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How ‘the hub’ is rebuilding the region’s economy brick by brick

hub North Scotland is at the heart of major infrastructure projects across the region, such as the new Alness Academy.

Travel from Argyll and Bute in the west up through the Highlands and Islands and then down to Aberdeen and you will find many signs of hub North Scotland’s work.

For the past 10 years this community infrastructure business has developed and delivered more than £700 million-worth of public sector projects, ranging from schools to local hospitals.

It’s not only new buildings it helps to create. Community benefits from its projects to date include 314 new jobs, 200 apprentices, 126 graduate trainees, more than 1,000 work experience days, and new business estimated to be worth in excess of £450m for small and medium-sized enterprises throughout Scotland.

Working through the outbreak

Even Covid-19 has failed to halt hub North Scotland’s progress, with the firm completing three secondary schools, two primary schools and a community hospital during the pandemic.

It will soon complete another community hospital and has just started construction on a new primary school.

Not content to sit back and reflect on delivering a decade of improvements for communities in partnership with the public sector, it now has a key role in post-pandemic recovery planning as a strategic infrastructure development partner.

Post-Covid-19 recovery planning presents a major opportunity to assess and redesign how public services are delivered.”

Fraser Innes, operational director, hub North Scotland.

Launched in 2011 by the Scottish Futures Trust as one of five hub companies across Scotland to support the public sector, hub North Scotland is a public-private sector body that was originally seen by many as simply a delivery partner for individual developments.

But with the public sector now having to meet national and local policy targets on issues such as net-zero carbon emissions, improved digital connectivity, inclusive economic growth and sustainable social impact, while also responding to demand for new facilities and services, the hub’s resources and experience are a much-valued asset.

It has been working with its 16-public sector clients – who are also shareholders in the company – to meet these challenges head-on.

Linkwood Primary School, Elgin.

Fraser Innes, who has been operational director at hub North Scotland since it was created, believes the firm’s collaborative approach with its partners is helping make a difference.

Mr Innes said: “The Scottish Government is very clear on the outcomes it wants from future investment.

“At the same time, post-Covid-19 recovery planning presents a major opportunity to assess and redesign how public services are delivered in the future to meet the needs of communities.

“We believe the key to achieving that and meeting these needs is by bringing together stakeholders to collaborate in the best way, and prioritise those requirements to help make them more affordable and attract further investment.”

Fraser Innes.

One example is Barra and Vatersay Community Campus, which hub North is helping develop with Western Isles Council and the NHS.

This kind of work is a far cry from the first project to be completed by hub North Scotland – a multi-storey car park for Aberdeen City Council (ACC).

It was quickly followed by the Aberdeen Community Health and Care Village for NHS Grampian, an innovative complex that brought together a wide range of facilities and other partners, including the city council and Police Scotland.

Aberdeen Community Health and Care Village.

Since then, the hub has delivered more than 30 major partnership projects across the north.

These include Anderson High School in Lerwick, East Caithness Community Campus in Wick, Alford Community Campus, Campbeltown Grammar School, Oban High School, Inverness Royal Academy, Lochside Academy in Aberdeen, and Inverurie Health and Care Hub, as well as new health centres in Tain, Forres and Woodside in Aberdeen.

It also overcame the challenges of the pandemic to complete Linkwood Primary School in Elgin, Dunoon Primary School, Alness Academy, Lossiemouth High School and Inverurie Community Campus, which won the project of the year (public buildings) category at the Scottish Property Awards in March.

Lossiemouth High School.

In addition, hub North Scotland recently delivered the new Badenoch and Strathspey Community Hospital, in partnership with NHS Highland, which is the first new hospital to be built in the Cairngorms National Park.

A second community hospital at Broadford, on Skye, is due to be completed this year.

Meanwhile, hub North Scotland is supporting ACC with its Aberdeen city centre and beach master plans, which are aimed at revitalising key areas of the Granite City.

And it is currently working with public bodies across the north to develop proposals focused on improving outcomes for local communities.

Inverurie Community Campus.

The hub’s “place-based” approach involves bringing stakeholders together to assess local needs and then build plans around these.

It is hoped this collaboration will help create and support resilient and sustainable neighbourhoods where people will want to live, work, play and learn.

Helping drive this initiative is hub North Scotland’s territory partnering board (TPB), which consists of senior representatives from its public sector clients and provides strategic and operational oversight of the company’s activities.

Building for the future

Angela Scott, chief executive of Aberdeen City Council, is chairwoman of the TPB and during the past year has helped the 16-clients work more closely together to establish a clear vision, goals, and objectives which inform a co-ordinated approach to investment.

Hub North Scotland is now looking to strengthen its partnerships.

Construction work has just started on the new Countesswells Primary School on the outskirts of Aberdeen, where a new community of 3,000-homes is being established.

That will shortly be followed by the new Torry Primary School and Community Hub.

Badenoch and Strathspey Community Hospital, Aviemore.

Several other “place-based” reviews are taking place with stakeholders in Argyll and Bute, Caithness, Inverness, and Shetland.

Hub North Scotland is also preparing to move into delivering social housing. It has already set up a housing supply chain, alongside its current offering and is discussing potential projects with clients.

Mr Innes said: “Social housing is an extension of our work to support partners and is something we have been planning to get involved in for some time.

“Addressing housing need and demand is a challenge for many of our partners.

“We are not only looking at larger housing developments but also small-scale projects in more remote areas, where new homes can make a huge difference to communities.”