Letter from Edinburgh

Parliament is not formally back in business quite yet. But having not been near the Holyrood office for five weeks, the day dawned when it could not be postponed any longer.

The staff were complaining that, apart from my voice, they were struggling to know who I was. This, I suggested, was a considerable advantage. But to put it off a day or so longer we drove west to Inverness from the boat at the beginning of the week.

There I discovered what has been titled the Scottish Housing Expo. Fifty-two houses have been built to highlight architectural ideas and building innovation. There are flats, houses for towns and some that would fit into Island landscapes. Many, indeed the majority, are clad in wood and look great.

Great use has been made of solar gain with large expanses of glass to raise room temperature and in all cases the aim is to keep heating bills to an absolute minimum. The annual, yes annual, running costs ranged from over £300 to just less than £100. I nearly bought that one then and there.

Two other features predominated. The first was the range of ways homes were heated. In Shetland we spend more than most on heating, as a percentage of household income. But broadly the Highlands are on a par. Ground source heat pumps, wood chip boilers and solar panels were but three separate ways of keeping homes warm and bills down.

The second feature was putting the public spaces on the first floor. Many of the houses featured bed­rooms downstairs and then a sitting room with large south facing windows upstairs, linked to a master bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.

Most houses weren’t big, which to some extent explained the low heating costs, but with so much imaginative use of space, light and shape it was a fantastic show of what can be done.

The organisers were hoping for 30,000 visitors over the month the Expo is open. They were well on track the day we were there. It’s important to support an initiative such as this where the construction industry, architects and even plan­ners get together to provide some real new cutting edge ideas about design and cost cutting heating, providing warm and affordable homes for rent and to build and buy. All round a great event.

I’d stored up a range of issues people had asked me to pursue for a day in Inverness. So I tramped around most of the headquarters of this national organisation and that, raising Shetland issues.

Inverness used to be a five-minute town. Five minutes or so would get you from one office to the next. No longer. It’s big and busy. It’s the height of the tourist season. And to top it all, none of the organisations – SNH, HIE, Police or the Crofters’ Commission – are in town. They are scattered here and there connected only by a car journey.

Tavish Scott MSP


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