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Park Talk – An Excellent Solution

14th December 2016

By Peter Argyle, CNPA Convener

I have written many times in this column since I took on the Convenor’s role about the serious issues we face across the Park with regards to housing and the need for homes that people living and working in the Park can afford. This was, as I predicted, a subject that attracted a huge response in our recent National Park Partnership Plan consultation.

A couple of weeks ago the Planning Committee had before it an application for six houses on a site in Rothiemurchus. The proposal, put forward by an incredibly committed group of local folk, showed what can be achieved when landowners, locals and community housing interests work together and whilst the solution they developed cannot be replicated everywhere, it showed what can be achieved.

The site is about 250m south of Inverdruie and was once occupied by a sawmill which operated until the 1960s. Whilst there are a few visible remains of the sawmill, the site has regenerated to such an extent over the decades that it was not a ‘brown field site’. This, combined with the location, meant that it could not be considered positively as a site for open market housing.

However, CNPA policies are more flexible when it comes to developing genuinely affordable housing. The group behind the proposal formed the Inverdruie Housing Co-operative and worked with the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust and the Rothiemurchus Estate to devise a truly innovative proposal.

Four of the six houses will be for members of the co-operative and are being made affordable through a combination of a low site purchase cost and the use of the HSCHT Rural Housing Burden, which effectively prevents the properties ever entering the open market and so remaining affordable.

The two remaining properties will be open market housing. They will therefore cross-subsidise the other four, ensuring the landowner receives value for the whole site, while greatly reducing the purchase cost of the four affordable plots.

The use of the HSCHT Rural Housing Burden meant that the landowner could sell the four plots at a fraction of their theoretical open market value secure in the knowledge that they would not appear shortly afterwards offered for sale at the full market price. The four affordable houses will therefore be created without any public subsidy and will be affordable in perpetuity.

After hearing from the co-operative and giving proper consideration to the environmental and ecological impacts of the development, the planning committee whole-heartedly approved the application.

I am aware that it took a number of years to bring this application forward and recognise how difficult it must have been for all concerned to devise this extremely positive solution. The committee wished the applicants well and expressed the hope of being able to visit the site when the project is complete.

In a world that at times seems impossibly gloomy, it was really good to see this application and this solution come forward. I do most certainly wish the co -operative every good fortune in realising their plans and congratulate them for the hard work and dedication they have put into the scheme.