Scotland’s ‘wasted asset’
A total of 23,000 private-sector homes across the country are currently lying empty, according to a partnership led by charity Shelter Scotland.
The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, which is funded by the Scottish Government, said the properties remain vacant at a time when 160,000 households are on waiting lists for homes.
The partnership is calling for greater commitment from politicians and local authorities to bring longterm empty homes back into use. Kristen Miller of Shelter Scotland said: “Empty homes are a disgraceful waste at a time when housing demand outstrips supply.” She told the 21st Century Homes in Scotland conference in Edinburgh: “With fewer homes being built, there is no end in sight for the tens of thousands of households in Scotland stuck on housing waiting lists. We urge councils to do all they can to make use of the houses they already have in their communities.
“Bringing empty homes back into use has many benefits – it adds to the housing supply, contributes to local regeneration and supports rural communities and community safety.” A Scottish Government spokesman said: “There are thousands of long-term empty homes across Scotland, located in urban, rural and island communities. They represent a wasted housing asset and have a negative impact on the quality of Scotland’s cities, towns and villages. That is precisely why we are funding the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership.
“Earlier this year the Scottish Government announced that councils will be given new powers to increase council tax on Scotland’s 25,000 long-term empty homes, which could deliver up to £30 million each year for affordable housing.”
A first for Stirling
Raploch Urban Regeneration Company (URC) has started work on Scotland’s first mass timber, mixed use, low carbon development, which will create a mix of eco-friendly apartments and commercial units. Funded by the Town Centre Regeneration Fund, the building will be constructed by Cruden Homes East and located in Raploch’s Huntly Crescent.
Sustainability in Architecture has committed to working with the URC to develop a full case study of the project, looking at its design, energy and fuel consumption, use of micro-renewables and cost comparisons to similar projects so that the expertise gained by the URC in undertaking this project can be shared with others, with the aim of creating more mixed use, low carbon developments in Scotland.
See ‘Pioneering approach’, page 13
High street hits new lows
More than one in ten towncentre shops were vacant in the first quarter of the year, according to a survey published by membership body the British Retail Consortium (BRC). The survey, published in August, found that the UK town-centre shops vacancy rate in May was 11.2 per cent. Over the past year high-street shops saw a 2.6 per cent decrease in footfall.
The worst affected areas were Wales, the West Midlands and the East of England. There were slight increases in occupancy in Greater London, the South West and Scotland.
Dumfries project takes flight
The unofficial birthplace of Peter Pan is to be turned into a literary centre for children.
Author JM Barrie spent time as a child at Moat Brae House in Dumfries, and later said it was “an enchanted land’’ which was “certainly the genesis’’ of his work, Peter Pan.
A major fundraising campaign was launched last month by the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust (PPMBT), which hopes to draw in £4m to turn the Georgian mansion and its grounds into an international centre.
Actress Joanna Lumley, the trust’s newly appointed patron, launched the campaign.
The trust was set up in August 2009 after it was announced that Moat Brae would be pulled down to make way for housing because it had fallen into disrepair. An action group was formed by residents who successfully campaigned to save the building and garden from demolition. The trust eventually bought the site from Loreburn Housing Association.
Plans include a Peter Pan experience exhibition, a children’s library and opportunities to house literary residencies and arts activities that celebrate and promote children’s literature. There are also plans for a Neverland outdoor play area where “every plant will tell a story’’, as well as a cafe and shop within the house.
PPMBT project development director Cathy Agnew said she hopes the regeneration can “breathe new life’’ into Moat Brae. “This is potentially a very big regeneration project and it serves to really encourage the catalyst for regeneration and economic development for Dumfries. We’re optimistic that we can make the most of what is still left.”
Capital’s homes project under way
Housebuilders will develop up to 320 new homes in Edinburgh as part of the regeneration of the Sighthill area, it was announced. Three tower blocks – Hermiston, Weir and Glenalmond – will be demolished this month and replaced with a wide selection of new houses, including around 160 affordable homes.
The scheme will form part of the capital’s 21st Century Homes project, which will lead to the construction of up to 1,300 new homes across Edinburgh, in areas such as Pennywell, Muirhouse, Gracemount and North Sighthill.
Marvel at canal’s gateway
A sculpture inspired by an acclaimed Scottish artist and made by another was unveiled at Monkland Canal in Coatbridge. The work by Andy Scott – who also made the M8 heavy horse – pays homage to the work of renowned comic book writer Mark Millar, who grew up in the town.
The six-metre high steel archway shows a character called Captain Coatbridge and two female superheroes. It was commissioned as part of on-going efforts to regenerate the canal.
The archway is made up of thousands of pieces of shaped steel which have been welded together and shows superheroes holding up the sun, moon and stars. It is part of a £175,000 gateway to the 200-year-old canal, along with new landscaping and access improvements.
Fund mines community’s potential
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust in Scotland is throwing down a £100,000 challenge to would-be entrepreneurs to start their own businesses to help tackle the scourge of unemployment in former mining towns and villages.
The trust hopes its Coalfields Community Challenge will identify up to ten viable business ideas which will share support from the fund including a top award of £50,000 to help get the new enterprises off the ground.
The top ten applicants will get VIP treatment including three months mentoring, and a weekend long ‘boot camp’ to prepare them to pitch their ideas to a Dragons’ Den which will select the winning project.
Nicky Wilson, Scottish Trustee of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust said: “Research shows that former mining areas are still suffering from the devastating effects of the collapse of the mining industry more than a decade ago.
Unemployment is higher than national averages, health is poorer and less people start their own businesses.
“But we know that the talent, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit is there … it just needs the encouragement of an initiative like our Community Challenge to bring it to life”.
Wilson said that the people living and working in former mining areas are at the very heart of the initiative. The trust hopes to encourage more people like entrepreneurs Frankie Hodge and Jackie Dunsmuir who started a social business Recycle Fife with one small van seven years ago and now employ 20 people with a turnover of £500,000 a year.
The couple have since launched Barrel Crafted a new business recycling used whisky barrels into small gifts and furniture initially creating jobs for two joiners and a designer, and training opportunities for ten people, all with the help of a start-up grant of £45,000 from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
New build permissions slump
The Home Builders’ Federation has reported a significant drop in planning permissions for new homes. The HBF’s Housing Pipeline report revealed last month that across the UK 29,100 residential units were approved during the second quarter of 2011; a 23 per cent drop on the previous three months, and 26 per cent lower than the same period a year ago.
Scotland saw a 42 per cent fall compared to the first half of 2010. Wales is the only part of the UK to see an increase in overall approvals so far this year with a 35 per cent rise, the report said. The HBF says around 60,000 homes are required per quarter to meet the current housing shortfall.
Design workshops announced
Planning proposals for Callander, Johnstone and Girvan will form part of the next round of ‘charrettes’, the Scottish Government has said. A charrette is an intense design workshop that takes place over a number of days, in which community groups work directly with a design team to generate development plans.
A previous round was held throughout March last year in Dumfries, Lochgelly and Aberdeen. Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth John Swinney said: “Through the mainstreaming of charrettes, Scotland is leading the way in how communities are contributing to their future environments. This is an innovative process which is grounded in practicality, and this is essential if we are to create sustainable, low-carbon communities across Scotland.”
Broadband funding ‘falls short’
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore urged the Scottish Government to “cheer up” after a UK funding allocation for rural broadband was described as disappointing.
The Scottish Government received £68.8m from the UK Government to roll out broadband in rural Scotland, £25m more than if it had been calculated on the basis of population share using the Barnett formula.
Commenting on the announcement, Scottish Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil said he was “disappointed with the allocation”. He added: “This announcement from the UK Government has fallen short of the expectations of the Scottish economy to the overall costs of broadband roll-out in the remote and rural parts of Scotland.” However, Moore said that UK ministers recognise the need for extra finance for Scottish broadband. “The Scottish Government needs to be more upbeat. It takes a rather sour outlook to turn nearly £70 million into a setback. Cheer up for goodness’ sake and get on with delivering the improvements to our rural communities.
“Instead of looking for the negative, they should step up and meet the challenge of matching UK Government investment in broadband for our rural communities. If they do that, we can move towards achieving the target of 90 per cent of Scottish premises having superfast broadband – and everyone having access to at least 2Mbps – by 2015.
If they don’t invest then they will be failing Scotland’s rural communities and businesses.” Following Moore’s comments, Neil said: “We do find it funny that Mr Moore, as Secretary of State for Scotland, appears unaware that this funding allocation doesn’t reflect the fact that Scotland has a third of the UK landmass and some of the most remote areas in these islands.”
SNP’s anger over Crown Estate move
The Treasury confirmed the creation of the Coastal Communities Fund, a new scheme that will provide communities with access to 50 per cent of the revenues from the Crown Estate’s marine activities.
By April 2012 local communities will be able to unlock £23.7m through the fund, based on a 50 per cent share of the £47.4m revenue raised by the Crown Estate’s marine activities in 2010-11. In Scotland, overall revenues were £7.8m in 2010-11, meaning £3.9m – £1.85m for the Highlands and Islands and £2.05m for the rest of Scotland – will be made available next spring.
The Treasury said the fund is “designed to support the economic development of coastal communities and will support a wide range of projects, including those that support charities, the environment, education and health”.
The fund will be available on a bid basis and the Treasury announced the government is in discussion with the Big Fund, part of the Big Lottery Fund, about the terms on which they could deliver the funds to communities.
“I am delighted to announce a new multi-million-pound fund that will support coastal communities across the UK.
Coastal communities share a strong sense of place and it is only fair that we share the Crown Estate’s revenues equally,” said Chief Secretary Danny Alexander.
But the move was criticised by the SNP, which included the full devolution of Crown Estate revenues in a list of demands handed to the UK Government following its victory in May’s Scottish elections.
“[The] announcement is the result of SNP pressure for Crown Estate revenues to be devolved and decades of community campaigning,” said SNP MP Angus MacNeil. “However, this coalition fudge falls far short of what communities need and want. Danny Alexander must clarify as soon as possible if this really is Crown Estate money and when the UK Government will move to devolve full control and revenues from the Crown Estate to Scotland. He needs to prove he is a man that can deliver for the Highlands and Islands, rather than just being the Tories’ front man in Scotland.” Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, added: “In recent months we have provided the Secretary of State for Scotland with two detailed papers setting out the clear and rational case for change. However, despite this, Scottish ministers were not consulted on these latest, timid proposals. If UK ministers had had the courtesy to do so they would have been informed that these proposals are clearly inadequate.”