Highland Council agrees reduced capital programme of £482m

The Highland Council has agreed a capital programme of £482 million over the next five years.

The local authority serves the largest geographical area in Scotland (over 30%) and has just under £2bn of assets on its balance sheet comprising, amongst other things, 203 operational schools, over 6,700km of roads and over 2,000 properties.

Given the continuing squeeze on the capital and revenue funding it receives from the Scottish Government, the council said its current capital programme, a ten year programme covering the period from 2015/16 to 2024/25 approved in December 2015, is no longer affordable and requires to be reduced.

Earlier this week the council revealed it is seeking to review new build techniques and introduce greater scrutiny of spending as the local authority struggles to meet the demands for capital investment in the region’s schools.

Councillor Margaret Davidson, leader of the Highland Council, said: “This programme delivers significant investment in a range of key projects across the Highlands. We are investing in schools, roads, bridges, harbours and flood prevention schemes that will benefit our communities over the coming years.

“We recognise the need to invest in our infrastructure and we want to do more. Our capital programme has been significantly reduced due to the financial constraints imposed on us by the Scottish Government, but we intend to campaign hard for more capital funding for the Highlands and I am today calling on all our councillors, MSPs and MPs to publicly support us.

“All these projects are vital to the economy of the Highlands. Of course we all want to do more. We have to watch every opportunity and work with everyone to get all the support that we can. We also need to listen to our communities to hear what ideas they have and to work with us to direct their support to our campaign for better funding for our roads and our schools. We have a hard task ahead and we need to work together.”

Budget leader of the Highland Council, Councillor Alister MacKinnon, said: “It was good to see the consensus across the chamber today. We all want the best for our communities. We intend to push hard for more capital funding for our schools and infrastructure and we will ensure that we deliver the very best value for what we spend. We are determined to ensure that the Highlands has the investment it needs and deserves and that we are not disadvantaged by our geography.”

Construction begins on Scotland’s first justice centre

Eric McQueen from SCTS, Robertson Group’s Bill Robertson, justice secretary Michael Mathieson Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle

Work has begun on Scotland’s first purpose-built justice centre in Inverness due to be completed late 2019.

As well as providing modern court and tribunals facilities, a range of justice and support organisations will be based in the centre providing integrated facilities for victims, witnesses, litigants and other users. Specialist facilities for children and young people will be incorporated within the design.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service chief executive Eric McQueen and Grampian, Highland and Islands Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle officially broke the ground at the start of construction, joined by the justice centre partners.

Mr Matheson said: “Today brings us a step closer to providing new facilities to deliver a truly 21st century service. Scottish Government funding of £30 million has made the project possible, reflecting our commitment to deliver a justice system that is accessible, modern and fit-for-purpose.

“The new Inverness Justice Centre will give the people of the Highlands access to modern facilities and support all in the same place, which will have a positive impact on local communities.”

Mr McQueen said: “Inverness Justice Centre is in a unique opportunity to bring organisations together, focussing where practical on problem-solving approaches to reduce reoffending and increase the opportunity for community sentencing.

“The centre will represent the changing face of justice by including facilities and technology to remove the need for children to appear in person court and to support the development of digital case management for summary crime in the future.”

Robertson Northern Ltd is scheduled to complete the main building works in 2019.

Proposed capital programme seeks affordable solution to school needs across the Highlands

Portree Gaelic Primary School is being delivered by Robertson Group

The Highland Council is seeking to review new build techniques and introduce greater scrutiny of spending as the local authority struggles to meet the demands for capital investment in the region’s schools.

A proposed capital programme from the council includes a significant investment of £346 million over the next five years, which could amount to as much as £481m gross depending on assumptions for grant and funding.

However, the demands on capital investment are equally significant. Highland has 203 schools operational schools, and a large number of those schools have condition, suitability or capacity pressures. As the council with the largest geographical area in Scotland, there is a hugely diverse range of buildings in terms of size, location, purpose and condition.

The proposed new capital programme is predicated on an annual affordability level of repayment and interest costs of £56.7m which equates to the current budget available for loans charges.

Budget leader, Councillor Alister Mackinnon, said: “The council’s capital programme must always balance competing demands for the resources available. As such, it is not possible to address all needs identified and proposals seek to do the best possible for communities across the Highlands.

“Some projects in the proposed capital programme have project-specific funding associated with them which can only be used for those specific projects.

“The council must also deliver investment to support expansion in Early Learning and Childcare provision to meet Scottish Government policy. The programme as proposed addresses some of the most urgent of these pressures, where the works can be incorporated and delivered within the required timescale, but in the context of a significantly reduced capital programme, cannot meet all the needs identified.

“Capital spend must be affordable, but we have some of the largest council estate in the UK, with 203 schools as well a huge road infrastructure and other funding needs. We have developed a capital programme which seeks to make the best of the funding available and accept that this will meet only some of the very real need across our communities for school renovations and improvements.

“Our capital programme has been reduced by 50% and we fully recognise that, whatever we do, we cannot meet the demands on every wish list and we have to use recognised criteria to determine where spending should take place.

“Highland is a special case, with our huge geography and significant aging estate and assets. We will be undertaking a major lobbying campaign to bring in additional Scottish Government funding for schools and roads and I will be looking to colleagues across the chamber to support this campaign to make sure Highland gets the investment it needs and deserves.”

Councillor Andrew Baxter, chair of people committee, added: “The number of schools in top condition has risen to 33, compared to 27 in 2016, however, 86 of our schools are currently rated as “poor” condition and 44 are rated as “poor” for suitability.

“To address this, we will be looking at a review of new build techniques that are proven elsewhere for schools and a much greater scrutiny of spend, using the key determinants of Condition, Suitability and Sufficiency for capital investment. We are making a strong and ambitious bid for Scottish Schools for the Future funding for secondary and primary schools and will look at identifying and bidding for other funding sources, including Gaelic funding.

“We have proposed substantial investment in schools in Easter Ross and Inverness, with Alness Academy topping the list at £34m. This is recognising the huge investment which has just gone into schools in Lochaber and Caithness.

“Whilst the criteria and timescales for Schools for the Future funding are not known at this time, we have identified immediate priority schools for such a bid, to include a Tain 3-18 campus; the Nairn and Fortrose secondaries; the schools in Invergordon; Beauly, Broadford, Dunvegan and Tarradale primaries; and the St. Clements special school.

“We also intend to bid into the subsequent Schools for the Future funding, which will include primaries in Alness and Kiltearn.

“There are around 30 primary schools across the Highlands which are either currently, or forecast to be, over capacity over the life of the capital programme so £4.6m has been identified for funding for modular units to meet additional capacity requirements.”

Robertson selected for £4.5m Inverness life sciences building

Robertson Northern has been appointed to construct a new £4.5 million building on Inverness Campus to support growth in life sciences and technology sectors.

Inverness Campus developer Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has commissioned the firm to build the new 2460 m2 facility. It will be called ‘Solasta House’ and will offer flexible laboratory and office space for new and expanding companies.

The new building is expected to take around a year to complete, and will provided much needed accommodation to meet growing demand.

Five companies – Aqua Pharma, 4C Engineering, Interactive Health, CorporateHealth International and Aseptium – already have space in the existing life sciences building, Aurora House. This is also the home for the business accelerator programme, Pathfinder. The level of interest in the remaining space suggests Aurora House could be full by the summer.

At least 40% of the cost of the Solasta House will be met by the European Regional Development Fund, with the remainder coming from HIE. The building will sit within the life sciences Enterprise Area, which offers incentives such as rates relief to attract companies into the region.

Ruaraidh MacNeil, HIE’s Inverness Campus project director, said: “Inverness Campus is proving to be an attractive and dynamic location for many life sciences and technology businesses. The availability of modern flexible premises, proximity to the university, the NHS and other partners, and increasing opportunities for collaboration appeals to both existing and prospective tenants.

“Having welcomed several new firms onto the Campus over the past year or two, we are now in discussion with prospective tenants for both the remaining space in Aurora House and space in Solasta House. This reflects the attraction of Inverness Campus to investors and businesses, as well as the continued growth in the life sciences sector in our region.”

Solasta House was designed by Threesixty Architecture and received planning consent in April 2017.

The 215-acre Inverness Campus site is designed to provide a range of academic, research and commercial opportunities, with an emphasis on the life sciences sector.

Frank Reid, managing director, Robertson Northern, said: “It’s with great pleasure that we are, once again, involved in the development of HIE’s Inverness Campus.

“Having previously built two phases of student accommodation on the campus site, we will be starting construction of Solasta House, a new purpose built Life Sciences and Technology building.

“Construction will begin later this month and during our time on site, we will continue to engage with students, outlining the opportunities that are available within the construction industry as part of our ongoing commitment to young people.”

Robertson Homes to build more than 180 new homes in Inverness

Robertson Homes has extended its presence in Inverness with the launch of three new developments in the city.

In a major expansion of its profile in the Highlands, the company is to build more than 180 new homes at Ness Castle, Great Glen Heights and Great Glen Hall.

Ness Castle is a development of 96 three and four-bedroom terraced semi and detached homes, located at Mey Avenue on the outskirts of Inverness.

Great Glen Heights will consist of 32 four-bedroom homes, located at the city’s Forrester’s Way.

And Robertson has also announced plans to undertake a major conversion of the city’s former Craig Dunain Hospital. The development will feature a range of 60 one, two and three-bedroomed apartments and townhouses.

These new projects follow the launch last year of the Robertson Homes development at Great Glen View in Forester’s Way, Inverness, which will consist of 22 three bedroom semi-detached and terrace homes.

Robertson Homes, part of Robertson Group, has been building family homes across Scotland for more than fifty years.

Sharon Spinelli, sales and marketing director at Robertson Homes, said: “When we launched Great Glen View towards the end of last year, we highlighted the fact that we see Inverness very much as a priority location for us in the coming years.

“The response from homebuyers to that development has been fantastic so we’re very excited to be launching this next tranche of high quality properties which reinforce our presence in such a beautiful part of the country.

“These new developments will feature stylish, spacious homes with innovative layouts which offer the perfect base for families and professionals. All of them offer the classic combination of access to some of the Highlands’ most stunning scenery and most popular outdoor activities as well as close proximity to a host of excellent amenities, schools and tourist attractions.”

Highlands City Region Deal to fund new homes for mid-market let

The Highland Council has agreed to use City-Region Deal funding to part fund new mid-market housing projects throughout the Highlands.

The affordable housing projects will be developed by Albyn Housing Society and Highland Housing Alliance in Ullapool, Fort William, Alness, Inverness, Aviemore, Grantown, Drumnadrochit and Newtonmore and will deliver 61 new homes targeted at young people working in the area.

The new homes will be let at mid-market rates – approximately 80% of the average rate charged by private landlords in the area. Those being developed by Albyn Housing Society will be leased by its subsidiary, Highland Residential, which specialises in providing mid-market tenancies.

Councillor Allan Henderson, chair of the council’s environment, development and infrastructure committee, said: “This is good news for these communities and highlights our commitment of using funding from the city region deal to offer young people attractive, affordable housing in the Highlands to enable them to stay in the region, retaining a young, vibrant workforce for the Highlands.

“I am pleased to say that further projects in other areas of the Highlands are currently being worked up and we and our partners are on target to deliver 750 new mid-market homes over the next 10 year period.”

All 61 new homes are expected to be completed by the end of 2019. They include eight units in Alness, four in Aviemore, 25 in Inverness, six in Fort William, eight in Grantown, four in Newtonmore, five in Drumnadrochit and six in Ullapool.

They follow on from the 5 homes already underway in Drumnadrochit which are also funded by the Highland city-region deal. Work on site started in November last year with the 5 homes forming the first phase of an overall wider housing development which includes 23 homes for social rent, including community care housing), and 4 for low cost home ownership.

Gail Matheson, chief executive of Highland Housing Alliance, said: “We are delighted to be working with our partners in delivering much needed mid-market rental homes in many areas across Highland. Demand is high and we will be able to offer homes to young people and families to ensure that they are able to stay in their local community.”

The Highland city-region deal is a joint initiative supported by up to £315m investment from the UK and Scottish governments, The Highland Council, HIE and University of the Highland and Islands, aimed at stimulating sustainable regional economic growth.

Contractor cleared of causing dust contamination at Inverness hospital

An Inverness hospital which had to postpone a number of operations due to dust contamination in its theatres has ruled out recent construction work as the cause.

Floors of the theatres in the main theatre complex at Raigmore Hospital were found to be contaminated by dust resulting in a number of postponements of surgery while the area was deep cleaned.

The theatres had been undergoing an upgrade by Graham Construction as part of a multi-million pound refurbishment of the hospital.

It was initially thought that construction work as part of the theatre upgrade had resulted in the increased level of dust being tracked into the theatre block.

However tests carried out by hospital authorities have revealed that the dust migration was not directly attributable to the adjacent refurbishment works.

Katherine Sutton, deputy director of operations at Raigmore Hospital, said: “We have been working very closely with Graham Construction.

“We’re satisfied that precautions taken by our contractor are proving effective and are confident that additional steps taken by both our clinical teams and our estate staff will ensure that theatres can begin to function as normal.”

Pat O’Hare, contracts director at Graham Construction, added: “We have wide experience in the refurbishment of operating theatres within live hospitals, and the isolated work areas we develop are essential to ensure operations can continue while this work is under way.

“It’s clear, following these tests, that the very strict protocols we have in place to prevent dust migration from areas under contamination are operating effectively.”

Elective surgeries have now resumed at the hospital following the cleaning process.

Councillors approve facelift plans for historic Highland hotel

Architects Covell Matthews’ impression of the finished hotel

The historic Kings House Hotel is set for a major facelift following Highland Council’s approval of plans to rejuvenate the Glencoe landmark.

Despite earlier objections from National Trust for Scotland and the John Muir Trust, the project plans received the green light following a meeting of the planning committee on Tuesday.

James Allan of managing agents Bidwells said: “This is a superb result for our client who has been very focussed on providing a well thought out project which will bring employment to the area and encourage more visitors to this stunning part of Scotland.

“The plans for the hotel are in-keeping with the majestic environment and our client is very focussed on making this a sustainable project which complements their existing business interests elsewhere in Scotland, such as the Drymnin whisky distillery on the Morvern Peninsula.

“The de Spoelberch family recognised the hotel needs money and care and should be a place for people who enjoy sport and the outdoors. They consider this project as an impact investment, which is close to them and the things they love, whilst ensuring the proposal is economically viable.

“They have always been adamant that they didn’t want to do anything that would displease the community and would not have proceeded with something that was not supported.”

Construction work is due to start on the hotel as soon as possible with a projected completion for the beginning of 2019.

Green light for £130m Lochaber alloy wheels plant

Highland councillors have approved plans for an alloy wheel manufacturing facility at Fort William in Lochaber.

The facility, which involves an investment in excess of £130 million and will sustain and create around 570 jobs, was unveiled by industrial group GFG Alliance in September.

Lying to the west of the existing aluminium smelter in Fort William, the proposals for the Liberty Aluminium Lochaber Ltd facility include redevelopment of part of a former brownfield site on which a former carbon factory stood.

Architects Keppie Design said the factory buildings have been designed to look like aluminium ingots (or slabs).

Councillors approved the significant planning proposals subject to a number of detailed conditions relating to transport and traffic management; environmental management; and historical and archaeological management among other conditions.

Chair of the council’s south planning applications committee, Councillor Jimmy Gray, welcomed the decision as a “huge turnaround for the Highlands and in particular Lochaber”.

He added: “There are very few areas in Scotland and indeed the UK where we could see such a dramatic investment in manufacturing and industry. This is the only aluminium smelter left in the UK so this is of national significance. There is a real potential for Liberty to invest in Fort William and Lochaber and we have a whole change agenda in this development that provides huge opportunities.

“I would like to commend and give thanks to our local planning team and the officers involved who processed and prepared this major planning application. This was an extensive piece of work and they have done an excellent job.”

Lochaber leader, Councillor Andrew Baxter, added: “This is a once in a generation opportunity and Liberty Group should be applauded for this contribution to the economy and community. Up to 400 direct jobs will be created at the facility which will also help secure the existing 170 jobs at the smelter.”

Glenmorangie reveals plans for new still house

Whisky producer Glenmorangie has announced plans for a new still house as part of a multi-million-pound expansion of its distillery in Tain.

The Highland firm has submitted plans for the facility and subject to approval, aims to start work this year with completion scheduled for 2019.

Funded by a proposed multi-million-pound investment from its owner The Glenmorangie Company, the expansion would be designed to position the Highland Distillery for ever-greater success.

The proposed new still house would form part of the distillery’s 175th anniversary celebrations while allowing Glenmorangie to increase capacity in line with rising global demand. The planned new building would work in tandem with the existing still house and showcase two more of Glenmorangie’s signature copper stills, the tallest in Scotland. Alongside, a separate building is proposed to provide additional mashing and fermentation facilities.

Marc Hoellinger, President and CEO of The Glenmorangie Company, said: “It is a testament to the success of Glenmorangie, and to the increasing appreciation of our whisky creators’ vision and expertise, that we are able to plan with confidence for the future. We believe the proposed investment will support the distillery’s growth and ensure that many more discerning single malt whisky drinkers can discover the delights of our exceptional Highland single malt Scotch whisky.”