Saturday, 18 July 2009

£3.265 million facelift for the A96

Transport Scotland web site reported recently:

"Local communities along the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness will benefit from a £3.265 million road improvement package due to get underway this summer.

The programme kicks off later this month with works between Cowfords and Marchfield. Further upgrade schemes will also be carried out between the Huntly Roundabout north and Westerton Farm, and between Wittet Drive, Elgin and Oakwood, which are planned for late summer and early autumn.

The initial phase will see the much needed reconstruction and resurfacing of almost one mile of carriageway between Cowfords and Marchfield. This part of the programme, worth £964,000, is set to start on Monday 22nd of June for four weeks.

Local communities will benefit from the extension and resurfacing of the footpath and cycleway which runs alongside this section of road. Bear Scotland, who is supervising the programme on Transport Scotland’s behalf, will also use this opportunity to carry out drainage works."

The A96 Delnies (Nairn) Improvement Scheme Project is, according to the Transport Scotland web pages, 'currently at the proposal stage.'

Home builders Federation reports "Upturn in Housing Market"

The BBC reported Steve Turner, spokesman for the HBF, as saying,

"It's been a very difficult year, but what we are starting to see is a consistent set of modest but positive results now in terms of visitor levels, in terms of reservations."

"I think for the first time in a number of months the industry is starting to feel more positive."


"BBC correspondent Keith Doyle said experts were warning that the industry was still fragile because although new home sales had increased, they were at an extremely low level last year."

Flooding on the A96 after the heavy rain

The BBC news had reported that the A96 road between the Balloch turnoff and Tornagrain was closed because of flooding caused by heavy rain.

Anyone interested in looking at the SEPA flood maps for the area can find them at:

Inverness Streetscape - 'a little bit of history'

A short walk down memory lane (text in brown below taken from a report - by the City Partnership officer - to the Highland Council, Inverness City Committee 25 June 2007)

"The Scottish Executive introduced the Cities Growth Fund in 2003 in recognition of a historic lack of investment in the infrastructure of Scotland’s six cities. Each city was invited to prepare an investment plan in the form of a City Vision. The Inverness City Vision, containing 15 development themes (see appendix 1), was awarded a total of £5.949m for the 5 years April 2003 to March 2008.

‘Streetscape’ was identified as one of the top 4 themes within the Inverness City Vision and the Inverness City Centre Streetscape & Traffic Management Programme received the largest funding allocation (£2.845m) from the fund. The total funding package for Streetscape is £6.043m (as detailed in appendix 2). Understandably, it is also the highest profile project and is being delivered by The Highland Council’s Transport, Environmental and Community Services (TECS). TECS are responsible for traffic and contract management, with support from Inverness City Partnership who provides coordination and communications.

The construction programme is scheduled to last 90 weeks with a projected completion date of 21 November 2008. The work is being carefully phased (see appendix 2) to minimise disruption to businesses and transport."

The full report can be found on the Highland Council web site:

An interim evaluation of the Cities Growth Fund can be found on the Scottish Government web site at:

[The Cities Growth Fund was introduced by the Scottish Executive following the Review of Scotland's Cities in 2003. Totalling £90m to be spent between 2003-06, the Fund was to be used to support projects that contributed to the growth of each city, and to the development of the wider city region. A further allocation of £83 million was later approved for 2006-08. Funds were allocated through the Local Government Finance Settlement. Accordingly each city received an allocation in proportion to its population.]

Thursday, 16 July 2009


Members have e mailed to advise us that the Press and Journal has published an article today

This was based on a recent press release prepared by one of our committee members further to much discussion of the "Speakeasy Report" at our most recent committee meeting on Monday this week. i have reproduced the text below.

Action for Planning Transparency (APT) welcomes the publication by the Highland council of a report which illustrates just how unrealistic their own framework for development of the A96 Corridor between Inverness and Nairn has become.

In their recently published summary report on their recent "speakeasy" workshop with developers and land owners ( ), the following facts emerged loud and clear:

· The validity of forecast / aspirational population growth projections was questionable.

· Development on the scale envisaged cannot occur without the provision of infrastructure: roads; water supply; waste water treatment; schools; medical care; social infrastructure.

· Transport Scotland has no funds and no priorities for providing the roads infrastructure.

· Scottish Water's funding has been reduced by 18% over the next spending programme.

· The developers and land owners do not want to fund infrastructure provision.

· The developers and land owners want to build the first phases of their developments without infrastructure provision.

· Without infrastructure provision, new settlements may not emerge in the places that the Highland Council would wish.

APT finds it interesting that the speakeasy workshop dealt with short-term development, over the period 2011 to 2016, whereas the Highland Council's A96 proposals cover a 30-year period. It is clear that the developers and land owners want untrammelled access to the prime agricultural land in the Corridor to build what they please, where they please. They obviously envisage that someone else will pick up the huge bills for providing infrastructure that does not exist presently.

APT poses the question: Would it not be better to follow Scottish Government advice, and to build any additional housing on the fringes of existing settlements, where infrastructure already exists, or can be tapped into?

APT is calling for a fundamental, root and branch, review of the Highland Council's A96 Corridor plans. This should begin with an expert, analytical, view on the completely unrealistic population growth projections that have been used as justification for this deeply flawed concept.

Inverness, Wednesday 15th July 2009.

Locations of four "eco-towns" announced

From the on line pages of 'New Civil Engineer Magazine' today:

Four sites have been confirmed today as the locations of the Government’s new carbon neutral “eco-towns”.

"Housing Minister John Healey announced that Rackheath in Norfolk, North West Bicester in Oxfordshire, Whitehill-Bordon in East Hants and St Austell (China Clay) in Cornwall will go through to the next planning phase, full public consultation and local planning approval.
The 4 locations will now share £60m of start up growth funding, which will be spent by 2011 on demonstrator projects, exhibition homes and improving local facilities and infrastructure."

John Healey, Housing Minister, is quoted as saying:

“We are establishing pioneering places that in ten years’ time will set the standard for every new town.”

Grant Shapps, Shadow Housing Minister is quoted as criticising the scheme:

“...and said: “All the low-flush toilets in the world can’t make dumping a housing estate on green fields somehow eco-friendly."

It seems that we here in Inverness are not the only ones to be concerned about the proposed building a new 'eco' town on a green field site - containing good agricultural land and next to a trunk road and an airport.

The full article can be found at:

M4 upgrade dropped due to cost

Apparently the Welsh Assembly Government has dropped plans for a £1bn upgrade of the congested M4 and a new link road to Cardiff Airport.

There will only be simple junction and carriageway improvements on the M4, rather than major new capacity, given the prohibitive economic and environmental costs, according to Ieuan Wyn Jones (the Welsh Minister for Economy and Transport).

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

"University places: Student squeeze looms"

[Original article - Anthea Lipsett The Guardian, Tuesday 30 June 2009 Article history]

"Who'd be a school-leaver this year? A squeeze on jobs, apprenticeships and university places as a result of the recession spells hard times. Economists predict there will be more than 1 million unemployed under-25s by September, and in just over a month hundreds of thousands of teenagers getting their A-level results will face the toughest battle for a university place in years.

The number of 18-year-olds - who still make up around 80% of university applicants - in the population will peak at around 800,000 in 2009. And record numbers of university applications - by March they had risen by 8% on last year - have coincided with a government-imposed cap on the number of extra students universities can take on this year.
The result? Fewer options to pick up a place through the Clearing process in August, and more people vying for precious
higher education places."

"Universities tempt students with radical architecture"

The full version of the article that I have produced extracts from below appeared in the Guardian on Friday 30/05/08:

"Universities tempt students with radical architecture"

Question: Go to any university around the UK today, and what will be first thing you see (apart, of course, from the hundreds of students scurrying from lecture theatre to library to laboratory to sports field)? Answer: brand new buildings, lots of them, either newly constructed and glistening in the sunlight, proudly displaying their new towers, domes, canopies and all manner of strange shapes and colours; or otherwise being rapidly fabricated, and surrounded by a toiling gaggle of cranes, hoists, trucks and construction workers.
But what are all these buildings really for? Why do they look so dramatic, and are they any good?

Many of these new buildings are aimed foursquare at the students themselves. Hence, of course, highly distinctive student residences, such as the colourful and pepperpot-shaped constructions designed by the Edward Cullinan Architects for the University of East London at its Docklands campus. These kinds of eye-catching designs work to attract the attention of prospective students, not only because they offer a reassurance that they will have somewhere modern and decent to live (scrappy bedsits and scabby shared houses just don't cut it any more), but also so that they will remember a particular university when making their final decision about where to apply

Iain Borden Education Guardian, Friday 30 May 2008 09.36 BST Article history

Whichever site Inverness college chooses to support, it is worth considering just how big a part the design of any new building will play in influencing a student's choice of a place to study.

"A New Politics of the Common Good"- The final Reith Lecture

APTSec finally got around to listening to this year's final Reith Lecture (originally broadcast 30/06/09) in which Professor Michael Sandel talked of, "A New Politics of the Common Good".

Leading from a statement that;

"For three decades, the governing philosophy of the United States and Britain was defined by the faith that markets are the primary instrument for achieving the public good."

Professor Sandel presented some interesting views to challenge the idea that,

'...the primary purpose of government is to correct what economists call “market failure”.'

After a very interesting set of examples of the use of cost benefit analysis he then moved on to talk about the wider social impacts of reducing all things to monetary terms; he also considered the widening gap between rich and poor and the wider impact on society:

"Too great a gap between rich and poor undermines the solidarity that democratic citizenship requires. As inequality deepens, rich and poor live increasingly separate lives"

He concluded;

"In the course of these lectures, I’ve argued for a greater role for a moral argument in public life, and for the need to keep markets in their place. I would like to conclude by anticipating one possible objection. The distinguished economist Kenneth Arrow once wrote - and I quote: Like many economists, I do not want to rely too heavily on substituting ethics for self-interest. I think it is best on the whole that the requirement of ethical behaviour be confined to those circumstances where the price system breaks down. We do not wish, he said, to use up recklessly the scarce resources of altruistic motivation."

"The notion that ethics, altruism and fellow-feeling are scarce resources, whose supply is fixed once and for all and depleted with use, this idea seems to me outlandish - outlandish but deeply influential. My aim in these lectures has been to call this idea into question. I’ve tried to suggest that the virtues of democratic life - community, solidarity, trust, civic friendship - these virtues are not like commodities that are depleted with use. They are rather like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise."

"A politics of moral and civic renewal depends, it seems to me, on a more strenuous exercise of these civic virtues. Thank you very much."

The Professor answered a number of questions after the lecture and judging from the questions it is reasonable to assume that not all of the audience were in agreement with the views the Professor aired.

[The quotations I have used were taken from the programme transcript which began as follows:


The transcript can be found at:

and you can listen to the lecture on i player at:

Windfarm developments; public support for and against.

There was a very interesting item on the radio at lunchtime as part of the "You and Yours" consumer magazine slot on R4

It concerned a planning application for a windfarm at Matlock in Derbyshire and the public groups campaigning both for and against the development.

Thought provoking stuff. It does however reinforce the fact that whichever side of a debate you find yourself on, having independently verified facts is an absolute must.


More posts to follow.

Universities; the core of our cities?

APTSec has been reading some recent articles on University education and came across this interesting one in the Guardian; here is a small extract, which shows the range of views expressed in the article:

Universities 'lie at the core of our cities'

At one time local universities lent their host cities prestige and kudos - now many have also become the largest employers in their area.

In the middle ages, the centre of the community was the medieval castle. In the 18th century, it was the mines and the manufacturing industries. Today, it is the university. So said Sir Ron Dearing, the life peer and ex-chancellor of Nottingham University, in May. And many in higher education will tell you this is true. Universities, they say, lie at the core of our cities. They are often the largest employer, the business with the biggest turnover and a, if not the, key player in the city's civic culture, development and reputation. Universities UK, the umbrella group for vice-chancellors, says higher education now generates more money than the aircraft and transport sectors put together

It's not just universities, however; schools, housing associations and community centres are also at the heart of cities, says Ty Goddard, director of the British Council for School Environments. "Universities certainly have a key role in cities, but so do other institutions," he says.

Let's not forget the downside to having a university at the centre of a city. Where there's a campus, there are also students living nearby and unscrupulous landlords waiting to exploit them. Quickly, areas around a campus can degenerate into dingy student ghettos. Locals are pushed out to make way for term-time-only students, who sometimes misbehave on the street and live in homes that nurses and teachers need. A spokesman from the Design Commission for Wales, who does not want to be named, says developers "get away with high-rise student housing which can blight a city".

The full article can be read at:

Jessica Shepherd Society Guardian, Friday 17 October 2008 00.03 BST Article history

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

New post on the Highland Council blog

New post on the Highland Council Blog

National house building rates

Will the Scottish Government reconsider the national ambition to increase the rate of new house building to 35,000 a year by the middle of the next decade?

We fully recognise that the economic downturn will impact on the rate of new housing supply in the short to medium term. However, the long-term need to increase housing supply remains and achieving this is an ambition which the Scottish Government shares with CoSLA. Implementation of the new housing and planning delivery framework is fundamental to support a recovery in house-building, and for realising growth in housing supply to meet Scotland's long-term housing requirements and improve the affordability, stability and fairness of Scotland's housing system.

[source Scottish Government web page SPP3 FAQ]

So how many Homes for Highland?

According to SPP3 the local authority will need to carry out a:

Housing Need and Demand Assessment

22. The Scottish Government has published housing need and demand assessment (HNDA) guidance to ensure greater consistency and a more robust approach to the assessment of housing requirements across all tenures. All local authorities are encouraged to use this guidance to assess both current and future housing need and demand.

23. The HNDA will provide the evidence base on which housing supply targets are defined in local housing strategies and suitable available land is allocated through development plans to meet the requirement for new housing to contribute to these targets.

25. A HNDA should take clear account of the relevant components of the housing requirements in an area. Where the assessment is considered robust and credible by The Scottish Government, in that it has provided all the core outputs, has followed the recommended processes and made reasonable assumptions, the approach used will not be considered at examination. More consistent assessments of the housing requirement across Scotland are likely to assist in meeting The Scottish Government’s desire to see the provision of significantly more new housing. An increased supply of land where this is required should assist the continued delivery of housing even when there are delays in building on a particular site.

26. The housing need and demand assessment guidance is available online at

35. Forecasts of housing requirements, which will form part of the HNDA, are dependent on assumptions about a range of variables and are inevitably more uncertain the further they are extended into the future. Assessments should cover a range of household projections, including the high migration variant projection.

The Scottish Government’s national objectives, reflected in targets for greater economic and population growth, imply higher overall household growth than central projections indicate.

See later post for high migration variant projection details

So how many homes do we need in Highland?

Scottish Planning Policies (SPPs) provide statements of The Scottish Government’s policy on nationally important land use and other planning matters, supported where appropriate by a locational framework.

SPP3, Planning for Homes, sets out The Scottish Government’s policy on the role of planning in the identification of housing requirements and the delivery of quality homes in the right locations. It is a key tool in meeting The Scottish Government’s goal of raising the rate of new housebuilding to 35,000 new houses a year by the middle of the next decade. Local authorities are encouraged to adopt a more proactive approach to managing the supply of land for housing to achieve identified requirements. The SPP identifies the process that local authorities should follow in the identification of land for new housing and the delivery of that housing, including the need for high-quality and innovation. SPP 3 also provides links to related guidance and policy that should be taken into consideration when planning for housing.

SPP 3 stresses that planning for housing should be based on the housing need and demand assessment process. Local authorities should consider housing need and demand across all tenures, and, in line with the housing need and demand assessment guidance are encouraged to work in partnership with other local authorities and housing providers across housing market areas. The information derived from this process should form the basis of the local housing strategy and the land allocation for housing in the development plan.

SPP 3 provides guidance on the delivery of housing, emphasising that all parties should aim to create sustainable housing developments that are well-connected to transport networks, local amenities and other settlements, and that use land efficiently, for example through development at appropriate densities, reuse of brownfield land and infill sites within settlements. Local authorities and developers are encouraged to aspire to high energy efficiency standards and to consider innovative building and architectural styles. The SPP sets out the range of factors that should be considered to ensure the creation of high-quality residential environments. All parties involved in planning for homes should take account of these considerations at an early stage and throughout the entire process.

SPP3 can be found at

What causes homelessness?

Sadly, many people view homelessness as the result of personal failings, and consider that if the economy is going well, there is no excuse for not getting on.

But this belief is belied by the facts, which show that homelessness is caused by a complex interplay between a person's individual circumstances and adverse 'structural' factors outside their direct control. These problems can build up over years until the final crisis moment when a person becomes homeless.

[Source -]

The link to Shelter Scotland can be found to the right of the posts under web sites we have visited.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Population, Population, Population.

"A 15% increase in the area's population over the next twenty years or so is both necessary and achievable, but we would stress that this growth needs to be realised in all parts of the region if the momentum of progress is to be sustained and the GES targets met."

(Source of the statement above; Letter from HIE to Mr James G Mackinnon, Chief Planner, National Planning Framework Team, The Scottish Government Planning Directorate on 140408; the letter was submitted during the Government's consultation on the National Planning Framework.)

What the statement does not specify is the share of any population increase across the region.

The Mid-2008 Population Estimates for the HIE area of Scotland are:

*Argyll and Bute 90,500 (91,670)

Eilean Siar 26,200 (27,540)

Highland 219,400 (208,850)

Moray 87,770 (86,800)

Orkney 19,890 (19,590)

Shetland 21,980 (22,700)

(Note that HIE area only includes Agyll and the Islands
Figures in brackets are for 1998
Source Scottish Government web site link to GROS)

GES - Government's Economic Strategy.

The future growth of Inverness

"However the future growth of Inverness will be strongly concentrated to the east of the present city, along the A96 corridor."

So states the Executive Summary of a report prepared by Cogentsi (independent economic consultants commissioned by HIE) entitled:

"Inverness Campus (Beechwood) or Longman Road? What impact on the regional economy?"

The HIE web site reprts that, "The Highlands and Islands region stands to gain by £72m a year if Inverness College UHI moves to a new site at Beechwood, rather than redevelop its current site on the Longman Industrial Estate." For the full Summary the HIE web page is given below:

Countdown to Development Plan

35 days to go