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Pioneering affordable housing project mooted for Aviemore

By Gavin Musgrove

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Some of those who took part in the summit including Kate Forbes MSP (centre) at the Old Sawmill development at Inverdruie which was visited after the conference.
Some of those who took part in the summit including Kate Forbes MSP (centre) at the Old Sawmill development at Inverdruie which was visited after the conference.

A trail-blazing scheme for Scotland could be pioneered in the strath after political, public sector, business and community leaders met at a major housing summit in Aviemore to tackle the chronic shortage of local affordable housing.

Finance Secretary and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes and housing minister Shona Robison were amongst those who attended the behind-closed-doors conference at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort on Monday morning.

Several new tacks were agreed including plans to develop a community of around 80 homes in the Aviemore area to meet a wide spectrum of accommodation needs.

These would range from short term seasonal worker accommodation to homes for people to build, buy, buy to rent and rent of varying sizes.

At least 80 per cent of those homes would be retained for locals and employees.

One possible site for the development could be at An Camus Mor.

Mark Tate, chief executive of the Cairngorms Business Partnership which spearheaded the summit, told the Strathy afterwards: “The work we are doing funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise will be to build a plan pulling together all the community and business (housing) demand with multi-tenure ownership.

“This would be for everything from transient accommodation for seasonal workers providing good homes they want to live in to mid-market properties for rent and self-builds.

“We are building this vision for an 80-unit development at one location that delivers this and importantly retains 80 per cent of those premises with some form of Rural House Burden local buy-in.

“Our vision is for something that delivers across the whole of the housing ladder.”

Mr Tate added: “This is the start of the journey – we have just commissioned this work from the Communities Housing Trust.”

‘The right people’ had been at the summit to provide input into this, including the all-important funding.

“We believe that this proposal is a first for Scotland and is scalable. It is a pilot project in the Aviemore area which could be replicated across the national park and more broadly across the country.”

CBP chief Mark Tate hopes the plan for the new 80-unit housing development will be ready by next Spring.
CBP chief Mark Tate hopes the plan for the new 80-unit housing development will be ready by next Spring.

As for the specific location, Mr Tate said: “We are presently looking at this on a site-agnostic basis because once talk starts about sites that’s the only conversation that takes place.

“All the other conversations – such as the types of homes people want to live in, homes that fit people’s lifestyles – that all goes out of the window.

“Initially, we want to prove this is viable and to get Government to commit funding, and then we will very quickly move onto sites.

“We want the plan on the table in spring next year. We do believe this is ground-breaking.”

Mr Tate did say focus would be on land already allocated for housing in the Cairngorms Local Development Plan.

An Camus Mor – where there are plans for a new town – on Rothiemurchus is the single largest site in the blueprint.

The summit also discussed an innovative scheme to improve prospects for local employees looking to rent homes in the strath.

In a pilot partnership with the council and Highland Housing Alliance, the CBP will establish a not-for-profit business led trust offering rent void guarantees to HHA and in return properties will be allocated based on local employment needs.

The four mid-market homes for rent in Aviemore will be available from next summer.

Ms Forbes said she was at the summit to listen but also to ensure there is meaningful progress: “We had all the people, all the resources and all the ideas that we need to try and resolve the housing issue but it needs to go beyond discussion into action.

She added: “I don’t think blanket policies solve this problem... We need to build more homes but with a specific purpose.”

Ms Forbes said there was public funding available for the ‘right projects’.

Quizzed on An Camas Mor, the Badenoch MSP said she had ‘long been a supporter’ but added: “This is more for the medium to long term. What businesses were saying is that they need solutions tomorrow and that is where this summit can identify immediate actions.”

Lesley McKenna is a member of the award-winning Old Sawmill co-operative which developed six self-build homes with the help of Rothiemurchus at Inverdruie after nearly a decade of fighting red tape. It could form a template for the 80 homes.

Ms McKenna, who attended the summit, said: “It was great to have so many stakeholders in the same room and a consensus of positivity about the need to do something about this housing situation, and a verbal commitment from Ms Forbes and Ms Robison was lovely to hear...

“It was heart-warming for us at the Sawmill project to see that our hard-work might mean that people don’t need to take as long as we did to get a home.”

The Rural Housing Burden is a legal title condition protecting a property’s affordability in perpetuity and prioritises the local community in future sales, helping prevent holiday and second-home ownership.

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