Highlands & Islands

Scotland Housing Expo's 'big bad wolves'

Artist impression of Flower House
Image caption Expo organisers expect visitors to be wowed by the homes on show

There might not be a house made from straw or three little pigs, but Scotland's Housing Expo has faced its fair share of big bad wolves.

The homes-of-the-future exhibition opens on Sunday after being blown off schedule by the credit crunch and the huff and puff of a severe winter.

Due to be held last year as the Highland Housing Fair, the event was postponed because of the economic downturn.

Rebranded as Scotland's Housing Expo, organisers rescheduled the event for August 2010 only to have construction work slowed by one of the worst winters on record.

A posting on the event's official blog earlier this year read: "We can't believe the impact the weather has had on this project this year but everyone's still confident everything will be ready in time."

Some of the houses are not expected to be completed until next week.

Funding has also been an issue and both Highland Council and the Scottish government have underwritten the expo.

This support is on top of other financial contributions, including £2m from the government.

Since its inception, the fair has attracted criticism and controversy.

In 2008, Highland MSP David Thompson wrote to the government spending watchdog Audit Scotland asking them to investigate the sale of land by building company Tulloch.

Audit Scotland said that while such an investigation was not in its remit, it had asked the council's external auditors to look into the matter.

Image caption Expo's project manager said it was natural for such an event to have difficulties

A series of complaints about how Highland Council handled the project at the planning stage were also investigated by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

Two members of the public had raised concerns about how outline planning was dealt with.

They said there had been inadequate consultation and permission for the site should not have been granted.

But the SPSO declined to uphold 11 complaints and concerns about Highland's handling of the application.

Last January, the site's surrounding area, whose only amenity is a post box, was billed as a thriving community in a brochure aimed at securing cash for the expo.

Organisers were accused of "talking up" the facilities at Milton of Leys to secure cash from MSPs.

A pamphlet for the event appeared to say the area had shops, a pub and a school.

The people behind the brochure said it was meant to show the area's potential.

Expo project manager Fiona Hampton told BBC Scotland on Friday it was "absolutely natural" for such an event to have its difficulties.

She said: "When you try to do something as unique and innovative as this project for the first time, where there is no blueprint for it and you are almost breaking new ground, there will be factors that will come up that you hadn't foreseen.

"There will be changes in direction, changes in time scale, but the main thing that remains is that this is a unique project which is being done for the first time in the UK."

Ms Hampton added: "We have created something unique and the Highlands should be proud of it.

"The Highlands is breaking new ground and has been bold enough to take on this project."

So when the gates open to the public on Sunday, Ms Hampton expects the first of the forecasted 30,000 visitors to be blown away by extraordinary housing.

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