Time to ‘revisit’ housing developer contributions in Inverness, says council leader

Margaret Davidson

Margaret Davidson

Developer contributions in the Inverness area could be increased to help the local authority cope with increasing rolls at city schools.

Currently housing developers are asked to pay about £2,000 per house towards education provision.

But, according to local Highland councillors, existing schools are overcrowded and the city needs at least two more new buildings to cope.

Margaret Davidson, leader of Highland Council, told the BBC it was now time to “revisit” the issue.

A number of factors are behind increasing rolls at Inverness schools, according to the senior councillor.

She said: “The birth rate has gone up and the city is still attracting new families into the area.

“That brings pressure on our schools and we need to be able to plan better for education provision.

“The developer for each house provides about £1,000 or £2,000 towards a primary or a new secondary school, or an extension if one is needed.

“I want that revisited. Are we doing it the right way and are we asking for enough money?”

Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie said large developments of 100 houses were not generating large enough contributions.

He added: “£200,000 is not even enough to start the work on an extension for a school let alone build the two new ones at least in the area.”

‘Improved’ designs unveiled for Inverness Justice Centre

IJC1The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) said it has improved the designs of its proposed Inverness Justice Centre as the plans are set to be unveiled to the public.

Designed by Reiach & Hall Architects, the two-storey justice centre is to be developed on the site of a former bus depot between Longman Road and Burnett Road to the north of Burnett Road Police Station after councillors gave the project planning permission in February.

SCTS said its confident that the new planning proposal presents an improved design in keeping with what will be a “landmark building” in the city. The new design addresses planning conditions, is more efficient in the use of accommodation and provides attractive public space, along with improved access via a drop-off area, additional parking and disabled spaces, it added.

IJC2The new plans for what will be Scotland’s first purpose-built justice centre are being made available for public consultation before being reviewed by Highland Council’s planning committee.

SCTS chief executive Eric McQueen said: “Rather than simply a replacement sheriff court building, the justice centre will play a pivotal role in changing victims’, witnesses’ and offenders’ experience of the justice system, while providing high quality secure criminal courts, and flexible accommodation for our civil courts and tribunal users.

“By bringing together the right organisations, we can all focus on problem-solving approaches to reduce reoffending and increase the opportunity for community sentencing, while providing the facilities and technology to remove the need for children to appear in court and in the longer term, digital case management for summary crime.”

Justice secretary Michael Matheson added: “We are working with SCTS to deliver a justice system that is accessible and fit-for-purpose and the new Inverness Justice Centre will give the people of the Highlands access to modern facilities and support all in the same place, making a positive impact for local communities.

“I would encourage anybody with an interest in the proposals to go to the public exhibition and make sure they have their say.”

IJC3In addition to the direct justice benefits, the location of the justice centre will help transform the surrounding area, with the transfer of Inverness Castle to the Highland Council ownership stimulating economic growth for the city as it works in partnership with the Scottish Government and other public bodies to develop a major tourism attraction.

Construction is planned to begin in late 2017 with contractor Robertson Construction to complete the main building works in 2019.

The public exhibition will take place on June 22 in the Magnus Room, Royal Highland Hotel, 18 Station Square, Academy St, Inverness IV1 1LG from 3pm – 7pm.

HMP Highland submitted for planning

HMP Highland (front) (image courtesy of BakerHicks)Commercial property specialist Colliers International has prepared and lodged a Planning Permission in Principle (PPP) application for the first new prison in the Highlands of Scotland for more than a century.

The new HMP Highland will replace the 112-year-old HMP Inverness Prison, located in the city centre, with a new 21st century fit-for-purpose prison development.

Working on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service, Colliers International’s planning team lodged the PPP for the new prison facility on land to the south of Inverness Retail and Business Park. As the development proposal represents a technical departure from the Development Plan, Colliers’ work has involved significant pre-application discussions with Highland Council in addition to the statutory pre-application public consultation.

Meabhann Crowe, senior planner at Colliers International, said: “Identifying a suitable site for a new prison facility is a rare task. Finding a suitable location was not as straightforward as with many other buildings. However, the Highlands, Islands and Moray areas need a modern, fit-for-purpose prison facility and we have found an excellent location for the impressive designs, which the Scottish Prison Service has commissioned.

“The new HMP Highland is proposed on a site which we believe to be wholly suitable to this development. It benefits from good accessibility and existing landscaping on the site will assist in creating a setting for the building. The response to the public consultation we carried out was overwhelmingly positive with a complete 100% of respondents in support of the Prison Service’s aim to create a modern, fit for purpose facility.”

HMP Highland (aerial) (image courtesy of BakerHicks)Colliers International worked alongside the Scottish Prison Service and a specialist consulting team, including BakerHicks, ITP Energised, Fairhurst Engineers, TGP Landscape Architects, AOC Archaeology and ERM Consulting in bringing the planning application together.

As part of the process, Colliers International’s planning team coordinated pre-application discussions with the council, statutory pre-application public consultation in March and submission of the overall planning application to the council last week. The consultancy team involvement will continue as the application navigates its way through the application process.

Meabhann added: “The consultancy team has worked hard to ensure the proposal is the right development in the right place, and incorporates an exciting design philosophy.”

HMP Highland will serve Highlands, Islands and Moray areas. SPS’ estates strategy involves the commitment to replace historic accommodation with modern facilities which contribute to a Safer Stronger Scotland.

The application is expected to be determined later this year.

Images courtesy of BakerHicks

Work complete on £3m Thurso leisure centre upgrade

Thurso Leisure CentreWork on a £3 million leisure centre refurbishment project in the Highlands is now complete.

The scheme at Thurso Leisure Centre was carried out by Pick Everard, Leslie Hutt Architects and O’Brien Construction on behalf of the local authority.

The facility includes a new reception area and changing village, as well as a refreshed multi-purpose studio. The swimming pool has undergone a complete refurbishment and has been fully retiled, with a new sauna and steam room installed.

Pick Everard provided mechanical and electrical (M&E) building services design to assist the council in reducing running costs and bringing the 50-year-old building back to life.

Doug Soutar, director at Pick Everard, said: “This was a complicated refurbishment which was carried out on a phased basis so that the leisure centre could remain in use.

“We incorporated new energy efficient mechanical and electrical services, including a biomass boiler. Our designs integrate an energy efficient ventilation system that is expected to save approximately 10% on revenue costs, and we have also used LED lighting throughout the centre, saving the council around 20 to 30% on the existing lighting energy costs.”

Agreement reached over Stronelairg legal battle costs

Court of Session

Court of Session

SSE and the John Muir Trust (JMT) have reached a settlement in relation to court expenses incurred due to a dispute over a planned wind farm in the Highlands.

In July last year, the Court of Session overturned a previous decision to halt development of the 67-turbine Stronelairg wind farm in the Monadhliath Mountains near Inverness.

As a result, the John Muir Trust ended its legal action against the project, stating the legal battle against the development had consumed a “significant amount of time and money”.

SSE then began the process of pursuing £350,000 in court costs’ settlements from the Trust.

However, the JMT has agreed to pay £50,000 in final settlement for the legal case.

The charity said: “This agreement, combined with the £75,000 agreed with the Scottish Government last month, ends our liability for the Stronelairg legal case. The Trust is extremely grateful to our legal team who supported us throughout and minimised their costs where possible.

“This is a positive outcome, and we are grateful to the many supporters of our Stronelairg campaign, who have enabled us to meet all of the legal costs from our existing campaign funds.”

SSE said it would pass on the full settlement to Visit Inverness Loch Ness, a not for profit organisation in the Great Glen. The funds will be used to contribute towards the South Loch Ness Trail, which is a project to complete a walking and cycling trail round the whole of Loch Ness.

Paul Cooley, SSE director of generation development, said: “We are pleased to reach a reasonable conclusion with the John Muir Trust on the issue of expenses for the Judicial Review process. We are also happy to be able to gift those funds to the excellent South Loch Ness Trail project which will allow many members of the local community and tourists alike to enjoy all the Loch has to offer for years to come.”

SSE added construction work on the Stronelairg wind farm is progressing well and the project is expected to be complete by October 2018.

Revised proposals lodged for new Highlands dairy

Smithy Dairy 2Plans have been submitted to Highland Council to build a dairy in a Wester Ross village.

Revised proposals lodged by the Lochcarron Community Development Company feature a dairy, a retail area and cafe, along with parking for 30 vehicles at Ribhuachan.

Greig Ross from agents Reynolds Architects Ltd, of Dingwall, said the ground floor would have a production plant, a cheese store, a packing area and a cold store as well as the cafe.

There would also be a kitchen with a servery, a larder, chill unit and an entrance lobby with a decking area outside.

The upstairs space will accommodate an office, a conference and training room, as well as a staff room and lockers. A lift as well as stairs will connect the two floors.

The Lochcarron Community Development Company’s building will be beside its existing Smithy Community Hub – a visitor information point and local arts and crafts gallery and shop – and situated close to the treehouse.

£2.5m wind farm contract win for Moray engineering firm


The site at Stronelairg

A Moray engineering and construction company has secured its biggest contract ever with a multi-million pound windfarm deal.

AJ Engineering and Construction Services Limited has been contracted to fabricate and install the structural steel and cladding for the Stronelairg Wind Farm substation in a deal worth £2.5 million.

The contract for the project has been secured through Global Infrastructure which has worked closely with Forres-based AJ Engineering on a number of other contracts.

Fabrication of steelwork is well underway and approximately a third has been erected on site. The installation of the roof cladding has also been commenced.

A 3D model of the building

A 3D model of the building

Graham Alexander, AJ Engineering’s general manager, said: “The contract has a value of £2.5m and our element of the works are due for completion this summer. To date this is the largest single project AJ Engineering has ever been awarded.”

He added: “The main contract has been let to a joint venture of BAM Nuttall and Siemens and they in turn have let the building works to Global Infrastructure. We have carried out a number of contracts to date with both BAM Nuttall and Global Infrastructure and it was due to these previous successful projects that we are asked to undertake Stronelairg. Only through working closely with all the parties involved in a project like this can you understand what is critical to their works and together you can deliver to meet the client’s needs.”

Graham, who joined AJ Engineering in 2014, added: “The building has to be built over 2000 feet above sea level in a very exposed location so not only does this make construction more difficult, the weather plays a significant role in the movement of resources to the site. We take pride in providing our clients with engineered solutions and the logistics of meeting a tight schedule, in a difficult location, has meant we have had to think ‘outside the box’ on more than one occasion.”

The Stronelairg wind farm is a 66 turbine project located on the Garrogie estate, South East of Fort Augustus.

Highland architecture firm hopes to expand kit homes business

blackhouse exterior1-5An architecture practice from Skye has unveiled plans to more than double in size as it hopes to “give value to Highland architecture”.

Dualchas Architects, formed in 1996 by twin brothers Alasdair and Neil Stephen, is celebrating its 21st anniversary with a rebrand that its founders hope will expand its HebHomes division from 40 kits per year to 100.

The brothers also said further automation in the construction industry was required to offset future skills shortages and make housing more affordable.

HebHomes was launched in 2007, the same year the firm opened its Glasgow studio, and 10 years on, Alasdair Stephen said it was time to give value to Highland architecture.

A contemporary longhouse, based on the traditional single-storey blackhouse dwelling, which was common in the Hebrides around the time of the Highland clearances, was designed by the practice to offer an affordable alternative for clients looking to build on acquired land.

“The idea of the new blackhouse was important,” Neil Stephen told The Herald. “We are trying to give value to Highland architecture. The architectural thread was cut with the clearances and the blackhouse was seen to be the emblem of poverty.”

With the bi-lingual studios speaking English and Gaelic, the brothers believe the current revival in Gaelic culture should have architecture, as well as language, at its heart.

“One of the most obvious parts of culture is architecture,” said Neil Stephen. “Civilisations are judged in the future by the architecture they leave behind.

“Our view is it was important architecture played a part in that revival, and you could say it is now.”

“We’re quite ambitious about HebHomes,” said Alasdair Stephen. “The first few years of the business, it was supported by Dualchas, we only did a few a year. Our aim is to do 50 or 60 kits a year now and we want to increase that to 100.”

That will also help the overall business double its turnover to about £2.5 million.

The rebrand coincides with a move from a structurally insulated panel (SIP) system of materials to the more sustainable cross laminate timber (CLT).

While HebHomes is a growing part of the business, the brothers said Dualchas was also increasing headcount and business, and is expanding from its traditional residential base.

Mears signs new cost savings deal on PPP Highland schools project

MearsMears has signed a new deal with the Highland Council which will see millions of pounds saved over the lifetime of the Private Public Partnership (PPP) Highland Schools Project.

The company entered into a 30-year contract with Alpha Schools (Highlands) and the council to carry out Total Facilities Management services on 10 new schools which were opened in 2007.

With 20 years remaining on the project, the targeted cost reduction measures are set to deliver substantial savings to the council, without compromising the quality of the services being delivered by Mears.

Highland is the largest local authority area in the UK and the wide geographical spread of the schools requires Mears to implement innovative methods of planning and service delivery.

Mears uses local sub-contractors to assist in the delivery of the works. Many schools also have facilities which are open to the public and act as community hubs – such as libraries, swimming pools, leisure centres, arts centres, adult education centres and offices.

The agreement ensures the continued satisfactory operation and maintenance of each site with a set of additional agreements that safeguards the Highland Council’s financial risk in any given year.

Tony Smith, Mears managing director of facilities management, said: “We are delighted that our excellent working relationship with the Highland Council has enabled us to identify improvements and deliver further savings for the partnership. We understand the financial pressures local authorities are under and we work hard to deliver innovative services.

“Our Highland Schools contract challenges our team to deliver a comprehensive service, incorporating highly specialist works, in an environment which demands the highest safety and compliance standards.

“To put into perspective how comprehensive our service is, Mears maintains and is responsible for everything within each of the 10 school buildings apart from the actual teaching of students and academic support services. We think of it as providing facilities which allow education to excel.”

Brian Porter, head of resources for care and learning within the Highland Council, added: “The improvements and cost savings in this new deal are significant and are the results of our close working partnership with Mears and Alpha Schools (Highlands). To date, Mears has delivered excellent services for us that are both safe and innovative – we view them not as a contractor, but as a long-term business partner and stakeholder.”

Plans lodged for 137 new homes at Ness Castle in Inverness

A previous development phase at Ness Castle

A previous development phase at Ness Castle

Plans have been lodged for the next phase of a housing development in the south-western outskirts of Inverness.

Developer Barratt North Scotland is seeking permission to build 137 family and affordable homes at the Ness Castle site in the city’s Torbreck area.

The scheme will form part of the second phase of a new community at Ness Castle which could feature close to 1,000 homes when completed.

An application lodged with local authority this week covers about 13 acres of the 108-acre site earmarked for development.

Documents submitted with the plans propose a mixture of detached and semi-detached housing in the new neighbourhood.

Douglas McLeod, regional managing director for Barratt Developments in Scotland, said the new project demonstrated the success of the Ness Castle development.

“Our new planning application for Ness Castle represents an update to our original plan for the site,” he told the Press & Journal.

“This new build phase will provide 137 new homes suited to first-time buyers, families and affordable occupation, all built to Barratt Homes’ exacting five star quality standards.

“Our progression into this new area of the site also represents the continued success of Ness Castle as well as its popularity as a top residential location in the Highland capital.”

Highland Council has highlighted the need for a new primary school in the area to accommodate residents, and a site has been reserved for the facility, with the developers expected to contribute to the building costs.

Initial plans for a 984-home estate at Ness Castle were approved by councillors in 2009 but the scheme stalled until the first 276-home phase was launched in 2011/12.

In 2015, Barratt Homes revealed it planned to build 350 homes at the development site, and last summer work began on 51 affordable Albyn Housing Society homes, backed by a Scottish Government grant.