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.
Two areas of land at Ardochy have been purchased by Glengarry Community Woodlands and the Communities Housing Trust for six new woodland crofts, and four to six new affordable homes, to help repopulate the glen.
Both land purchases totalling 66 hectares (163 acres) of Ardochy Forest were funded in part by the Scottish Land Fund, via Forestry and Land Scotland’s Community Asset Transfer scheme. The Scottish Land Fund (SLF) is funded by the Scottish Government and delivered in partnership by the National Lottery Community Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
The community-led project comprising Glengarry Community Woodlands, the Woodland Crofts Partnership, and the Communities Housing Trust will help improve the long-term sustainability of Glengarry. This issue is reflected across many rural Highland communities where access to affordable housing and jobs can be extremely limited.
Development of the croft and housing project followed a consultation process with the community who gave their input on the future of the land. Access to both housing and land were highlighted as important issues throughout the responses.
Glengarry Community Woodlands will now work with the Woodland Crofts Partnership to establish four new woodland crofts over 47 hectares (116 acres) of the forest.
In addition, the Communities Housing Trust will provide two new woodland crofts and four to six affordable homes over 19 hectares (47 acres), which will be a mix of tenures based on the needs of the local community: rental properties, homes for discounted sale, and croft housing. Any homes for sale will have discounts protected in perpetuity by the Rural Housing Burden, which also prioritises local communities in allocations, allowing control over future sales.
The crofts will similarly be protected to ensure their benefits are retained within the community upon any future change of occupation.'
The Chair of Glengarry Community Woodlands, Ross Lynn, said: “Glengarry Community Woodlands is delighted to be taking ownership of this land on behalf of the community, thanks to support from the Scottish Land Fund. We are looking forward to working in partnership with the Communities Housing Trust, and the Woodland Crofts Partnership to deliver the community’s plans for woodland crofts and affordable housing on the land, proposals that proved popular in our consultation meeting.
“This is a pivotal moment for Glengarry as this project will provide young people and families with much-needed opportunities to remain in the area and to generate income through the sustainable management of this local woodland.”
The community will work alongside the project partners to set the allocation criteria for the homes and crofts, with a focus on both addressing local needs alongside encouraging repopulation of the glen.
The new crofts will bring the total number of woodland crofts applied for or registered by community groups to 30, a significant proportion of all new crofts created in recent years.
Woodland crofts are crofts with sufficient tree cover overall to be considered woodland. Like any croft, they confer a mixture of rights and responsibilities on crofters, but based on management of the forest. The model can support both lifestyles and livelihoods, and has particular potential to deliver low-carbon living.
Main contractor for the Woodland Croft Partnership, Jamie McIntyre, said: “We’re delighted to see the land transfers needed to make this project a reality finally go through – it has been a long journey to get to this point. The approach pioneered here by GCW of working in partnership to deliver badly needed crofts is one which is transferable to other communities, and one which we hope will be taken up more widely. We’d also like to thank the Scottish Government for funding support in the development of this project”.
Ronnie MacRae, CEO of Communities Housing Trust, said: “This is a fantastic example of holistic rural development targeting regeneration and repopulation that will also benefit both the economy and the environment. It demonstrates positive land use and stewardship, and we’re delighted to be working with Glengarry Community Woodlands and the Woodland Crofts Partnership to take the project forward. A combination of genuinely affordable homes and woodland crofts, spearheaded by the local community, is a great model that other rural communities will be able to look to.”
The project’s next steps are to develop a forest design plan and masterplan for the land and to develop replicable legal templates for tenanted and owner-occupied croft models.
Forestry & Land Scotland Chief Executive, Simon Hodgson, said: “As part of Scottish Government, our Community Asset Transfer Scheme (CATS) is giving Scotland’s communities more opportunities to develop land-based projects that will deliver benefits such as job creation, skills development, income generation and improved amenity.
“With this latest completion, we look forward to seeing the development of crofts and affordable housing that will do much to revitalise and strengthen the local community.
“It’s another great example of how CATS helps communities make the best use of the national forests and land.”
Sandra Holmes, HIE’s head of community assets, said: “This innovative, community-led project is a great example of place-based development. The mix of tenures and new crofts will provide a range of opportunities to best meet local needs today and in the future. We particularly welcome the measures to keep these opportunities affordable in perpetuity. Our congratulations to Glengarry Community Woodlands and Communities Housing Trust in securing the land to enable this important development to progress.”
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