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City design guru to plan rural idyll

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January 27 2006

Terry Farrell Architects has submitted an outline planning application for “a sustainable community” with a top-class hotel and a substantial marina on the Moray Firth. Whiteness Property Company plans to build 1,950 homes on the site of a former oil platform fabrication yard in order to provide homes for the expanding population around Inverness.
The site that WPC bought for £10 million in December 2004 is exceptional. Inland, the area is surrounded by sand dunes, pine forests and salt marsh, which were designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the 1970s to ensure their protection when the oil platform fabrication yard was created. Out to sea, the Firth is designated as a special area of conservation for its dolphins and sub-tidal sand flats.

Farrell who is also Edinburgh’s design champion is upbeat about the opportunity. “It is time and the work of many hands which will eventually realise any new community – but I have not, in my career, experienced one where, at this key master planning stage, the qualities of the site, and the commitment of the client and consultants were all promising placemaking of such a high order,” he said.

His master plan seeks to make use of the rich natural habitat, while protecting the development from the more inclement aspects of the area’s weather. His plan is divided into four distinct neighbourhoods, each of which addresses a particular aspect of the unique habitat; sea, sand, forest and marsh. Farrell’s plan includes two grand promenades. First, a fair-weather promenade runs along the entire length (1.1 km) seafront. However, the area is particularly susceptible to strong winds. The prevailing southwesterly blows from the Atlantic Ocean through the Great Glen and across the site, while the Moray Firth funnels the northeasterly into the site. As a result, Farrell has placed the primary promenade inboard of the seafront, running along the line that was once the rails of the fabrication yard’s main crane.

According to the design statement that accompanied the planning application, Farrell’s intention is “to ask nature to re-colonise the site”. Although each of the four areas is governed by different principles, the overall concept is “a series of fingers”, particularly in the forest and dune areas. This means that a large percentage of the dwellings can have views that look directly out on to green spaces. In a presentation to Inverness and Nairn Enterprise last year, the Whiteness Property Company stated that the quality of the housing would be split “25 per cent top of the range, 50 per cent mainstream, 25 per cent affordable”.

The National Planning Framework for Scotland 2004 refers to potential along the A96 from Inverness to Nairn in order to deal with population growth in the area. The council recently appointed consultants FG Burnett to examine the potential of the corridor to take development. According to Burnett, eight development options were tested from expansion of Inverness to “a string of pearls” along the A96. Focusing growth on a new settlement in the centre of the corridor came out as the preferred option among local inhabitants.

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