Moray Council in North East Scotland is overseeing the progress of a large scale council house-building programme, which involves developments on three separate sites: Linkwood East in Elgin; Barhill Road, Buckie and Alexandra Road, Keith.
These developments are designed to tackle the shortfalls of housing in Moray which have been identified by the Housing Needs Study of 2002 and various other assessments published by the Scottish Government. There are currently almost 3,000 applicants on the Council’s waiting list.
The findings from the Housing Needs Study in 2002 concluded that there would be an under supply of 219 affordable units per year in the area between 2007 and 2010. According to the council, “If this is addressed over a long period, the under supply is 160 units per year”. Taken with other housing needs assessments published by Communities Scotland, the report underlines the shortfall of affordable housing in Moray and identifies that the level of need for affordability related housing in Moray has increased since 2001. Sensitivity analyses were carried out and indicate that the minimum level of shortfall until 2015 would be in the region of 100 houses per year.
The council’s efforts to tackle the shortfall have resulted in several areas of concern being identified in the local housing market. These include: recession; the lack of affordable housing throughout Moray; pressure from homeless households; disrepair in the private sector; fuel poverty and social exclusion; demographic change leading to an ageing population and smaller households; and the increasingly complex housing needs of elderly and disabled people.
A wide range of sizes and styles of accommodation is therefore being created on all three sites – providing affordable homes and suitable housing for the elderly, or those with ambulant disabilities. Besides family houses – many of which feature a ground floor bedroom for easy access – there will also be bungalows made specifically for less-able, retired tenants. These include ‘C-type’ bungalows with adapted kitchen and bathroom facilities including level-access showers, and wider doorways designed with wheelchair users in mind.
The new housing at Linkwood East began last year, with Phase One being delivered by December 2010. Phase Two began in February 2011, and the overall completion is set for February 2013.
The first phase of housing was funded collaboratively by the government and council, with a smaller grant from Community Energy Scotland enabling the houses to be built with ground-source heat pumps and underfloor heating. Not only does this make the houses more eco-friendly, but incorporating energy saving features is also an innovative way to reduce bills, making the houses more affordable.
Springfield Properties are the main contractors engaged for all three of the major developments currently underway, having been employed at the beginning of the Linkwood East programme. “Part of the government’s stipulation was that the funding for Linkwood East should be used within a certain period,” explained Graeme Davidson, housing strategy and development Manager at Moray Council. “We therefore needed a contractor who could demonstrate during the tender process that the work would be done on schedule, as well as on budget, and to proper standards.”
The property firm proved ideal for the job, as they were already the owners of the fields on which the Elgin housing was to be built, and have extensive experience in the affordable housing market. They have built other affordable housing in the same area, including for the Grampian and Langstane Housing Associations. Their involvement on these projects with Moray Council represents part of a surge in their business in the ‘affordable’ market. That fact that they have now been entrusted with the new developments in Buckie and Keith as well as Phase Two of the Linkwood East project is testament to the quality and efficiency of their building work.
Commenting on the reliability of Springfield’s work, Mr Davidson praised the good quality standard that the developers produce, saying: “They are very well-organised and get the job completed to time.”
The hundred and twenty-eight Moray Council houses that will eventually be on the site are actually just one component of a much broader development of the Elgin South region. Elgin South development will comprise seven hundred and fifty homes, a mixture of council housing, Housing Association homes and private homes. Springfield are also building the infrastructure to connect the new housing district into Elgin city.
Phase Two of the Moray Council housing programme will deliver eighty further council homes to the development.
Meanwhile, around twenty miles from Elgin, a smaller development is taking place on the outskirts of the coastal town of Buckie, on a site which was already owned by the council. Thirty houses are again being built by Springfield Properties, in the same housing styles as those at Linkwood East. This development also began in February and is due for completion in February 2013.
The site has planning permission for approximately one hundred and seventy-five houses. Fifty of these have been built by a Housing Association. Following the thirty houses that Moray Council is already building, they hope to be given the funding from the Scottish Government to expand the project. “We have submitted an application to the Scottish Government to build a further twenty,” Mr Davidson told us, “so we are awaiting a decision on that.”
In Keith, fourteen houses are being delivered by Springfield, of the same types as in Elgin and Buckie.
Graeme Davidson was pleased to report that all of the projects are running both smoothly and to schedule, and when complete the combination of these developments will greatly reduce the previous shortfall in affordable housing.
It is also hoped that the developments will have a positive effect on the local economy, providing people with the affordable housing that will help them to get back on their feet after the economic crisis. Meanwhile, the construction industry in the area will thrive on the opportunities offered by the projects, just as Springfield is proving its worth.
Springfield is a family business which was founded in 1956. Fast growth saw successful specialisation in development and construction, and more recently the firm created a civil engineering division to enable faster progress on their building projects through the provision of necessary developments in infrastructure. Springfield also has sister companies to deal with asbestos removal and landscaping, and the company is pleased to be able to take this all-encompassing approach to its projects, operating both economically and efficiently.
Several local companies also provided supplies and services to the builds for Moray Council, demonstrating the wider positive impact that the project had on the local economy.
Richard Lochhead, MSP for Moray, said of Linkwood East and other simultaneous developments in the area: “The number of potential developments and their scale certainly illustrates an increase in the level of confidence in the Moray economy. The mere fact that several multi-million pound proposals are being presented against the current economic backdrop illustrates resilience in the local economy”.
Mr Hunter Reid of the Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust said: “The project represents the fruition of seven years of work by a large number of people. It has allowed the building to be transformed into a series of dynamic spaces that will once again make it the heart and soul of the community.
“The main contractors are doing a very good job on what has been a very complex project with a lot of structural, remedial and new build works on what is a very constrained site. Not only does the project include a lot of restoration work, there is also a significant amount of new build involved, and we are very happy with the progress being made and the standards of quality that have been achieved.”
He added that a series of historic trades workshops have been held at the site, focusing on traditional work such as slating and leadwork, masonry, pointing and joinery. These have been attended by people from the local community and schools.
He added that the Hall is already receiving many bookings for weddings, birthday parties drama performances, dances and conferences, as well as enquiries from potential tenants of the new office units – well ahead of any advertising.
Scotcourt are delighted to have completed the masonry conservation works on all phases of the Burgh Halls project which included the initial removal of cement rich rendered coatings and the subsequent steam removal of painted coatings prior to the replacement of carved, moulded and plain masonry to all elevations. Lime re pointing, and dressing were also carried out during the project to enable this important local historic listed building to have continued use under the imaginative and community based scheme initiated by the Burgh Halls Trust.