Thursday, 20 October 2011

1345 empty homes targeted in the Highlands


Local authorities are to receive new powers to tax empty homes that could help raise millions to build new affordable housing.

The Council Tax on Empty Homes and Housing Support Grant Bill proposals could apply to the 1345 properties that have currently been empty for more than six months and are liable to pay Council Tax in the Highlands.

If all local authorities in Scotland decide to use the maximum powers, they could raise up to £30million per year to spend on much-needed affordable homes.

The bill will also abolish the Housing Support Grant , which was originally established to subsidise local authorities’ housing budgets by helping pay interest on housing debts.

More here

Nigg;" ...fully back into productive use..."


The Highland Council welcomes the news that the Global Energy Group has successfully concluded its negotiations aimed at bringing the Nigg complex in East Ross fully back into productive use.

The Council has actively campaigned over recent years for the revival of industrial activity at the former oil fabrication site and prepared a development masterplan for the site in September 2009. This outlined its vision for how the site could be used as a multi-activity, multi-user industrial facility.

More here

Inverness Courier web items here and here

Flood risk management - exhibition and advice


A dedicated flood drop-in centre, established in Inverness in response to recent flooding in Balloch, Culloden and Smithton, will host an exhibition of flood protection products later this month.

On Friday 28 October, the exhibition will be held at the Culloden and Smithton Free Church Hall (from 9am to 7pm). It is being organised by the Scottish Flood Forum, an independent voice funded by the Scottish Government to support and represent those affected by, or at risk of flooding, and The Highland Council.

A wide selection of property-specific flood protection products, including flood barriers, air brick covers and temporary measures such as sandbags will be on display.

Matt Smith, who heads the Council’s Flood Team, said: “This is a great opportunity for homeowners who have suffered from flooding or for anyone who would like some impartial advice, to view the variety of products that are available. These products offer a cost effective way of minimising the risk of flooding to your property. Anyone is welcome and no appointment is necessary. The public can be assured that any advice given would be independent and tailored to their needs.”

More here

Family Road Safety


The Highland Road Safety Working Group and The Highland Council are to host a Family Road Safety Evening to encourage parents to apply good driving habits which it is hoped will be passed onto their children, who will in time, be learning to drive.

The event aims to promote the benefits of safer driving to whole families. It will be held at the Council Chamber, The Highland Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road in Inverness on Wednesday 2nd November from 6.30pm to 9pm. More here

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Housing Fair back in Headlines

Inverness Courier now reports:

'Luxury housing fair homes now selling as affordable"

THREE of the prestigious houses built for Inverness’ controversial housing expo are being marketed as affordable homes as organisers try desperately to sell the 24 remaining properties before April.

The terraced houses, which feature Ikea kitchens, Neff appliances, ground source heat pumps and solar panels, are valued at £200,000 but are being marketed on an 80/20 shared equity basis, leaving the purchaser to find £160,000. More here

APTSec cannot understand why the Government should have considered this project as an exemplar and produced a report in late 2008 questioning why the Highland Housing Fair was included in a Planning Advice Note (83) on 'Masterplanning' given the dearth of public involvement at the most pertinent moments.

Extract from APT report:

Public involvement is extremely important in the context of Housing Fairs in Finland, as is, it seems, the choice of site. In this model there is multi-faceted co-operation between the various related organisations, companies and the future residents of the areas being developed.

Housing Fairs are described asAlways a joint project” and “The Finnish Housing Fair Co-operative Organisation always works in co-operation with each host municipality to run the annual fair. The Vaasa Housing Fair in 2008 clearly illustrates the care with which the sites are chosen and the relationship of the site to ecological values.

The fairs provide the opportunity for designers and builders to try out innovative solutions in practice e.g. architectural and other industry related competitions constantly produce a wealth of new ideas for improvements in housing and living conditions

The ‘raison d’etre’ for the (Highland) Housing Fair (as you will note from the briefing note by Highland Housing Alliance included as Appendix 3) was education of consumers, the influencing of the building industry and promotion of, not just sustainable design codes and quality ‘Highland’ housing (including affordable), but Inverness itself through the media. The idea was also sold on the opportunity to counter previously negative views of the design of buildings in
Inverness. Three elements were to form the Fair – an architectural competition, an event, and a wider agenda regarding sustainability of community.

There were however time constraints on the project and The Steering Group attempting to reduce the normal Finnish model 6 year organising time to 3½ years. The Fair grew larger as time passed, even though it had been noted by committee in mid 2005 thatPotential sponsors (were) properly wary of an over ambitious and time-critical project which would fail unless it was robustly planned and managed’.Further to this, the briefing note (appendix 3) records that the Steering Group perceived at an early stage that the selection of an appropriate site was crucial to the success of the Fair. When the idea for a Housing Fair was initially put before The Highland Council Sustainable Development Select Committee on 12/01/05, the acquisition of a reasonably priced plot was identified as a potential difficulty by that committee.

The selection of a site, such an important element of the Finnish model, did indeed prove problematic for the Fair organizers; so problematic that even a site allocated for community use adjoining a primary school, which formed part of the amenity land under an S75 agreement, was considered (planning concerns here related to community reaction to potential loss of a neighbourhood centre and sports facilities).

The issues of time constraints and difficulties with site selection posed significant problems, not just for the organisers and officials, but for the community, who came so late to the process...

...The Highland Housing Fair example is the only exemplar in PAN 83 that does not make reference to community engagement.The Highland Housing Fair enterprise could have provided a wonderful opportunity for the community to get involved in planning; to see an innovative project through from beginning to end. But the great potential for public involvement that was afforded was never realised. Parties involved were struggling against unrealistic timescales and difficulties with site selection; focusing on their own agendas and taking related opportunities; and we believe that the public involvement aspects suffered as a result. It is not clear as to whether there was any community involvement at any stage within The Highland Housing Fair project Steering Group.

Whilst we appreciate that this attempt to bring forward the Housing Fair Model in Highland was a hugely ambitious enterprise and innovative in concept, members of the community should have been involved from the earliest stages of the development process.

Furthermore there is little emphasis on the community involvement side of the Finnish model, or of community involvement in the actual preparation of the Highland concept, and The Highland Housing Fair example focuses on the design element and how this will either be scrutinized by the public visiting the exhibition, or responded to by the ‘eventual residents’.

Planning Advice Note 83 has been produced as part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to the design quality agenda and covers the topic of Master Planning. The PAN builds on and forms part of, the design series which provides a wide range of advice on built environment specialist subjects.

The Highland Housing Fair has been included within the PAN as a case study.

  1. Public involvement is stated by the Government as being of importance in the context of planning:

In Scotland, great importance has always been attached to public involvement in the planning system. We believe that it is important to ensure that every person regardless of their background can have their say in the decisions which affect them.”

  1. PAN 83 sits in the context of this inclusiveness and states:

“Creating better places through masterplanning requires a high degree of collaboration and communication between the client, the community and the local authority”.

It is also stated within the Planning Advice Note that the intended audience for PAN 83 is “anyone who has a role in the planning, design and approval of development. This essentially includes built environment professionals, key stakeholders (including financiers) and the community”.

Of the 5 case studies presented as exemplars in PAN 83, Community Involvement is a strong feature of all but one, the Highland Housing Fair case Study.

So, just what is 'Sustainable Economic Growth'?

Take a look at this.

The RTPI in Scotland annual conference will look at planning's contribution to achieving sustainable economic growth. The programme includes Aileen Campbell MSP, Minister for Local Government and Planning (pictured); Alex Linkston CBE, Member of the Commission on the Future of Public Services; Robert Crozier, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce; and Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Studies .

More details and a booking form can be found here (pdf 1.5mb).

The conference is kindly sponsored by Barton Willmore, Brodies LLP and Scottish Government

But what exactly is this 'Sustainable economic growth"? Clicking on the links below will give some background.

Economic Growth

A Scottish Budget for Growth

Interestingly, the 'Budget' only uses the word planning once - as highlighted below

Alongside the measures set out in our Spending Review, the Government Economic Strategy published on 12 September 2011, establishes the foundations for long-term economic prosperity with a focus on Growth Companies, Growth Markets, and Growth Sectors and securing the benefits from the low carbon economy. Key initiatives include:

  • continuing to implement the modernisation of the planning system;

That still leaves a lot of questions and very little straightforward and easily accessible information as to how the 'modernisation' of the planning system will 'contribute' to economic growth. What will the impact of this contribution be be on the implementation of the planning system in our localities?

Of further interest is the fact that on the Scottish Gov's Planning Legislation Division has a

'Sustainable Economic Growth and Engagement' Branch which includes the following functions:

Planning's contribution to central purpose

Infrastructure, housing and planning

Planning obligations and gain

Sponsorship of Planning Aid Scotland

Planning Development Programme

Equalities and inclusion

It should be an interesting conference; I wish I could be a fly on the wall. Wonder if they'll record any of it? I'll ask.