing affordability highlighted by Kate Barker's Review of Housing Supply (2004).

It is a non-departmental public body, sponsored by Communities and Local Government, designated to provide independent advice on affordability matters to the Government, Regional Assemblies and other stakeholders with an interest in the housing market.
Further information can be found on the NHPAU website at]

'Brickonomics' - an interesting Blog find.

APTSec has just stumbled upon an interesting blog , drawn by this title,

How to save 150,000 construction jobs, earn the Treasury £16 billion and create 200,000 new homes

The post says in part:

"The outline idea is for the Government to fund, through an arms-length private market focused body, the development of 200,000 homes over two years and then to sell them again when the market price recovers, say in 2014.

To get a handle of the cost breakdowns I went to the presentations to analysts made by Bovis, Persimmon and Barratt. These together provided some detail on the typical cost elements of a new-build home. From this I estimated a rough cost model, which I checked against the sort of numbers provided in the Callcutt review.
I took the average selling price of a new home to be £180,000 up to the end of 2007. That is just below peak. I called the gross margin 20% (that is a pre-collapse margin) which put total costs at about £144,000.

The elements will vary place to place, product to product, but an average breakdown looks something like:

£39,000 - Land
£38,000 - Labour
£55,000 - Materials
£12,000 - Sales & Marketing and other costs

If the build rate is 100,000 a year that would require about 150,000 people engaged in the house building process. "

The link for the whole posting is

I will add to the list of some blogs visited.

Inverness College

APTSec is still intrigued by the Inverness Courier headline; "Question over UHI move to Beechwood" so I am still looking into the background. Meanwhile some basics from the College web site:

"Inverness College is the largest of the colleges in the Highlands and Islands, and the largest partner in the group of colleges and research institutions working together to form a university of the Highlands and Islands. Through the partnership we are making it easier for people to take part in quality further and higher education across the Highlands and Islands.

Inverness College opened its first campus in Inverness in 1960 and has grown significantly over the years. There are now 3 campuses in Inverness including a specialist School of Forestry; a Further Education Centre in Dingwall and a specialist aquaculture, fisheries management and research facility at Kishorn in Wester Ross. In Lochaber we work in partnership with Lochaber College to offer courses from their campus in Fort William.

Inverness College UHI Board of Management was established under the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992. Members serve on the Board on a voluntary basis without remuneration. Board membership includes external members drawn from the community, and internal members comprising the Principal, elected representatives from teaching and support staff and a student representative.

The Association of Scottish Colleges 2006 Guide for College Board Members Statement of Key Principles states, in part, that the role of the Board of Management is as follows:

Every College in Scotland should be headed by an effective Board of Management, which is unambiguously and collectively responsible for overseeing the College’s activities, determining its future direction and fostering an environment in which the College mission is achieved and the potential of all learners is maximised. The Board of Management must ensure compliance with the statutes, ordinances and provisions regulating the College and its framework of governance and, subject to these, take all final decisions on matters of fundamental concern to the College.

Inverness College UHI hosts 25% of all UHI students and over 30% of those students studying for a degree. We lead the degrees in Business & Management, Social Sciences, Electrical Engineering, Forestry & Conservation and the MSc in Infection Control. We are also subject network leaders for Business Studies, Building and Social, Cultural and Environmental Studies."

This information and more can be found on the Inverness College web site.

Countdown to Highland Development Plan

40 days and counting

"Planning Democracy"

Planning Democracy is an independent organisation made up of individuals including members of the public, councillors, planners and lawyers many of whom have a great deal of experience of planning issues from the perspective of the public.

Here is a little of what they had to say in response to the Government's proposed statements on 'Community Engagement' in Scottish Planning Policy.

We would ask for the removal of the sentence “Planning authorities and developers should ensure appropriate and proportionate steps are taken to engage with communities” We cannot see the need to state that proportionate steps are taken. This provides an unnecessary get out clause for those seeking to do the minimum required. It does not encourage best practice and adds to the general tone of a lack of conviction about the benefits of public engagement.

Instead an obvious vote of confidence for the public engagement process would be welcomed by our members. We would like to propose that the policy contains statements and language that strive to match the following suggested sentences:

Public engagement done well will lead to more robust decision making, greater confidence and trust in decision making, value for money and in the long term, improved efficiency of the planning process.

The consequences of good quality engagement can be far reaching, having many beneficial effects on our society.

The new reforms and regulations emphasise the need for enhanced community engagement. The minimum standards are outlined in the regulations and are expected to be exceeded.

Authorities and applicants carrying out consultation processes are required to use PAN 81 and the national standards of community engagement as a basis for their engagement processes.

Those carrying out community engagement should recognise the opportunities that a robust and meaningful process can offer to all involved.

Communities have a right to influence and shape the future of their areas.

A developer with a proposal that will affect a community is obliged to start a meaningful dialogue with that community. The dialogue should be ongoing throughout the lifetime of the proposal and should be an open, honest discussion allowing for changes and improvements to be made.

Authorities should seek to treat the requirements for consultation in their development plan process as an opportunity to develop positive and ongoing relationships with those in their area.

The document that these alterations are suggested for (Scottish Planning Policy SPP Consultative draft) can be found at the link below:

(paragraph 35, page 9)

It will be interesting to see just how these views are taken on board in the finished policy document, which will be the one that governs just how things are done.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Facts behind the 'UHI' headlines

APTSec was intrigued by the Inverness Courier headline; "Question over UHI move to Beechwood" and so tried to find out a little more about the background. Previous postings looked at what the adpoted local plan says.

The following information regarding the Inverness Campus is available on the HIE web site:


7 Major Investment Proposals

(1) Inverness Campus – acquisition of land at Beechwood East (IEH 2007/00547)
Douglas Yule introduced this paper which sought to acquire 215 acres of land at Beechwood East and to commission internal and external teams to design and implement a major new academic campus for Inverness. The proposed development on this site would provide a new campus for Inverness College, whose buildings were no longer fit for purpose, but would also provide opportunities for a very wide range of other projects and sub-projects which would enhance the international attraction of Inverness and the wider Highlands & Islands as a place to live in, work in, study in and visit. HIE had worked very closely with Highland Council, with UHI and with a wide range of other partners to develop thinking around this project for a long period of time and it was widely agreed that it brought the potential to contribute in a major way to the Government’s strategic purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth.

The first stage to allow the project to progress was to acquire the land at Beechwood which was currently in the ownership of the Scottish Government and used by the Crofters’ Commission as a stud farm. Recognising that this was a project with huge significance for the future of the area and stressing the need for the completed facilities to be truly world-class, the Board approved the proposal to move to purchase the land. In total, approval was given for up to £4.8million on the basis that this amount would cover the costs of land purchase, of putting consultant appointments in place, of enhancing the internal staff team and of marketing and communications. It was expected that £3.9million would be incurred during the financial year 2008/09.


4 Beechwood Farm – Inverness Campus

This paper provided an update on the progress of the Inverness Campus master plan project at Beechwood Farm, Inverness and was seeking approval of £365,000 for further professional advice and consultancy support whilst the project navigates the formal planning process with the Highland Council. Approval to proceed with the acquisition of land and initial design and development costs was granted by the HIE Board in May 2008 for the sum of £4.8m which is now spent or committed. The resulting outline planning application was submitted to the Highland Council on 3rd April 2009. Title of approx. 220 acres of land at Beechwood Farm transferred to HIE on 11th April 2009.

The interim services to take the project to completion of the planning process will be procured largely through the existing HIE Property Framework process. Management
Team agreed to recommend to the HIE Board approval of £365,000 for further professional advice and consultancy support.


Inverness Campus Project – Beechwood Farm, assistance for planning application (IMF 2009/00250)

Douglas Yule introduced this item with a brief summary of the history so far of HIE’s involvement with the Inverness Campus project. He confirmed that HIE had recently submitted a very significant and extensive planning application and explained that an additional sum of £365,000 was now required from HIE to cover the costs of providing further professional advice and consultancy support while the project navigated its way through the formal planning process. The meeting was then opened to questions and a specific question was asked about the commitment of Inverness College to the Campus project.

Staff outlined the position of Inverness College and confirmed that the expectation was that the College Board would make a final decision on whether to relocate to Beechwood or re-develop on its Longman site on 7 September 2009. Recognising the need to maintain momentum with this project by moving it through the initial planning stages, it was agreed to approve additional HIE funds of £365,000 during the current financial year to service the outline planning application.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

A city in the Highlands?

A significant proportion of the world’s population now live in cities; cities are 'long term' places, they are centres for economic activity and they compete with each other, both nationally and internationally.

One of the main elements in the long term plans (up to 2030) in the recently published National Planning Framework (NPF) for Scotland is to support the development of Scotland’s cities as key drivers of the economy. But the success of Scotland's cities will depend on many factors and many of these are recognised in the text of the NPF itself. Factors such as:

  • Good air links, the presence of centres of academic excellence, well-developed social and cultural facilities and efficient public transport systems.

  • Strong regions well connected to urban facilities, with cities being the hub of wider regional economies and,

  • Development patterns which must be robust in relation to long-term climate change, taking account, for example, of changing levels of flood risk and vulnerability to the predicted increase in the frequency of extreme weather, with the promotion of high density, compact cities being one important response to the challenge of climate change.

The city region approach recognises that our cities are the hubs of wider regional economies and that the complementary assets of their surrounding towns and rural areas offer opportunities for a wide range of economic, cultural and recreational activities.

The NPF also recognises that Edinburgh and Glasgow are vital to Scotland's economic wellbeing and that there is increasing collaboration between these cities. The combined award of some £64 million pounds to these two cities from the cities growth fund (over two thirds of the total allocation) signifies the government’s financial commitment to this statement. Inverness received an award of £3.1 million pounds (in proportion to its population).

In the book City of Quarters: Urban Villages in the Contemporary City by D Bell and M Jayne, the authors talk of an era of intensified competition between cities in the US. Reasons for this heightened competition are stated as being: decline in transfer of money from federal to municipal governments - hence necessitating more self generated revenue; a shift in local government towards being more actively entrepreneurial in its action; a move from local government to local governance – a shift to quasi public, private or not-for-profit sectors, with BIDS and quasi-public local development corporations emerging. Some may see resonances between the statements made in Bell and Jayne’s book and the situation here in Highland.

If we are not careful the aspiration for a successful Highlands and Islands will not be fulfilled; we should ask ourselves:

Will Inverness be able to compete with the other major British Cities, let alone International cities?

Is competition between cities and regions for valuable transport investment is intensifying?

Will the Highlands and Islands have enough funds to improve internal connectivity let alone to build the vital national and international links?

Apart from Inverness, how will all the other places in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise area (Argyll and the Islands, Orkney, Shetland, Eilean Siar, the Highlands itself and Moray) fair? In terms of competive advantage and EU Regional policy; will there be a shift in thinking away from a general focus on poorly performing peripheries to one where investments are focused in cities themselves?

How do you resolve the tensions between where urbanization enhances productivity, (those countries with a higher proportion of their population in urban areas generally have a higher GDP per capita) and the need to maintain the prosperity and unique identity in the other smaller towns and rural areas across the whole region? (Where as stated above, the success of the city is dependent upon the success of the other areas.)

Is enough being done to promote the city of Inverness as it is currently comprised as a vibrant place to live and work?

Is the city itself strong enough economically to sustain and withstand the construction of other new settlements in such close proximity to it?

Are there too many factors on which success depends which have as yet to achieve a definite committment to funding?

Surely all these things, and more, will need to be considered as part of the Higland wide plan process!

Lack of rural housing a concern to Senior Lecturer

In a news item entitled; "Housing in the Highlands: what’s the problem?" available on the University of Stirling web pages the following comments were presented:

With six families for every house available to let in the Highlands and Islands, the amount and quality of rural housing is a cause for concern

Dr Madhu Satsangi, a senior lecturer in housing studies at the University of Stirling, has studied the issue of housing provision in rural Scotland for over a decade, and says the number of people waiting for each suitable let can rise to ten in parts of the country such as Sutherland, Skye and Lochalsh where, in some settlements, up to 80 per cent of the houses are second homes. In many other parts of the country, the number of people waiting is more typically three.

“The problem is fundamentally one of supply,” explains Dr Satsangi. “Historically, we haven’t built sufficient housing to meet the demand in the social sector. One reason for this is the shortage of land available – much of which is held in the private sector and owned by large estates.

“But another reason is the prevailing attitude towards the Highlands and what they should be used for. Is it, as some believe, purely for recreation? Should we be preserving quaint little villages for the enjoyment of tourists and guarding against new properties being built at their margins to meet the needs of local communities?

“While there has been no rigorous analysis of the situation, the common view is that tight spatial planning strategies have constrained growth. Despite the good intentions of many, the big push has been to encourage growth in the larger cities instead – which means that community members migrate away from the rural Highlands. I call it the Modern Day Clearances.”

He warns the situation may get worse: “In some parts of the Highlands, businesses find it difficult to recruit staff, because the people they need can’t afford to live in the area.

“So there is a very real possibility that those tourists who move in and out of the Highland areas in pursuit of the recreational facilities which some have been at great pains to protect, will find when they arrive that there are few available services and facilities, because the people needed to support that service infrastructure no longer live in the Highlands and Islands.”

The issue was the subject of a University of Stirling lecture ‘Rural Housing in the Highlands and Islands’, and was delivered at the Centre for Health Science in Inverness on Thursday 26 March at 4pm. The talk was open to all and admission was free.