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  • Writer's pictureMGA

Sea of Speculation

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

At the start of 2020 we probably would not have thought that the only way to view the proposed Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City Local Development Plans would be digitally online. But that is the situation we are now in, and the respective councils are adapting to that situation by providing all the information required in a very accessible format. Instead of just placing PDFs online, the Proposed Local Development Plan (PLDP) for Aberdeenshire Council is available via an interactive ‘360 degree virtual drop-in’. Here, users can position themselves in a virtual space and browse the materials that would usually be on display in a public hall. I can already hear the loud minority cry , “aye, but it’s nae the same”, whilst the silent majority go online, view the documents, consider the content, and make their comments.

The current stage of both LDPs means that there are developers, landowners, and other stakeholders already invested heavily in the planning process. The pandemic may have slowed that investment down, but as I am writing this we are in Phase 2 of the Scottish Government’s route map through and out of the crisis Developers are starting to pick up where they left off, in as much as they can. Slow and steady may be frustrating for businesses who are struggling during the pandemic, but the signs are positive, and I believe the more cautious approach to releasing lockdown is the correct one.

How this crisis will affect the housing market (and most other things in the world) is subject to much speculation. This speculation mostly revolves around changes to housing in terms of home working, but also about how housing will be procured, funded, and built.

I’m a realist; I’m a romantic. The realist in me thinks that most developers will not adapt and will carry on regardless, especially if the economy picks up as rapidly as some have suggested. However, if there is change, it is likely to be slow and legislative. There may be the odd show home with an emphasis on the fourth bedroom being a home office, but it will be lip service on the same sea of carparking and arbitrary green space.

The romantic in me would like to believe there will be a resurgence in Cohousing and an increase in community led self-build developments. If so, developers may latch onto this and become part of the movement: enabling and aiding communities to create sustainable developments and neighbourhoods. In this potential situation, there may be an opportunity for housing associations to take the lead where larger and more familiar developers are perhaps struggling in a post-pandemic economy. The realist tells me it might just be smaller developers that adapt in this way. The students at Scott Sutherland School of Architecture have also looked at pockets of social housing within their final year projects. Their degree show is available to view online via Aberdeen Art Gallery or The Pier Arts Centre in Orkney.

Both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire, are affected by a slightly different economic climate compared to the rest of Scotland. The oil and gas industry plays a large part in the stability or supposed affluence of the area. Within the Aberdeen Chapter , this economic bubble and its impact may decrease as you move further from the city, where communities become more self-sustaining, but the influence of oil and gas on the post-pandemic economy could be very significant to the Aberdeen housing market. There are lots of strands to the effects of oil and gas on Aberdeen, including cultural and social, but I’ll try to focus on housing.

If there is not an immediate bounce back for oil and gas, then the housing developers in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire who are already invested, may need to consider how they move forward. Developers may be facing a changed market where clients and buyers are more awake to social and economic factors: focussing more on a better work-life balance instead of big spending. This may result in some dynamic shifts that have been spoken about, such as a predominance of home working, community developments and housing associations taking a lead in innovation. We may even see some smaller developers coming into the market which has seemingly been dominated by more familiar developers over the past couple of decades.

This could be a metaphor for what is happening with oil and gas in the North Sea, where ‘assets’ are being sold to smaller companies, with lower profit margins, to seemingly eek out the last of the minerals and eventually decommissioning. There’s a lot of investment involved in decommissioning (there’s the romantic again!).

But this is all speculation in a sea of speculation.

The Aberdeenshire LDP consultation runs until 31st July 2020.

Here’s a link to the Virtual Drop-in

The RGU Final Year projects can also be viewed here.

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