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Retail and residential plan for vacant building on Aberdeen’s Union Street

New plans have been submitted to transform a vacant building in Aberdeen city centre into shops, a cafe and a residential development.

Developer Rockspring, which owns several linked properties on Union Street including the former BHS store and the attached indoor market, has submitted two new applications to re-configure buildings at 101-103 Union Street.

The plans will also include the change of use at the lower levels to create the new cafe space, accessed from The Green.

A spokeswoman for Rockspring said that the company’s vision for the site would assist with the Aberdeen City Council’s masterplan to revive the city centre.

She said: “Union Street has suffered in recent times due to structural changes in the retail environment.

“Our planning application seeks to plug the holes left by failing retailers and department stores, making the area more attractive and fit for purpose so that, together, we can bring more people to live and work in the city.

“We are working closely with Aberdeen City Council to put forward solutions that, not only enhance the buildings we own, but transform them into more relevant and attractive sites with street-level facades that will regenerate that part of Union Street.

“This scheme also adds much-needed living opportunities to a city centre which has been largely neglected by residential developers.”

A design statement, prepared by Montagu Evans on behalf of Rockspring Hanover Property Unit Trust, said shopfront alterations, reconfiguration of internal floorspace and a change of use of the upper floors to form residential space are among the proposals.

It added: “The refurbishment and alterations proposed are intended to refresh the premises and create a new opportunity and new future for the property.”

The unoccupied floor areas on levels four, in part, plus all of five and six, are proposed to be changed into residential use.

The proposals form part of wider plans previously lodged by Rockspring to redesign the disused department store and the adjoining market. A design statement with the plans said the redevelopment of the market would see an “under-utilised, unloved building” revitalised into a “vibrant retail space”.

The firm intends to add new shopfronts to The Green and to build a frameless glass wall around the old BHS site to showcase its interior and lure in more passers-by.

On Market Street, the indoor market would be set back from the street to remove its “oppressive, overhanging facade” and provide extra seating and public space outside.

Rockspring also plans a two-storey glass wall to sit underneath a large, “welcoming” curved corner which will help steer visitors along the side of the building.

Firms sought for £100m RAF Lossiemouth revamp

Contractors are being invited up to bid for the £100 million contract for an expansion of the military base at RAF Lossiemouth.

The overhaul at the Moray airbase is planned over the next two years to prepare for the arrival of new Poseidon P-8 spy planes and another squadron of Typhoons.

The project includes resurfacing and extending existing runways and taxiways as well as building new aircraft standing areas.

It is hoped the project, which is estimated to be worth between £50million and £100million, will lead to work for Moray firms.

Potential bidders have been told that the base will have to remain fully operational while the work is being done.

Moray MP Douglas Ross explained the complex RAF Lossiemouth development programme project (LDP), which will eventually total £400m, will create a legacy for the region.

He said: “This contract is another sign of the massive investment we will see by the MOD and the UK government over the next few months and years as they prepare for the arrival of the P-8s.

“I’m hopeful that local businesses can benefit from some of the works that will take place during that time.

“There is no doubt that the increase in contractors and personnel during the works and when the base is fully upgraded will be a major boost to Lossiemouth and the wider Moray area.”

The contract is expected to be awarded in spring next year with the work due to take about 18 months to complete.

Consultant WYG is project manager.

Mixed-use complex in Edinburgh’s financial district approved in principle

A £150 million hotel and office complex next to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre is expected to be given the green light after a series of alterations were made to the initial proposals.

Known as Exchange 2, the development on the western side of the West Approach Road will include a four-star business hotel with up to 400 rooms and a catering academy and hotel training school intended to provide jobs and training for 200 young people.

Three separate new buildings are involved and part of the development will mean building on top of an existing electricity substation. The scheme would retain the B-listed façade of the three-storey Scottish Power office building in Dewar Place.

The go-ahead was delayed after concerns were voiced over the height of the buildings. But now changes have been made to the top storeys of two of the three proposed blocks and councillors have given the project their backing.

Catalyst Capital is funding the project, which is being proposed by a consortium including Duddingston House Properties, the developer behind plans to turn the old Royal High School into a luxury hotel, and designed by JM Architects.

The catering academy is to be run in conjunction with Queen Margaret University and the hotel training school with Edinburgh Napier University.

Julian Newiss, chairman of Catalyst Capital, said the development would enhance Edinburgh as one of the most successful and dynamic cities in Europe.

He said: “We’re obviously delighted that the proposals have been approved and are keen to press on with the development as quickly as possible.

“We firmly believe that this is a ‘game changer’ for the tourism industry in the city, and we look forward to creating a high-quality development that will be unique in Britain.

“Our aim is no less than to create a development that delivers jobs and prioritises recruitment and training of local residents. And we’re determined see those people being recruited into tourism careers, not just jobs.

“Tourism is the world’s biggest business and Edinburgh can continue to go from strength to strength with smart, high quality strategic investments like Exchange 2.”

The developers will be expected to pay around £2.5m towards the city’s tram network.

Work could start later this year with a completion due in 2020.

Warning signs for construction as weather hits output figures

Snowy weather, rising costs and uncertainty relating to Brexit are to blame for a sharp drop in construction output, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said.

Newly released data for March from the IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) revealed a sharp fall in output from 51.4 in February to 47.0, to register below the 50.0 no-change threshold for the first time in six months. Moreover, the latest reading signalled the fastest overall decline in construction output since July 2016. March 2018’s figure was weaker than the average 52.3 of 2017.

Where a drop in work was reported, survey respondents noted that unusually bad weather had disrupted staff availability and activity on site. The overall reduction in construction output was driven by the sharpest drop in civil engineering work for five years in March. Commercial activity also decreased during the latest survey period, with the rate of decline the most marked since September 2017. Housing bucked the wider trend for construction activity in March, although the latest upturn in residential building was only marginal.

Construction companies indicated a decline in new business volumes during March, which continued the downward trend seen so far in 2018. The latest deterioration in new order books was the sharpest since July 2016. Survey respondents noted that subdued underlying demand and, in some cases, weather-related disruption had weighed on sales in March. Despite a sustained soft patch for new work, latest data revealed that employment growth accelerated to a three-month high. Additional staff hiring was attributed to forthcoming project starts and long-term business expansion plans.

At the same time, subcontractor availability continued to decline, which contributed to the strongest rise in their average prices charged since September 2017. Higher raw material costs continued in March, which construction firms linked to increased prices for metals and insulation in particular.

Nonetheless, the overall rate of input cost inflation softened to a 20- month low. Some survey respondents cited a moderation in supplier price rises linked to the weak pound. Meanwhile, construction firms indicated that supplier lead-times lengthened to the greatest degree since last July. This was attributed to a combination of stretched supply chain capacity, alongside transport delays following adverse weather in March.

Tim Moore, associate director at IHS Markit and author of the IHS Markit/CIPS Construction PMI, said: “The construction sector continued to experience subdued business conditions during March, but snow-related disruption was a key factor behind the marked decline in activity on site reported by survey respondents.

“Total construction output fell at the fastest pace since July 2016, driven by the sharpest reduction in civil engineering activity for five years and a renewed fall in commercial work. House building increased slightly during March, although the rate of expansion was still softer than at any time in 2017.

“A solid rise in employment numbers and the rebound in business expectations to a nine-month high provide an indication that construction activity will strengthen over the near-term. However, survey respondents noted that underlying demand remains constrained by heightened economic uncertainty and risk aversion among clients.”

While the unusually bad weather conditions had a particularly negative impact on construction output, the FMB said other factors had also contributed to the decrease.

Brian Berry

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “The latest PMI data shows the fastest drop in construction activity since July 2016. The unusually cold and snowy weather experienced across the UK last month is partly to blame for this set-back. The cold snap impacted on a broad array of construction projects, including house building, domestic refurbishment and large civil engineering projects. Many small builders across the country were forced to close sites for more than a week and some employers reported that it was too cold to lay bricks.

“Alongside the snow, the cost of doing business is rising for the UK’s construction firms. Wages and salaries are all rocketing because of the ever worsening skills shortages in construction. What’s more, material prices have been rising steadily since the depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum. Increased prices for metals and insulation in particular were noted in March. We expect material prices to continue to cause a headache for the construction industry with recent research from the FMB showing that 87% of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months.”

Berry added: “More broadly, the future is still looking incredibly uncertain for the UK construction sector. We still don’t know what the post-Brexit immigration system will look like and given that businesses need to plan ahead, this could also be putting a brake on growth in the construction sector. This is especially the case for construction – our sector is heavily reliant on EU tradespeople with more than 8% of construction workers hailing from the EU. In London, this rises to one third. The government must take stock of today’s results and redouble its efforts to provide post-Brexit clarity to businesses. We need to know what we can expect from the new immigration system – we need to know what will replace free movement of people.”

Oxgangs construction faults found in 19 Edinburgh public buildings

Around nine tons of masonry fell at Oxgangs Primary School in January 2016

Construction faults similar to those which caused a wall to collapse at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh have been found in council properties throughout the city, the Accounts Commission has revealed.

A report from the public spending watchdog has found that checks carried out in the wake of the incident have uncovered problems at libraries, community centres and care homes.

The report states: “At the end of January 2018, of the 154 properties where assessments had been completed, 19 properties had been identified as having issues similar to those identified at Oxgangs School.

“Remedial work to address the defects identified on these buildings (which include schools, libraries, community centres and care homes) is ongoing.”

Approximately nine tons of masonry fell at Oxgangs Primary School in January 2016, sparking the temporary closure of 17 schools across the capital. Investigations found ties needed to connect the walls to steel beams had not been used in some cases, leaving them unstable in heavy winds.

A previous report by Professor John Cole found it was down to timing and luck that no deaths or injuries occurred.

The Commission’s report said the wall collapse was caused by “serious faults” in procurement, design and construction.

The report acknowledged the “substantial amount of learning already taken forward” as a result of the case, but warned all councils that a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the control and assurance of the construction of public buildings is “vital”.

Graham Sharp, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “The City of Edinburgh Council responded quickly and comprehensively to the wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School. However, all councils in Scotland must ensure public buildings in their care are regularly checked and appropriately maintained.

“While reduced resources mean councils must make difficult decisions about service provision, they should have an appropriate level of expertise to deliver and safely maintain buildings. People must have confidence in the safety and integrity of public buildings.”

A City of Edinburgh Council spokeswoman said: “We welcome the Accounts Commission’s report, which addresses the lessons to be learned by all local authorities following the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary. The safety of the public is of utmost importance to the City of Edinburgh Council and we fully acknowledge the need for regular, comprehensive structural assessments of public buildings and are in the process of delivering a series of actions identified by Professor John Cole in an independent report into the closure of Edinburgh schools in 2016.”

Shift in focus to continue as Stewart Milne Group returns to growth

Glenn Allison

Stewart Milne Group is to continue its focus on investing in new developments in central Scotland and the north-west of England after reporting a “strong” trading performance for the year ended June 2017.

Accounts lodged by the Aberdeen-based housebuilder and timber systems manufacturer revealed significant overall growth driven by a major improvement in trading performance and a return to profit.

The group increased turnover from £209.2 million to £240.5m and operating profits grew from £0.6m to almost £7m for the year ended June 2017.

Revenues from its homes divisions in Central Scotland and North-West England and its timber systems business significantly increased compared to the previous year, reinforcing the success of the group’s strategy to invest in areas with the greatest potential for growth.

The group continued to dispose of non-core assets, to generate the cash to fund the increased investment in developments in Central Scotland and North-west England. These actions amounted to exceptional charges which resulted in an overall loss before taxation for the year of £13.7m, compared to £26m in the previous financial year.

Glenn Allison, chief executive of Stewart Milne Group, said: “The strong trading performance reflects the success of our strategy to broaden our portfolio and footprint by investing in parts of the country where the demand for homes continues to rise. The exceptional performance of our homes business in North-West England has resulted in a doubling of both the number of units delivered and of our turnover in the region, culminating in winning the award as best North-west house builder of the year.  Our increased investment in land in Central Scotland has seen a higher number of new award-winning developments, which provide a strong platform for even further growth.”

Turnover at Stewart Milne Timber Systems was up £7.3m to £59.4m because of rising demand across the country’s housing market and the development of strategic relationships with UK housebuilder customers as well as continued investment in innovation and digital technology to deliver the most cost-effective off-site construction solutions.

Demand for housing in North-east Scotland continued to be impacted by the downturn in the oil and gas industry, however, there are now signs that the market is stabilising following a challenging couple of years.

Mr Allison added: “Our overall confidence in the recovery in the North-east housing market is exemplified by our flagship development at Countesswells. This £1 billion investment in a whole new community, in a sought-after location to the west of Aberdeen, is really taking shape. Thanks to the HM Treasury guarantee, we’ve invested in the up-front delivery of major infrastructure, including the country’s fastest broadband, and extensive landscaping to form new parkland. There are now over 140 families living in this award-winning new development with three other house builders soon to join Stewart Milne Homes on site.”

Stuart MacGregor

These improved results and confidence in the underlying performance have been endorsed by a new three-year £175m banking facility with Bank of Scotland.

Stuart MacGregor, group finance director of Stewart Milne Group, added: “The extension of our banking facility and our strong trading performance, underpins our strategy, and the decisions we have made to invest in areas with the greatest potential for growth.

“We will continue to focus on investing in new developments in Central Scotland and North-west England. The signals now point to a slight recovery in the North-east market, and our focus in the region will continue to be on providing quality family homes where demand has remained relatively stable.

“By taking a longer-term view and prudent approach, we are able to take advantage of the conditions in each of our markets. Equally, by committing to delivering quality homes in places our customers want to live and meeting the continually rising demand for offsite construction and our innovative timber systems products, we are well-placed to continue to grow in a sustainable way.”

Plans submitted to regenerate Aberdeen’s Broadford Works

A developer has submitted detailed plans to transform a former textile factory in Aberdeen city centre into 460 homes and accommodation for 430 students.

The Broadford Works ‘urban village’ will also include commercial office space, shops, restaurants and cafes set in a landscaped environment.

Developer Inhabit said the proposed 590,000 sq ft development has been designed to complement Aberdeen City Council’s ‘City Centre Masterplan’, the regeneration blueprint for the city launched in June 2015. The site sits on the edge of the area earmarked for the masterplan and Inhabit has worked to ensure the site is aligned with the mission and goals set out by the council.

The historic site, which has stood empty since 2004, was purchased by Inhabit in 2017. The developer said it has undertaken a series of discussions with community groups, Aberdeen City Council and other interested parties to ensure the proposed plan balances the history and heritage of Broadford Works while providing high-quality accommodation, retail and leisure amenities and attractive public spaces in the city centre.

Commenting on the application, Ana Nekhamkin, managing director of Inhabit, said: “In preparation for the submission of this planning application we have worked closely with Aberdeen City Council, Historic Environment Scotland, local residents and businesses to create an environment that is sensitive to the unique character of the buildings within Broadford Works and creates a dynamic and inclusive project to the benefit of Aberdeen.”

Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, added: “We welcome Inhabit’s plans for the Broadford Works which we believe will enhance the Aberdeen City Centre Masterplan. One of the main areas of focus in the plan is to attract people back into the city centre to work, for leisure and to live. This is the approach that has driven regeneration in successful peer cities in the UK and beyond.

“The Broadford Works development will provide a great platform for this; helping enterprise and innovation flourish and attracting entrepreneurs to Aberdeen who will make a valuable economic and cultural contribution to the city and the wider region.”

Agreement signed to deliver more than 800 homes in Sighthill

A masterplan of the Sighthill regenration area

Glasgow City Council has now signed an agreement with Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) and Keepmoat Homes to deliver more than 800 new homes at the city’s Sighthill Transformational Regeneration Area (TRA).

The £250 million Sighthill TRA is the biggest regeneration scheme of its type in the UK outside of London. The residential development will feature 826 new homes (628 for sale, 198 for mid-market rent), as well as retail units and a commercial development over the next decade.

The new mid-market rent homes will be built by GHA and let and managed by its Wheatley Group partners, Lowther Homes. The private homes, retail unit and commercial development are being delivered through a development agreement between Keepmoat and the council.

When complete, the regeneration of Sighthill will deliver almost 1,000 new homes for sale and rent (141 new GHA homes are already built and occupied) as well as a new community school campus; a new footbridge across the M8 connecting Sighthill to the neighbouring city centre; a new road bridge across the railway to link Sighthill and Port Dundas; as well as improved parkland throughout the entire area and active travel routes to and from the city centre.

Councillor Kenny McLean, city convener for neighbourhoods, housing and public realm at Glasgow City Council, said the agreement is another milestone in the regeneration of Sighthill.

He added: “The transformation of the area will serve as an example of what can be done in urban regeneration, with the creation of a fantastic neighbourhood immediately beside the city centre. We can now anticipate this work starting and being able to watch the skyline of both Sighthill and Glasgow change over the years. I look forward to working with all our partners on the Sighthill TRA on this exciting project for Glasgow.”

GHA chair Bernadette Hewitt said: “This is a monumental milestone in the transformation of Sighthill. GHA is really proud to be a partner in this transformation and as part of this next phase we’re building almost 200 homes for mid-market rent. The first phase of regeneration saw 141 new GHA homes for social rent built in 2015. Tenants in these high-quality, spacious modern homes are already saving money on their bills and enjoying a better quality of life as a result. It’s a really exciting time for the area.”

Work on the second phase of the Sighthill regeneration project

James Thomson, CEO of Keepmoat Homes, said: “Sighthill is a flagship development for Keepmoat Homes. We are delighted to have been chosen to work with Glasgow City Council and Glasgow Housing Association on this exciting regeneration programme and we will employ the greatest effort and care to ensure that the ambition of Transforming Communities: Glasgow is fulfilled and, as such, create an exciting, rich and desirable place to live, work and play. The development of Sighthill has the potential to further contribute to the city’s success story with a new, sustainable community, close to the city centre and unrecognisable from its current landscape. We are committed to delivering wider community benefits as part of the programme which will include the creation of apprenticeships and jobs in the area and work with local community projects.”

The regeneration of Sighthill is being delivered by Transforming Communities: Glasgow, a partnership between Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Housing Association and the Scottish Government, with additional funding from the Glasgow City Region City Deal.

A9 advance works contract awarded

Transport Scotland has entered into a multi-supplier framework agreement for advance works as part of the A9 Dualling Programme.

The first contract to be awarded under this framework agreement was awarded to Perth-based civil engineering firm I&H Brown Limited for demolition works on the Luncarty to Pass of Birnam Scheme. These works are scheduled to commence on site at the start of April.

A further contract to carry out tree clearance along the route of the Luncarty to Birnam Scheme as part of the advance works programme, is planned to be awarded by Transport Scotland in May.

Advance works, such as tree clearance, enable seasonal activities to be undertaken before the main construction contract is awarded, while ground investigation works undertaken at the early stages of a project can help inform the design process. Both these examples of advance works can help reduce the risk of delays to the construction programme, assisting the main contractor when appointed.

Keith Brown, cabinet secretary for the economy, jobs and fair work, said: “It’s great to see a locally-based SME securing contracts for these preliminary works on the next section of the A9 Dualling Programme. We are working diligently towards our ambitious target of having dual-carriageway introduced to the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025.

“The Luncarty to Pass of Birnam project connects two existing sections of dual-carriageway and will make a significant difference to people’s journeys when it’s fully opened to traffic.

“As each section of road is finished, we are opening up Scotland for trade and tourism, which is helping to strengthen our economy.”

Ground investigations necessary to provide detailed information for the four companies tendering for the main construction contract are now complete and archaeological excavations are continuing on the 9.5km Luncarty to Pass of Birnam section.

AOC Archaeology Group, which was awarded the £500,000 contract in January, has completed its initial investigations and will continue to excavate key areas and document any finds over the coming months.

The appointment of the construction contractor for Luncarty to Pass of Birnam is expected in the first half of 2018.

Revised masterplan submitted for Ravenscraig

The developers of one of Europe’s largest regeneration projects have submitted a masterplan which aims to attract significant investment into the former Ravenscraig steelworks near Motherwell.

Encouraged by North Lanarkshire Council’s announcement of a £190 million roads programme in the area, the planning application outlines proposals for high quality housing, two primary schools, a park and a range of other community and commercial facilities, including retail and industrial.

Ravenscraig Ltd said the plans are already attracting investment from businesses, with a new hotel operated by Marston’s Inn and Taverns opening on site this month. Raven’s Cliff Lodge is a 40-bedroom hotel and is an extension of the Raven’s Cliff pub and restaurant.

Nick Davies, director of Ravenscraig Ltd, said: “The future of Ravenscraig is bright and the new masterplan being submitted to the council is just the latest in a series of positive steps. We are now a step closer to delivering a number of substantial projects which will not only benefit local residents but the wider city region.

“We are determined to attract further investment into Ravenscraig and the ambitious roads programme will play a significant role in this. We look forward to working with North Lanarkshire Council closely over the coming years to deliver on the promise of Ravenscraig.”

A series of community drop-in exhibitions were held by Ravenscraig Ltd in November, where members of the public were able to view and comment on the Cooper Cromar-designed plans. This followed previous consultations hosted by North Lanarkshire Council in 2016, with community feedback helping to shape the masterplan.

Des Murray, assistant chief executive for housing and enterprise at North Lanarkshire Council, said: “The council has always recognised the need to redevelop the site as part of our wider ambition for local communities and the area as a whole. Ravenscraig is not just a symbolic site for North Lanarkshire; it’s also of significant strategic importance. That’s why we have committed to the groundbreaking £190m pan-Lanarkshire Orbital roads investment which will make development at Ravenscraig easier.

“We support any positive moves to create new homes, businesses and facilities. Many parts of the existing planning permission are included in the new application, and the new masterplan will be fully considered by all members of the council.”

The new Raven’s Cliff Lodge, which opened this month, is one of a number of projects delivered since 2006 with successes including the creation of hundreds of homes, a state-of-the-art college campus and a major regional sports facility. In total, more than £200m has been invested to date at Ravenscraig.