The Communities Housing Trust has been awarded £94,490 from The Highland Council’s Community Regeneration Fund to take forward a project to provide new affordable homes and woodland crofts in Glengarry, to help repopulate the glen.
Inverness-based charity the Communities Housing Trust and Glengarry Community Woodlands (GCW) are undertaking a shared vision for a two-phase community-led project in Lower Ardochy Forest, where access to both housing and land were highlighted as important issues during a community consultation process in 2020.
In this first phase of the project, the Communities Housing Trust will provide two new woodland crofts with housing as well as four additional homes for affordable rent. Over 19 hectares (47 acres) was purchased by the Communities Housing Trust from Forestry and Land Scotland. The new funding from the Community Regeneration Fund will allow the Trust to develop a masterplan for the land with the appointed design team Catoe/Brown Architecture & Landscape studio and engineers Cameron +Ross before applying for and obtaining the necessary consents.
An allocation policy will be applied to the homes, prioritising people who live locally or who can bring skills to the area. The homes and crofts will also be protected to ensure their benefits are retained within the community upon any future change of occupants.
Ronnie MacRae, chief executive of the Communities Housing Trust, said: “We are extremely pleased to see this crucial repopulation project move forwards. The model will demonstrate positive land use and stewardship in a way that benefits the environment, the local economy, and the ongoing sustainability of the area. We hope this becomes a beacon for what’s possible for other rural communities to look to.”
Woodland crofts are crofts with sufficient tree cover overall to be considered woodland. The model, based on management of the forest, can support low-carbon lifestyles and livelihoods. The new crofts will be established with the support of the Woodland Crofts Partnership, and will bring the total number of woodland crofts applied for or registered by community groups to over 30, a significant proportion of all new crofts created in recent years.
Jamie McIntyre, from the Woodland Crofts Partnership said: “Community groups are leading the way on the creation of woodland crofts but we need a lot more of them to satisfy the demand that exists, so we hope that this innovative approach of working in partnership with the Communities Housing Trust will help groups deliver that expansion.”
Following a Community Asset Transfer from Forestry and Land Scotland in 2022, a neighbouring site owned by Glengarry Community Woodlands will also provide four further woodland crofts. Both of the sites will be managed as an integrated project, and received funding from the Scottish Land Fund for a variety of development work including a new Woodland Management Plan.
Ross Lynn, chairwoman of Glengarry Community Woodlands (GCW), said: "The one issue that is holding back the development of our community is the lack of access to housing that people can afford to either buy or rent. Because of this issue, our community is losing young, skilled people, who we need to fulfill vital roles locally, so we are delighted to be working with the Communities Housing Trust and Woodland Crofts Partnership on the project at Ardochy’’.
James Catoe from Catoe/Brown said: “As a young practice catoe/brown is very excited to be involved in a project with a clear net benefit to the local community. Redressing the balance of available, affordable housing and land in the Highlands is a key driver behind what we do, and by working alongside CHT, GWC and the WCP this is exactly what will be achieved here.”
Edward Brown further added: “We are currently developing sustainable housing designs that reflect the woodland locality, utilise local resources and are affordable for tenants to run. These will be incorporated into a masterplan that focuses on woodland crofting and sustainable land use. ”
A community drop-in event is planned for Saturday 27 May in the meeting room of Glengarry Community Hall from 11am – 3pm to meet the partners and design team to view and discuss the initial plans.
Assynt Development Trust (ADT) has been awarded £114,000 to take forward the community-led development of affordable homes and community facilities on former glebe land between Lochinver and Glencanisp.
ADT has received £44,000 from The Highland Council’s Community Regeneration Fund, £50,000 from Crown Estate Scotland, a further £10,000 from The Highland Council and £10,000 from the Scottish Government’s Rural and Islands Housing Fund.
The funds will allow ADT to undertake a comprehensive feasibility study and for a design team to develop plans for affordable housing and wider uses on the site.
Nigel Goldie, Chair of ADT notes the issue of more affordable housing has been at the top of its list of priorities since its inception in 2018. He said: “The Board are excited to now be taking forward this significant development. We believe this will be a game changer for housing development in Assynt and create wider opportunities bringing economic and social benefits. We have the land on which to do much more than housing, and we will be looking for opportunities to bring the benefits of community ownership to the wider community.”
A steering group of local organisations is collaborating to map out the full potential of the site, which will include around 10 affordable homes in the first phase. Wider site uses may include a path network, enterprise work units, woodland crofts, and education and training facilities. A longer-term proposal for further affordable housing is being considered. Steering group members include the Assynt Foundation, Assynt Community Council, Lochinver Primary, Church of Scotland Minister, Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape, Ullapool High School and the Woodland Croft Partnership.
Award-winning architects Oberlanders have been appointed to take forward the plans and undertake design work and feasibility study.
They said: “We are delighted to be involved with this project, with the potential to bring such positive benefit to Lochinver. While we are familiar with the challenges of rural construction in the Highlands, we strongly value the ambition to develop sustainable affordable housing aligned with integrated community projects. The Glebe and Glencanisp sites include complex ecological environments of national importance, within which we are progressing appropriate and sensitive proposals with an experienced team of designers.”
The 55-acre site was purchased by the community from the Church of Scotland in 2021 with funds from the Scottish Land Fund. The Communities Housing Trust supported the community with the land acquisition, and will act as development agent for the project.
In 2019, a housing needs assessment undertaken by the Communities Housing Trust on behalf of ADT showed strong demand for affordable housing for all ages, and also particularly from businesses requiring accommodation for staff. With around 27% of housing in the area used as holiday accommodation or second homes according to the 2011 census, the vast majority of the 165 survey respondents believed that people living or working locally should be given priority for the homes.
Ronnie MacRae, chief executive of the Communities Housing Trust, said: “We are extremely pleased to see this crucial project gather momentum. This community-led development will be a flagship for the Lochinver area, meeting a range of needs and also acting as a model for other rural or island communities across Scotland. Being responsive to needs and tailoring in this way is absolutely crucial to ensuring ongoing economic and social sustainability of our rural places.”
A community drop-in event is planned for Tuesday 25 April at Lochinver Village Hall from 3-7pm to meet the architects and view and discuss the initial plans.
Coigach Community Development Company (CCDC) plans to purchase three acres at the former Hydroponicum site in Achiltibuie, with grant support from the Scottish Land Fund.
The purchase, to be negotiated with the sellers, will allow the community to build around 10 affordable homes as well as provide community green space. It would mark a decade-long attempt for CCDC to buy land to provide much-needed homes.
The project follows a survey on housing need undertaken last year by the Communities Housing Trust on behalf of CCDC, which showed high demand for affordable homes. In particular, families and individuals need to upsize or downsize but currently cannot due to lack of housing, and workers struggle to either find or remain in stable, secure housing.
The Communities Housing Trust will continue to help facilitate the land purchase and development process.
The initial ideas are to provide around 10 community-owned affordable homes with a range of tenures, as well as allow access through the site which stretches from the road down to the sea, to provide shoreline walks and more options for community paths.
The former Hydroponicum site in Achiltibuie, July 2022
Local support for community ownership of the site and initial plans has been overwhelmingly positive. In October last year, around 60 people gave feedback at a community event, where one resident commented:
“100% support this proposal. I could not think of a more perfect project for this land! You have my full support and cannot wait for this to hopefully go through. Exactly what we desperately need for Coigach, makes me feel hopeful that our community will survive and grow."
Richard Williams, Chair of Coigach Community Development Company, said: “We are extremely grateful to the Scottish Land Fund for this grant which we hope will now allow us the rare opportunity to purchase a piece of land at the centre of our village, proving a real game changer for Coigach.
“Once in community ownership we have ambitious plans to transform this site for the long-term benefit of Coigach – by constructing a range of housing types and tenures, realising a long-held goal and key aspiration for the community.”
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of Communities Housing Trust, said: “We are delighted to be working again with CCDC following the restoration of the Old Schoolhouse six years ago into affordable flats for local residents. We hope the land sale settles swiftly as this has been a long road for CCDC and this new project will provide not just affordable housing, but wider social and economic community benefits too. Our thanks to the Scottish Land Fund for continuing to support community-led projects in rural areas and congratulations to the community on this positive step!”
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