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Highland Housing Fair appoints Cadell2 as master planner for project based around sustainability

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January 10 2007

With the imaginative appointment of Cadell2 as master planner for the project, the development of Scotland’s first Housing Fair appears at last to be moving forward at pace. The next stages have an extremely tight timescale, however, with the first announcement of the proposed architectural competition expected in mid-December 2006. The full brief is due to be released in mid-January 2007 to those who have registered an interest in taking part. Thereafter, the submission date for competition entries is likely to be around mid-March, with final judging taking place in April. The winning designs will, appropriately, be announced at the RIAS Convention in May, since next year’s event takes place in Inverness as part of the Highland Year of Culture 2007. An exhibition of entries is also expected to tour, with the first public outing after the Convention included in the programme for the Six Cities Festival . The Highland Housing Fair itself will be constructed on a relatively flat, 5.5-hectare site close to the A9 on the outskirts of Inverness. Initially, the intention is to build 51 housing units on 30 plots, with around 100 units in total when the site is fully developed. To achieve this, the competition is aimed at architect/developer teams for whom, to encourage innovation, the land prices will be set at a level somewhere below full market value. The theme of the Housing Fair, and the competition, is sustainability, a not inconsiderable challenge given that the location is likely to require most homeowners to access the site by car. The opportunity to explore other issues such as wood fuel heating, wind generation and use of local materials for construction could, however, take the overall development into a number of interesting – and potentially influential – areas, particularly if it can provide a demonstration project for the Highland Council’s as yet unpublished Sustainability Guidelines. This certainly seems a possibility since the council already requires developers to address these guidelines during the planning process. The big task for the master planner – and a project steering group that includes representatives from the Scottish Executive, the Forestry Commission, the Highland Council, Highland Birchwoods and the Highland Year of Culture 2007 – will be to extend the theme beyond the scale of the individual house and to look at the longer term sustainability of the overall site and its potential to positively affect the planning and design of other developer-led projects in the future. The test will be in the competition brief when it emerges. If it includes clear development and sustainability benchmarks not only for the individual plots but also sets out ways in which they can contribute to the coherence and ecology of the whole site, then we may well emerge with a serious model for the next decade of housing development. Ultimately, the success of the project is likely to be measured by its ability to influence future changes in housing and construction legislation. If it can do this, then perhaps there is a real possibility that future Housing Fairs will be recognised by the public and professionals alike as having a crucial role to play in the improvement of housing quality in Scotland. So far, the steps taken are encouraging, and the appointment of Cadell2 brings serious experience of successful planning alternatives for speculative housing developments. It would be unfair to expect Scotland’s first Housing Fair to fully achieve the balance of design innovation and financial efficiency the industry requires, but its delivery exactly 10 years after Glasgow’s variable Homes for the Future may well provide models more suited to the environmental demands of the early 21st century. Peter Wilson

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