Housing to 2040 Voices: Colin Culross, Link Housing Association

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During the summer in 2019 A&DS and Scottish Government travelled to four locations across Scotland to review the delivery of recent affordable housing – built and planned.You can read more about the workshops here.We also spoke to people involved in the projects –  from the resident to the client, the architect to the councillor.  Here are their stories.

Colin Culross, Director of Development and Asset Management, Link Housing Association

Link came to the Dunbeg project through a development-led partnership with West Highland Housing Association (WHHA), a registered social landlord in the Oban area. Argyll and Bute Council had identified that a lack of good-quality, affordable homes was driving depopulation in the Oban area. WHHA had teed up the acquisition of the site with a land option, but – due to its scale – needed support to pursue the detailed masterplanning and delivery. Through the partnership working process, WHHA eventually became a subsidiary of the Link Group and would manage the homes when built.

This was to be the largest programme of its kind in Argyll and Bute for some time. The full masterplan will deliver a total of 850 units or so, and will also include a significant commercial area as part of phase 4. Our first task was bringing the Dunbeg Development Corridor proposal to life for Argyll and Bute Council, so they could see the full spectrum of benefits – not just in providing homes, but in enlarging the existing community, creating employment opportunities and stimulating economic growth. The wider Dunbeg Corridor masterplan potentially offers so much more than just housing.

Partnership Approach

The only way to move the project forward was to get the right people in the room. A partnership approach was key. We established a strategic operational working group which brought together Councillors with an interest in the area, as well as senior Council officers from relevant departments, so that decisions could be made within a fairly short timeline. A project of this scale has many moving parts requiring input from multiple strategic partners, especially in getting basic infrastructure into this rural setting.

We had to be respectful of the environment and landscape, and develop a masterplan that would be in tune with it. That is why we chose to work with Elder & Cannon and Gillespies to develop the overall masterplan and the detailed design for phase 3 – they really ‘got’ the fact that the landscape would play a big part in the design.

The landscape seemed to lead the design and build of the development. The design sees homes nestling within the form of the landscape, in little clusters connected by pedestrian-friendly roads and footpaths – giving it a really nice rural feel. This is placemaking that’s mindful of the rural environment and community.

For us as a client and a developer, being led by the landscape in this way was a real change in approach. Most of our housing is in urban settings where the aim is to maximise the build on the available land. While we do pay a lot of attention to the importance of the public realm, it’s within the context of the housing. At Dunbeg, this is almost reversed – the housing is in the context of the landscape.

Community Engagement

Our engagement with the existing community was mostly positive, despite some initial apathy because of how long development proposals had been in the pipeline. We held masterplan consultations in both Dunbeg and Oban to get input from people in the wider area; then detailed pre-planning discussions for this phase of 300 units. There was some concern about the access road, as well as phase 3 being mostly social housing with around 15% planned for New Supply Shared Equity.

However, it was important that people saw phase 3 as part of a larger housing mix within the wider masterplan, looking at the balance across all phases. Around 10% of the homes will be wheelchair-accessible, and we are looking at bringing an intergenerational approach to the phase 4 by including some retirement units.

We know that the expanded Dunbeg needs more than just housing to be a truly sustainable community. It needs community facilities, as well as commercial, office and retail space. This will also benefit the wider Oban area, alleviating the strain on the south side of the town (where most food retail and commercial sites are currently situated) and providing an array of jobs for local people.

Local suppliers

The success of being on target so far is largely thanks to the approach of the contractor, a local construction company. Delivery by 2021 seemed like a very tall order, but the contractor has risen to the challenge by adapting its working practices and doing a lot of onsite manufacture. What’s more, the fact that all labour is local means that spending is kept within the regional economy. All subcontractors are local too – one of the major successes has been keeping it local, and the benefits local.

The most important lesson to share from our experience at Dunbeg to date is how crucial a strategic partnership approach has been. It made huge a difference to have local Councillors on the strategic working group. We were relying on so many moving parts to come together, so they were able to put pressure on Council officers in a positive way, as and when required. That political buy-in has been key. Having A&DS on board as a critical eye in design terms was very positive, helping us challenge the design philosophy but also raising the project profile with the Council.

 

Read more about the Housing to 2040 Summer Workshops here.

The Happenstance: Dispatch 4

The experience of immersive education, and the possibilities that might not otherwise happen if you were busy carrying out the plan already made.

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