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Today's Scottish news (March 6)

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Shelter Scotland partnership to tackle empty homes in Dundee and Angus


Angus and Dundee City councils are planning to team up with Shelter Scotland in a bid to tackle the problem of empty homes.
 
The Courier has reported that the councils will enter into a shared services agreement with the charity to appoint an officer to focus on the issue of empty properties for the next two years.
 
The post will cost just over £48,000 a year, with the Scottish Government providing funding of £20,000 in the first year and £10,000 in the second year. Angus and Dundee City councils will provide the remaining funding of £14,177 each in the first year and £19,177 each in the second year.
 
The role will be full time, with the officer splitting their time equally between the two local authorities.
 
Shelter Scotland will recruit the role and provide the officer with access to resources, policies and procedures developed through the existing shared services projects and the Scottish Empty Homes Network.
 
In a report which went before councillors in Angus who approved the proposal, head of planning and place Vivien Smith, said: “Empty homes represent a wasted resource in Angus (as elsewhere) and can also cause significant problems for neighbours and surrounding communities.
 
“Limited staff resources have inhibited our ability to develop dedicated services for this type of work and it is recognised that working proactively with owners to bring properties back into use can be time-consuming and complex.”
 
Since 2010, the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, funded by the Scottish Government and coordinated by Shelter Scotland, has been working with councils and their partners to develop services aimed at bringing private-sector empty homes back into use.
 
One focus of the partnership is to support local authorities to develop a shared services approach to empty homes work, providing dedicated resources to work with owners.
 
There are currently four such projects operating in Scotland, covering 10 local authorities.

Angus Council has a successful Empty Homes Loan Fund Project in operation, which is funded by a loan of £120,000 from the Scottish Government.
 
This fund provides interest-free loans to owners of empty homes, who are required to let the homes at an affordable rent for a minimum of five years.
 
Ms Smith added: “The current loan fund of £120,000 will be fully utilised by the end of the financial year and will have brought seven empty homes back into use by 31 March 2015.
 
“Although the success highlights that there is an appetite for this type of funding in Angus, the provision of loan funding represents just one option to support owners of empty homes.”
 
Last year, Angus Council controversially introduced a policy of imposing additional council tax on properties that have been empty for one year.
 
Previously, these homes were eligible for a 10 per cent discount in council tax but in October were required to pay an additional charge of 50 per cent and from next month, they will have to pay 100 per cent extra council tax.
 
At present, there are more than 450 long-term empty properties in Angus affected by additional council tax charge.
 
From October to the end of this month, the projected additional income is £80,000. In the year starting from next month, that figure is expected to rise to £300,000.
 
Additional revenue raised will go towards helping to increase affordable housing, including funding the continuation of the Empty Homes Loan Fund.
 
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City of Edinburgh Council chief executive to retire

 

 Dame Sue Bruce

The chief executive of the City of Edinburgh Council has announced she is to retire from local government service.
 
Dame Sue Bruce informed council leader Andrew Burns and his deputy Steve Cardownie of her plans to leave her post when she turns 60 in October. She will formally give notice at next Thursday’s council meeting. The search for her replacement will begin immediately.
 
Sue took up her post as chief executive of the City of Edinburgh Council in January 2011 having previously held the same role at both Aberdeen City Council and East Dunbartonshire Council. She began her local government career 39 years ago.
 
She said: “From my first job as a youth and community worker for Strathclyde Regional Council back in 1976, I have been hugely proud to dedicate my entire working life to local government and public service.
 
“Serving as chief executive of the City of Edinburgh Council, particularly during such a challenging and exciting time for the capital, has undoubtedly been the pinnacle of my career and I am proud of what we have achieved together during my time here. There is still much to do and I will continue to focus on that until I handover to my successor.”
 
Cllr Andrew Burns said: “Sue has successfully tackled some key challenges during her time as chief executive and has achieved real progress for the council.
 
“Of particular note was her leadership in resolving the tram dispute, paving the way for the completion of the project and successful launch of passenger services last May, and her decisive yet sensitive handing of the Mortonhall baby ashes investigation.
 
“From the outset, she has worked tirelessly and well beyond the normal expectations of the role. This is particularly true of her support of charities, building relationships with the business community and other key partners and improving the job prospects of young people across Edinburgh.”
 
Cllr Steve Cardownie added: “Our attention now turns to finding a high calibre replacement; an individual capable of building upon the platform laid by Sue during her years in post while taking on the undoubted challenges we face as a council in the years ahead.”
 
In November 2013, Sue was awarded the Chief Executive of the Year in the Hr NETWORK National awards. October 2014 saw her named the UK City Leader of the Year in the prestigious MIPIM UK awards for her work in driving the city’s economic development achievements.
 
Most recently, Sue was made a Dame Commander of the order of the British Empire in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list.
 
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Brodies planning expert calls for culture change to tackle shortage of new homes


Neil Collar

More must be done to meet rising demand for new homes in Scotland, a planning expert has warned.

In his white paper, Delivery of Housing Land, Neil Collar, head of planning at Brodies, highlights possible solutions to what he sees as the key challenges.
 
These include encouraging local authorities speed up the system for costing infrastructure upgrades, introducing simplified planning zones for approved housing sites, and cutting the unnecessary red-tape that is holding up planning decisions.
 
According to a recent report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, under the “best case scenario” it could take until 2031/32 before enough new homes are built to meet the projected increase in new households.
 
Collar, who was named among the 100 most influential figures in planning by Planning Magazine, calls for all  those involved in the housebuilding sector – including the Scottish Government, local authorities and developers - to ensure there is a strategy to deliver these new homes, involving cultural, procedural and legal changes, and a focus on removing infrastructure constraints.
 
This comes as dozens of construction projects across Edinburgh have been postponed due to delays in agreeing a Local Development Plan.
 
Collar argues that in some cases the local authority process of identifying sites for housing development is taking too long and that there are frequent delays. He proposes the introduction of a fast-track approach using simplified planning zones for sites that have already been approved in local plans.
 
“The planning system needs to make up its mind: less scrutiny/more speed at the plan-making stage, or at the planning application stage? For example, consideration could be given to creating a Simplified Planning Zone style concept, to cut bureaucracy for housing sites already approved in the plan,” he said.
 
On the issue of what he sees as unnecessary bureaucracy, Collar added: “Ironically the planning reforms in 2009 made the planning system more complicated, especially with the introduction of local review bodies. A particular concern is the amount of red tape that still has to be navigated after planning permission has been granted.
 
“Attention should be given to the amount of information which planning permission conditions require to be submitted for approval – these conditions have become ubiquitous in recent years. Inevitably, fine-tuning of designs requires approval, but there is uncertainty about when a change is ‘non-material’ and does not require a formal planning application.
 
“We also need to consider the overzealous approach being taken by some planning authorities to uncertainties regarding the interpretation of the statutory provisions on time limits for commencement of development, and submission of matters for approval.”
 
Noting the need for planning authorities to be properly funded, Collar said that planners also need the support of elected representatives: “Councillors need to lead from the front, make what are sometimes hard or unpopular decisions, and support their planners… the planning system is based on exercise of judgment, so planners need to be confident and get on with making decisions, and not be distracted by ifs, buts and maybes.
 
“There needs to be confidence to make the decision without requesting more and more information, which causes delay twice over, because the information needs to be prepared and then once it has been submitted, the planning officer needs to review it. Local authority departments need to work together, and planning officers need to be project managers to ensure internal responses are not delayed. Issues need to be identified early in the process, not drip-fed months afterwards.”
 
You can read the white paper on the Brodies website.

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Housebuilders revealed for phase of £1bn Grandhome community


The company behind plans for a new community in Aberdeen has revealed the housebuilders which will deliver the first phase of the project.

The new community of Grandhome, which will see almost £1 billion invested in up to 7,000 homes, a new town centre, a business district and amenities, was formally launched in Aberdeen yesterday.



A street in the proposed Laverock Braes

During the event on the Grandhome site on the north-west edge of Aberdeen, The Grandhome Trust unveiled the design for a new community building which it will build at the heart of the first neighbourhood, to be known as Laverock Braes.

The Trust announced that three housebuilders – Bancon Homes, Cala Homes and Dandara –have been selected to deliver Laverock Braes, which will comprise around 600 homes and be built over the next four to five years.

Edinburgh-based Reiach and Hall Architects won the brief to design Davidston Hall following an architectural competition held by the Trust. The contemporary building will include a multi-use hall, external public space, a café and small retail unit and is designed to host a wide range of events and functions.

A historic mill stone from the old Grandhome flour mill was unveiled at the launch ceremony by the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Councillor George Adam, and Bruce Smith, a trustee of The Grandhome Trust. The stone will be incorporated into the first public space, Davidston Square, which will form part of the Laverock Braes neighbourhood.
 



A masterplan of the entire Grandhome site

Grandhome occupies a 320 hectare site located six kilometres north-west of Aberdeen city centre. With long-term potential for 7,000 homes, the community is being planned and developed by The Grandhome Trust, a family-led entity which has held the land for more than 300 years.

Detailed planning applications for the first phase of infrastructure and Laverock Braes will be submitted in the spring and work on site is expected to begin later this year.

Speaking at the launch, Bruce Smith, a trustee of The Grandhome Trust, said: “Bringing the vision of creating an exemplary new community in this location to fruition has taken almost 20 years and we are enormously proud to be at the point where work on the first homes and neighbourhood will begin later this year.

“Grandhome combines the best in modern planning and place-making while drawing upon the unique qualities of the site and the architectural heritage of Aberdeen and North-east Scotland. Its homes, neighbourhoods and public spaces have been designed with people and quality of life in mind to promote a sense of wellbeing and community.

“Grandhome will be an exemplary place in which to live, work and invest while also contributing to the wider economic and social life of our vibrant city and region by accommodating future population growth. The fact that one of our first investments will be the new community building, Davidston Hall, reflects our commitment to the long-term vision for Grandhome and its master plan, which has been designed to promote walkable neighbourhoods, a range of home types, community facilities, shops and employment opportunities.

“On behalf of the Trust, I wish to thank all those people and organisations that have helped bring Grandhome to this point and we now look forward to the enormously exciting first phase of development with the creation of the neighbourhood of Laverock Braes.”

Grandhome has been granted planning permission in principle by Aberdeen City Council for 4,700 homes, a new town centre, business district and community facilities including extensive public spaces. The new community will provide an environment of unique type and quality as well as helping to provide jobs, services and homes that will benefit the wider community and economy in Aberdeen and the surrounding region.






DGHP choir sing for lots of suppers


A Stranraer-based food bank has received a cash boost this week thanks to a donation from Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership’s (DGHP) charity choir.
 
The choir, made up of staff from DGHP, DGHP’s repairs contractor and family and friends took part in last year’s Choir for Charity event and helped raise a total of £24,000 for various charities in the region.
 

Carol Marshall, sessional worker; Donald Thomson, of DGHP’s Choir for Charity and Alison Bennewith, Food Bank co-ordinator with the £750 cheque
 
Out of the total amount, each choir received a share or £3000 – which DGHP staff chose to donate to four local food banks to help people in need.
 
This week Donald Thomson, who took part in the choir, handed over a cheque for £750 to Wigtownshire Trussell Trust Food Bank at Apex Scotland Stranraer.
 
Anne Renton, who took part in the choir from DGHP, said: “We all decided as a group that we wanted to donate locally to a cause that we know will really help a lot of people. We know the money raised will go to benefit many people right across Dumfries and Galloway.”
 
Alison Bennewith, food bank co-ordinator at the project, added: “This cheque for £750 from DGHP’s choir will go a long way to helping people who are in poverty and in crisis in this area of Dumfries and Galloway. We can’t thank them enough, this is very generous.”
 
The Choir for Charity event took place at the end of last year and those taking part were recently issued with their funds to issue to their chosen charities.
 
A cheque for £750 has also been given to the food bank at the Presbytery of Wigtown and Stranraer, which covers the Machars area.
 
Marlane Gordon, of the Presbytery of Wigtown and Stranraer, said: “Receiving this amount of money is absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much to DGHP’s choir for thinking about us. We rely solely on donations of food and money and this will go towards feeding the vulnerable families who turn to us for help.”
 
Christopher Watt, musical director for DGHP’s choir, added: “It was great fun bringing together people from DGHP, our repairs contractor and their families - most of whom had never sang before – and getting them singing as one. Our songs, Highland Cathedral and a Dolly Parton medley, were chosen because of their popularity and because they allowed the choir to demonstrate their newly acquired vocal skills.”
 
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Actors promote safety message to pensioners


A theatrical play is being used to prevent accidents and promote personal security to pensioners in West Dunbartonshire sheltered housing and older people’s groups.
 
The play, called Home Sweet Home, addresses issues such as slips trips and falls, fire safety, and cold calling in a light-hearted and entertaining way. It is delivered to older people and their carers in the form of a roadshow, going to places where older people already meet.
 

 
The play is performed by the Kickstart Theatre Company, and was commissioned and funded by West Dunbartonshire's Community Safety Services. The aim is to get the home safety message across to local elderly people by informing them of the simple measures they can take to prevent accidents.

West Dunbartonshire Council, Scottish Fire and Rescue, Police Scotland and Lomond & Clyde Care and Repair were involved in shaping the messages which are delivered through the performances.
 
 
Plays have already been performed in Bonhill Senior Citizens, Age Scotland in Alexandria, Age Scotland in Dumbarton, and three sheltered housing complexes at Young Street in Clydebank, West Bridgend in Dumbarton, and Gray Street in Alexandria. There is also another planned for Wednesday 11th March at Dalmuir CE Centre. 

Councillor David McBride, convener of housing and communities, said: "This play promotes the serious issue of home safety in an interesting, engaging way. It delivers potentially life-saving messages while entertaining people at the same time and is a great example of the partnership working going on in West Dunbartonshire."
 
PC Craig Reid, Police Scotland’s West Dunbartonshire Liaison Officer added: “Bogus callers are always a concern and hopefully the plays have raised awareness amongst those who attended.”

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Ayrshire Housing supports homelessness project 

 

Stuart Reid (in the grey shirt) with Care and Share workers and volunteers. Ali Gilmour is on the left.
 
Ayrshire Housing has donated to Care and Share for a fifth year.
 
This Ayr based charity supports people experiencing homelessness and insecurity. It organises regular drop-in lunches and advice sessions as well as offering support. Help is provided on health, benefits, housing, addictions, education, getting back to work and lots more.
 
Ayrshire Housing’s vice-chair Stuart Reid presented this year’s cheque for £500 at their base in the Riverside Church.
 
Care and Share worker Ali Gilmour said: “I’m really pleased that Ayrshire Housing continues to be a good friend to Care and Share. The donation is much appreciated!”
 
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First time buyers ‘finding their feet’ in property market


The number of first time buyers relying on the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ for support has dropped significantly, according to new research.
 
Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks’ Annual First Time Buyers Survey has revealed that less than half (46 per cent) of the UK’s first time buyers needed help in saving for their deposit in 2014. This compares with 63 per cent in 2013 and more than three quarters (78 per cent) in 2012.
 
In Scotland, 52 per cent of first time buyers were helped by their parents.
 
Steve Fletcher, head of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks retail network, (pictured) said: “It has been very encouraging to see the recovery of the property market with lending to first time buyers at the highest level for seven years.
 
“It is also positive that the number of first time buyers relying on the Bank of Mum and Dad to get on the property ladder has decreased significantly. This reflects the increased availability of first time buyer mortgages with a low deposit as well as growing economic confidence particularly among housebuyers.
 
“Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks were one of only a handful of lenders which continued to provide a range of mortgages for first time buyers with a 5 per cent deposit during the economic downturn and the Banks continue to support this market.”
 
The research also underlined some stark regional first time buyer differences with just over a quarter (27 per cent) in Yorkshire receiving support from their parents compared to 57 per cent in the South West. 

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A third of Scots stay near ‘home’


Around a third of Scots never move away from the area they grew up in, according to research.
 
In the west of Scotland, 34 per cent of people have lived there all their life, more than in any other part of the country.
 
Liking the area, family links, good transport and affordable housing were identified as key reasons for staying in a particular area, the Bank of Scotland report found.
 
Over a fifth of 45 to 54-year-olds and almost a quarter of 25 to 34-year-olds have remained where they grew up, but only 16 per cent of 35 to 44-year-olds have stayed put.
 
Moving to a nice area is most important for those living in the Lothians, with a quarter saying its location is what appeals most about where they live.
 
In Dundee, 37 per cent of people who have moved to the area said they did so because it is "a peaceful location", while 53 per cent of people living in the Highlands did so for some peace and quiet.
 
More than 3,200 people were surveyed as part of the bank's research into housing.
 
Robin Bulloch, managing director of Bank of Scotland, said: "It's not often research looks at why people live where they do, so it's been interesting learning more about the communities we live in.
 
"While a good proportion of Scots have never moved away from the area they grew up in, living in an area they like has been an important factor for many.
 
"However it's evident that whatever the reason for many of us living where we do, family plays a central role in people being happy where they live."

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