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Lochaber Housing Association’s overdue 20-flat Tigh Aran development at Spean Bridge was this week slammed as a ‘debacle’, with some prospective tenants claiming they are still waiting nearly two years after signing to take one of the properties.
One woman contacted the Lochaber Times and told us that her son and his partner had first signed for one of the flats in October 2020, with an expected entry date of December of the same year.
The woman added: ‘ Almost two years later, and despite my getting in touch with Kate Forbes MSP, they are no further forward.
‘There are I believe 19 other families in the same situation. Some may have been rehomed elsewhere, I don’t really know.’
Asked about the on-going delays to the project, Lochaber Housing Association (LHA) told us it also was ‘hugely disappointed’ that it has not yet had handover of these properties to prospective tenants.
LHA chief executive Margaret Moynihan said that the Communities Housing Trust, LHA’s development partners, have been working ‘tirelessly’ with all the relevant bodies to try and resolve the consents which have not yet been granted in order to allow final completion of this development.
Ms Moynihan added that LHA has been keeping local constituency MSP Kate Forbes informed on the situation and also met with Ms Forbes at the site of the development last month.
‘She has once again stated her concerns to all parties,’ said Ms Moynihan. ‘That there is a well-documented shortage of both affordable and social housing in Lochaber; that she is very keen that her constituents can move into their new homes immediately as they have already experienced significant delays and that Lochaber Housing Association has also lost income due to rental void charges.
‘She has also invited all the relevant bodies to a meeting to be held on July 11 in order to progress the final hurdles and get the development ready for occupation.
‘As I mentioned at the beginning, this is hugely frustrating for our prospective tenants and all staff and board members at the association.’
However, calling the delays a ‘debacle’, John Fotheringham, chairman of Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council, said the community council shared the exasperation and frustration of the prospective tenants.
‘To be allocated new homes and then for the occupancy dates to be constantly changed is cruel and unfair,’ he added.
‘What should have been a relatively simple and straightforward process has turned out to be a nightmare. If an alloy wheels factory’s planning application can be processed in three months, why does it take a year to secure permission for much-needed affordable homes on a brown field site in our Local Development Plan, and a further three years to complete them?
‘I believe Kate Forbes MSP is having a virtual meeting with all those involved in an effort to ensure no further delays. Whilst welcoming the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy’s intervention, the community council trusts that she will order an investigation into the circumstances of this delay to ensure no other applications share the same fate.
‘From our enquiries two organisations in particular seem to have been contributed significantly to the delay. Scottish Water, wholly owned by the Scottish Government, insisted on payment for an upgrade of their infrastructure to permit increased capacity south of the Telford Bridge.
‘A reasonable proposal, but we note that the increased capacity has so far not materialised and neither has any other developer been similarly asked to contribute, so why the delay?
‘Drainage, too, seems to have been an issue, but it can’t have come as a surprise as we highlighted this in our submission in July 2018. Various departments in Highland Council and in particular the Transport Planning team seem to believe they have the right to make unreasonable demands, and that is unacceptable.
‘This has been a painful and expensive experience for all concerned, and we need it to be ended now and the flats occupied.’
Ms Forbes told us: ‘First and foremost I share the concerns and frustrations of the residents waiting to move into the new properties at Ferguson Court. I cannot begin to imagine how the delays have impacted them, but as their constituency MSP I have been doing everything I possibly can to help resolve this.
‘That is why I am convening an urgent meeting next week in order to get the final steps sorted and the development finally open. I am grateful that the relevant parties are willing to get round the table so quickly.
‘We are all aware of the desperate need for more affordable housing in the West Highlands, so the new homes can’t come quickly enough.’
There is growing frustration over delays that have meant tenants are still waiting to move into their new homes in the Tigh Aran development, pictured, in Spean Bridge. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F27 Tigh Aran housing 02
John Fotheringham Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos
Margaret Moynihan, pictured, is chief executive at Lochaber Housing Association. NO F37 Margaret Moynihan