Longman roundabout upgrade design contract awarded

An aerial view of the Longman roundabout

An aerial view of the Longman roundabout

Work to improve the well-known Inverness traffic bottleneck took another step forward today after Transport Scotland announced the intention to award a contract to carry out option assessment and design work on the A9/A82 Longman roundabout improvement scheme.

Subject to a standstill period, Jacobs UK Ltd will start design work on the project. It is expected that the options assessment process to identify a preferred option for this busy junctions will take approximately 15-18 months to complete.

Transport minister Humza Yousaf said: “The Scottish Government recognises the need to provide high quality road infrastructure to support economic growth and improve journey times for road users in and around Inverness.

“As part of the Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal significant investment will be made in the trunk road network to deliver the grade separation of the A9/A82 Longman junction and the A9/A96 Inshes to Smithton Link Road to improve congestion and accessibility to Inverness.

“Improving the traffic bottleneck at Longman is a key priority of the Scottish Government and the appointment today of a design consultant to look at options for improving this well-known junction in Inverness is a major step forward in delivering this improvement. We will continue to work in collaboration with The Highland Council whilst taking this scheme forward.”

Housing developers asked to triple school contributions in Inverness

Margaret Davidson

Margaret Davidson

The Highland Council is to review developer contributions for schools in the Inverness area to help the local authority cope with increasing rolls at city schools.

Members of the council’s Places Committee will be presented with proposals on August 16 to raise the maximum contribution from £2,013 to £6,983 for each new build with immediate effect.

The option to raise developer contributions is also being considered in other parts of the Highlands.

Taking account of the forecasted phasing of housing sites, school roll forecasts indicate that primary schools in Inverness are under pressure and require significant additional capacity to support growth. In addition, all Inverness secondary school are forecasted to go over capacity within the next 15 years. Three of the five Inverness secondary schools are already experiencing capacity issues with school rolls in excess of 90%.

Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “We urgently need to plan ahead for school capacity, particularly in primary schools, to keep up with development in the city. The Council is undertaking proactive work to ensure that our future communities can be provided with the facilities required to support a good quality of life and the future education of our children.”

A review has commenced on the Developer Contributions Supplementary Guidance which was adopted in March 2013 and a new draft is anticipated to be reported to the Places Committee in November for approval. Alongside, a review of the Action Programme for the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan (IMFLDP) is providing an up to date picture of the infrastructure requirements to support growth in the IMFLDP area.

This work has highlighted that the methodology for calculating developer contributions for education needs to be updated. It has also highlighted that to meet the requirements for new schools to support future growth in Inverness in particular the new-build costs set out in the existing Developer Contributions Supplementary Guidance need to be clarified.

Members of the council’s places committee will be asked to agree that negotiations on developer contributions within the Inverness associated schools groups’ catchment areas will be subject to new build equivalent rates based on benchmarking with equivalent developer contribution rates used by other councils in Scotland and a review of recent school developments in the Highlands.

Excluding land costs, the per-pupil costs translate to a per-dwelling cost of £6,983 for primary schools, compared to the existing £2,013, and £3,449 per dwelling for secondary school, compared to the existing £1,039. The new rates are proposed for new primary and secondary schools for any new development where there is a clear need for new schools as a result of construction.

Alongside the developer contributions for forecasted school provision, it will be vital to also factor land costs in the final calculation of developer contributions. In all cases developers will be expected to safeguard and make available the land agreed with the council for school provision.

Reacting to the move, Gary Johnston, director of G H Johnston building consultants, told the Press & Journal: “We can understand why the council wish to do this, with government cutbacks, but we have to be very careful on the impact of people buying houses. If they put the money up it can only go on to the end price value of the house, which then adds tax on buying a house that’s going into services.”

Mr Johnston added that it would also be concerning if the council raised charges in “outlying parts” of the Highlands where it’s more expensive to build.

Inverness housing developer Willie Gray said there “needs to be a consistency of approach” for all developers and a “significant lead in time” for housebuilders to incorporate this into their budgets when bidding for land.

Snagging works continue at delayed Wick Campus

Wick Community Campus (pic from Ryder Architecture)

Wick Community Campus (pic from Ryder Architecture)

Snagging works are continuing at the much-delayed Wick Campus project in the Highlands.

The £48.5 million development, which includes a new High School, Newton Park Primary School, and community facilities, was originally set for completion in 2014.

However, the project has been plagued by number of issues and delays. Despite pupils finally moving into the facility at the end of April, concerns have been raised over the facility’s design and construction.

In a letter to the Wick Stakeholder Group, Wick High School Parent Council and Newton Park Primary School Parent Council, the Highland Council stated: “As stakeholders will be aware, the council deferred the opening date of the new Campus to ensure there was sufficient time for the council to commission the various systems within the building, undertaken checks and inspections, and ensure that the building was operationally safe and ready before opening.

“The Campus has been handed over to the council by hub North Scotland and Morrison Construction, following a very thorough and robust inspection and certification regime throughout the construction period. Part of that process includes expert assessment, independent of the council and hub/Morrison.”

In the letter, the council outlined a description of the process leading to facility handover:

  • Highland Council had its own Clerk of Works regularly on site during construction to review and monitor quality of work, and health and safety
  • Morrison Construction undertook their own quality, health, safety and environmental reviews
  • Regular monthly project review meetings took place on-site, including Highland Council, hub and Morrison’s staff
  • An independent structural engineer’s assessment was commissioned by Highland Council
  • Additional site visits and inspections by council engineering staff have taken place in relation to mechanical and electrical systems pre and post-handover
  • An independent assessment and certification of the facility was a formal part of the facility handover process
  • A statutory inspection of the works by Building Control to ensure the building is safe for occupation in line with the Scottish Building Technical Standards
  • Identification of building snagging matters is undertaken by Hub, Morrison’s and Highland Council staff, and all logged within a common system
  • The Highland Council has review and sign-off of all snagging works prior to closure of such items as complete
  • Highland Council officers were on site to witness commissioning and testing of mechanical and electrical systems prior to opening of the facility

The council added the discovery of a ‘deflected’ steel beam saw the local authority commission its own independent engineer’s assessment to provide assurance and the beam was subsequently replaced. In addition, the engineer’s provided assurance over a ‘cracked’ concrete staircase on the campus, as well as scaffolding which was photographed underneath the stairs.

The local authority added: “As a result of the recent Sauna fire, the council and Facilities Management provider moved quickly to address the immediate damage and in liaison with High Life Highland bring leisure facilities back into safe use at the earliest opportunity. It has been agreed that an independent investigation will be undertaken to understand the cause of the fire.

“We trust that this letter provides assurance regarding the safety of the Campus facility, and provides some clarity around matters reported within the media.”

Highland schools warm to new biomass boilers

The completed biomass plant at Bonar Bridge Primary School, Sutherland

The completed biomass plant at Bonar Bridge Primary School, Sutherland

A swathe of Highland schools are set for a warm winter after state-of-the-art biomass boilers were fitted to keep pupils warm throughout their studies.

Procured through the Scape National Major Works framework, Robertson Northern has completed work at 10 schools across the Highland Council area as part of a £6.9 million project to reduce heating bills and make schools more comfortable during the colder months.

The last school to be upgraded with biomass heating systems, which generate renewable and sustainable energy, was Edderton, with all schools ready to use the new equipment ahead of the new school term.

Celebrating the installation of the new heating systems, Councillor Allan Henderson, chair of the Highland Council’s places committee, said: “We have a responsibility as a major public body and employer to create a greener healthier future. We are also committed to reducing energy costs and making greater use of renewable energy technology so it’s great news that Robertson Northern has completed this work.

“By making the switch, not only are we providing a cost-effective cleaner, greener energy alternative to more traditional heating methods but we are also cutting emissions, which is good news for the environment.

“It’s a win-win situation as staff and pupils will benefit from having an improved environment to work in and they will also notice significant reductions in the running costs for their schools.”

Frank Reid, regional managing director of Robertson Northern, said: “Installing these biomass boilers will bring fantastic benefits to the schools and its pupils by providing a comfortable and warm environment to learn.

“It’s great, as a local Highland business, to be able to complete these projects well ahead of the colder winter months, giving the schools peace of mind that a modern, efficient and affordable system is in place to tide them through the cold winters ahead.”

Completion of the project marks the end of a four year project to install energy efficient heating at 30 schools across the Highland Council estate, with some community centres and swimming pools also benefiting from an upgrade of shared systems.

Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, added: “It is vital that students are able to study and develop their skills in the best possible learning environment. It is fantastic to see the great work Robertson Northern and Highland Council are doing to ensure schools across the region benefit from sustainable and energy efficient heating systems.

“Working collaboratively through our National Major Works framework, both Robertson and Highland Council have proven that investment in high quality school buildings is not reserved for big cities, and that it is possible to deliver fantastic facilities in every community, including those in more rural parts of the country.”

Robertson nears completion of £8.5m Highlands student accommodation

Artist's impression of the Elgin student accommodation development

Artist’s impression of the Elgin student accommodation development

Robertson Northern is nearing completion on two student accommodation developments worth £8.5 million for the University of Highlands and Islands and Cityheart.

The new residences are due to open in Elgin and Inverness this August, which will provide homes for 190 students in the Highlands during term time.

It will be the first time dedicated student accommodation has been provided in Elgin for students of Moray College UHI, providing room for 40 students in Alba Road.

The development at the Inverness Campus follows completion last year on another block also for 150 Inverness College UHI students.

Residents will stay in en-suite rooms with private or shared cooking facilities and will have access to Wi-Fi, cycle storage, laundry services and a support service.

Frank Reid, managing director of Robertson Northern, said: “The University of the Highlands and Islands is a fantastic asset for the whole region and these developments demonstrate the input it makes to the whole area.

“This is particularly exciting for Elgin and its surrounds as the introduction of student-specific accommodation helps bring a fresh workforce and new skills into the area.

“It is an especially proud moment for us given Robertson was founded in Elgin, so bringing this project to completion is a particularly satisfying.”

Developer Cityheart appointed Robertson Northern to deliver the new accommodation, having worked together on similar developments in Fort William and Inverness last year.

The developments are part of the university’s wider project to build and operate residences around the Highlands and Islands. The first phase saw a 40-bed facility open at West Highland College UHI in Fort William and a 150-bed facility open at Inverness Campus in summer 2016.

Speaking about the new development, Fiona Larg, the university’s chief operating officer and secretary, said: “We are excited that the second phase of our residences project is nearing completion. Students are at the heart of what we do and the provision of suitable accommodation is an important asset in supporting current students and attracting new ones.”

Cityheart, is responsible for overseeing the construction and operation of the new residences.

Patrick Hughes, group development director for Cityheart, said: “We are delighted to see our phase two developments for the University of the Highlands and Islands progressing so well. Student residents will benefit from the highest quality, fit for purpose student accommodation available at each location. We also look forward to working further with the university on phase three of its development plans.”

Government grants £1.2m towards 200 new Fort William homes

36009778352_c7a7d0a33c_zPlans to build at least 200 new affordable homes in Fort William are to progress following the award of a £1.2 million grant from the Scottish Government to Lochaber Housing Association.

The site will develop a variety of mixed tenure homes for rent and private use, on the Association’s recently acquired site at Upper Achintore.

The grant, awarded through the Scottish Government’s Affordable Housing Supply Programme supports the government’s ambitious commitment of delivering 50,000 affordable homes including 35,000 for social rent by 2021.

On a visit to the area yesterday, housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “We recognise the challenges of developing affordable housing in rural areas, so I’m delighted that our investment will help to make affordable housing a reality at this site.

“This grant will support the delivery of at least 200 new homes in Fort William and is a great example of how partnership working can deliver a range of homes to suit the needs of the local community.

“Increasing the supply of affordable homes across Scotland is a key commitment and vital to our ambition of tackling poverty and inequality in our society.”

Blair Allan, director of Lochaber Housing Association, said: “The Association has already built around fifty much needed homes for social rent at Upper Achintore in the last few years. However, this Scottish Government grant takes our potential investment in affordable housing here to a new level. Everyone knows that housing need in Fort William is intense.

“The opportunity here is that we can, in partnership with the Scottish Government, the Highland Council and others, go a significant way towards satisfying this need in the short to medium term. We are grateful to the Scottish Government for this support and for the confidence that it has shown in our ability to deliver.”

Councillor Allan Henderson, chair of The Highland Council’s places committee, added: “This is good news for Lochaber where there has been a shortage of affordable housing. The development is especially welcome given the regeneration of the Fort William Smelter and the new job opportunities coming to the area. It comes on top of the recent welcome Scottish Government investment which has enabled the Council and their partners to deliver new affordable homes in Tweeddale Apartments, Raasay Court and Belhaven Drive.”

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery revamp submitted for planning

Inverness Museum and Gallery bridge-street-night-1_webHighland Council has submitted plans to transform the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (IMAG).

Developed in collaboration with Threesixty Architecture and Lightfolio, the proposals will also see the urban environment surrounding the building enhanced to make it safer and more attractive to visitors.

Under the plans, Castle Wynd would be pedestrianised, with a series of vertical metal “fins” proposed there, which would be of various heights, freestanding or wall mounted, and incorporating LEDs for a variety of lighting effects.

Through the installation of the illuminated fins, attention will be drawn away from the IMAG building and towards the streetscape, river, and castle. The lighting will be changeable and interactive, responding to specific events and festivals within the Highland capital.

As part of the works, the existing patchwork of signage and panels on the IMAG building will be removed and replaced with simple signage to complement the overall concept.

A design statement, lodged with the application, states: “Many of the areas to be addressed are in various states of disrepair, or present unsightly views to passers by.

“In particular, the service areas of both the Imag and Shapla Restaurant are fully visible to the public.

“The Castle Steps are currently not a desirable route for pedestrians due to their condition, and Castle Wynd currently prioritises vehicles over pedestrians.

“The Imag entrance location is not immediately apparent to visitors, and the signage does the building no favours.”

The statement adds: “The Castle Steps and Castle Wynd present an opportunity to create appealing pedestrian routes that connect Bridge Street (and the high street), the river, the castle, and the museum.

“The overall site is positioned in a central location and has the opportunity to make a significant visual impact on the heart of Inverness.”

Directors banned for failing to keep books in order

Insolvency ServiceTwo directors of a groundworks company in the Highlands have been banned from running or controlling any further companies after failing to properly keep their accounts in order.

Inverness Sherriff Court has handed an eight year disqualification to Donald Cameron (37), while his fellow director Steven Cameron (36) signed an undertaking agreeing not to run or control a company for seven years. Both men were directors of Highland Groundworks Limited.

The company was placed into liquidation on 28 April 2015, with £41,786 in liabilities. Following the liquidator’s appointment, it was discovered from 01 September 2012 to 29 December 2014 the company books and records were inadequate to:

  • verify the position with regards to assets owned by the Company at the date of liquidation, especially with regards to fixed assets held at 31 August 2012 compromising plant, machinery and vehicles with a net book value of £102,194 and Debtors in the sum of £64,098
  • verify expenditure from the Company bank account totalling £493,351
  • verify whether receipts into the Company bank account between 01 September 2012 and 29 December 2014 totalling £404,639 are a true representation of the total of the total sales achieved by the company.

In addition, it was found that from at least 07 August 2013, the company was missing a number of VAT payments.

The company traded to the detriment of HM Revenue and Customs, in that VAT returns were submitted up to the quarter ended 30 June 2013 disclosing an outstanding liability, including surcharges, of £9,955 which remained outstanding at liquidation. It also failed to submit VAT returns for the quarters 30 September 2013 to 31 December 2014 resulting in an estimated liability, including surcharges, totalling £28,844 which remained outstanding at liquidation.

Robert Clarke, head of company investigation at the Insolvency Service, said company directors “have a duty” to ensure their companies maintain proper accounting records, and following insolvency, deliver them to the office-holder in the interests of fairness and transparency.

“Without a full account of transactions it is impossible to determine whether a director has discharged his duties properly, or is using a lack of documentation as a cloak for impropriety,” he said.

“Both Steven and Donald Cameron have paid the price for failing to do that, as they cannot now carry on in business other than at their own risk.

“The public can be assured that where there have been abuses of public finance provisions which result in losses of this type, the Insolvency Service will investigate the conduct of the parties involved and take action to remove the privilege of limited liability trading for a lengthy period.”

Green light for new apartments at Dornoch golf hotel

Dornoch-OverallPlans have been approved for the construction of apartments and cottages within the grounds of Dornoch’s Royal Golf Hotel.

Working alongside Dornoch Development Ltd and Lippe Architects, Kirkwood Homes is to deliver two apartment blocks each housing twelve, two bedroom apartments as well as four affordable cottages.

The new flats will be for open market sale as opposed to a previous proposal on site, which involved a high degree of management by the hotel for their holiday use.

Dornoch-Overall 2There will be two blocks of three-storey apartments which will be modern in design with traditional stonework on the outside.

The two-bedroom apartments will be finished to high standards, complete with en-suite, bathroom, kitchen, utility and living/dining room area.

There will be another two blocks of two, semi-detached cottages on the site of a former tennis court across the road.

Dornoch-Overall 3Colin Crombie, managing director of Kirkwood Homes, said: “Dornoch is one of the most unique, beautiful and historic towns in Scotland and we have worked closely with the planning authority to ensure the development is of stunning quality to complement its surroundings.

“Last year we launched our first development in the Highland region and this application pays testament to our long-term commitment to this area as we continue to expand our offering across Scotland.”

Construction is due to start next month with the first completions expected in summer 2018.

New £500m Inverness development set to begin in weeks

Hazledene GroupThe Scottish Government and Highland Council have given approval for a £500 million development by Hazledene Inverness which will feature 1,500 homes, surrounding a new town centre with retail, leisure and community facilities.

Minister for local government & housing, Kevin Stewart MSP, visited the site at Stratton today with Brian Clarke of the Hazledene Group and Councillor Helen Carmichael, Provost of Inverness and Area, to announce that the first construction work will begin this August.

The new community at Stratton will be located on the outskirts of Inverness, on land adjoining Inverness Retail Park and will be closely linked to existing communities at Culloden, Smithton and Balloch.

Work on the major infrastructure associated with the project will begin at the end of August and is in part being financed by an infrastructure loan provided by the Scottish Government.

Hazledene Inverness, the developer behind the proposal, has agreed to make a major investment to deliver this significant project and is delighted to confirm that 400 homes will be delivered by Barratt Homes. In addition, Hazledene Inverness has completed the sale to Highland Council of land sufficient for an additional 150 homes.

The Stratton site will create up to 1,000 permanent jobs in addition to 1,200 temporary construction jobs.

In the first phase 550 homes will be built, all retaining the key characteristics of architecture in the region. At least a quarter of these are designed to help meet Highland Council’s affordable housing targets.

Brian Clarke of the Hazledene Group said: “This is a strategically important site for the city of Inverness, reflecting the buoyancy of the Inverness economy and in keeping with Highland Council’s development objectives. It complements many of the wider initiatives contained in the City Region Deal and we are pleased to have the support of Scottish Government by way of the Infrastructure Loan facility. We have worked with Highland Council over the past five years to align our proposals with their goals and we are delighted that we have reached an agreement to move forward to delivery.”

Sustainable development is a key feature of Stratton, with attention given to habitat diversity, green spaces, woodland areas bordering the development and the creation of a network of cycle paths and footpaths.

A £10m fund has been announced today by the Scottish Government, aligned to the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal. The region will benefit from a £135m Scottish Government investment into its infrastructure, following the award of a City-Region Deal in March 2016.

Kevin Stewart MSP said: “Increasing the supply of affordable homes across Scotland is our key aim and today we have made a significant commitment to supporting the delivery of new housing in The Highland Council area.

“The jointly supported £10m Highland Infrastructure Fund means the council can plan for new affordable homes now and will provide all housing developments, including small or rural schemes with an equal opportunity to apply.

“Today’s announcement will provide the certainty that The Highland Council and the housing sector need to deliver their housing priorities in the area. It also reflects the strong partnership between the council and the Scottish Government to better meet our joint objectives on housing.”

Councillor Helen Carmichael added: “Availability of affordable housing is fundamentally important to the sustainability of communities in the Highlands. The Highland Council is committed, with our partners, through the City-Region Deal, to provide quality affordable homes which will help to retain a young and vibrant workforce and give our young people the best possible opportunities.”

The first construction work at Stratton is scheduled to begin in August 2017.