Tag Archives: Scotland

Playing the New Build Game Again

So we’re playing the New Build game again. Seventeen years after we bought our current house off plan, and seven years after we last tried to buy a new build at the Milford Grange development in Winnersh, and the solicitor advised us to pull out when it transpired one of the two spaces they were selling us with the property was designated as a visitor space and we weren’t actually getting ownership of, we’re buying a new build at a development from Lovell Homes called Lochside Grange in the village of Kinghorn in Scotland.

The driver this time is that back in September I was offered a new job with Australian company Computershare who are setting up a global development centre in Edinburgh. Computershare were kind enough to give me three months to sort out somewhere to live, so the new build route seemed like the most straightforward way to relocate, especially given the somewhat different conveyancing systems north and south of the border.

Kinghorn ticked a lot of our boxes for a place to live in that we were looking for another village community such as we have in Arborfield. It also needed good transport links to Edinburgh – Kinghorn has a railway station ten minutes walk from the house with a direct rail service into Edinburgh Waverley. It also needed some places to go walking, so I’ll have the choice between heading up into the hills, or down to the beach when I go walking there.

It also ticked another major box in that it had a four bedroom house pretty well ready to move into, that was supposed to have been occupied back in June/July but the original sale had fallen through. Properties like this are always a bit unattractive as you lose one of the main advantages of a new build in that somebody else has already picked most things such as the bathroom tiles and so on, but we did at least get some choice of carpet albeit between beige and grey. The price of course is also attractive as the developer is really keen to shift the house.

The big issue with new builds is as always the pretty dreadful reputation the whole industry have for quality control. Even though the NHBC are well known to get claimants to sign gagging orders when claims are settled it doesn’t take much to find plenty of upset new build owners having long drawn out battles with their builders or the NHBC over their new homes. It’s a discussion for another post, but the simplest explanation seems to be the classic project triangle – new house builders try build as quickly as possible, and they want to make the maximum profit, so the quality slips. The British building industry has been doing it for years, and until government grasps the nettle it’s really not going to change. You do in theory have better protection than buying a second hand house with the NHBC ten year warranty, but that really only covers you for significant structural defects. Certainly the best bit of advice I’ve come across with regards to a new build is from the HomeOwners Alliance:

Never fail to apply a common sense test. For small problems, such as badly-painted walls or minor cracks, it might be better to give up pursuing your builder, get out a paint brush or some filler and sort out the problem yourself, rather than spend time and energy fighting your builder – even if it leaves you dissatisfied with the service you had expected.

So it’s fair to say we’re going in with our eyes rather more open than previously, but we’re trading flexibility over fixtures and fittings for having a pretty well finished house before we commit to the purchase. Certainly looking at the house there were some obvious snags – check out the slightly differently coloured tiles on the porch that suggest some of them have been changed. There is also a coil of cable that you can see on the left hand side where somebody has just put the cable from the TV/Satellite/Radio wall plate straight through the wall rather than where it should be up to the loft box. I also found the usual selection of minor quality control issues such as badly attached drain pipes and things not screwed together quite as they should be. Having said that compared to the nightmare new homes where builders seem to have struggled to properly lay bricks, it actually looked pretty reasonable.

We passed on the developers pet solicitor and got our own who confirmed that unlike in England, in Scotland developer management companies are rather more under control thanks to the intervention of the Scottish Government, and also that there weren’t any issues such as we had at Milford Grange with parking spaces – indeed we have a totally rectangular plot that contains our house, garage and space on the drive for cars.

The main issue so far has been a bit of a discussion with the developers head office over completion. As I said at the beginning, the developer is really keen to get rid of the house as soon as possible. They’ve really been pushing for 16th November, which is fine, aside from the fact that I’m still working down here until 30th November, and with only limited annual leave I can’t keep going up and down to Scotland. The recommended NHBC process is that buyers should have a visit to their house a week or so before they get the keys, and this is the ideal opportunity to spot and report any snags to allow the developer to sort them out before completion, as it’s a lot easier for the developer to do it before people move in. In Lovell terms they refer to this as a “home demonstration” visit. Given that Lovell were insisting on the 16th November, I asked if we could appoint a professional snagger to do the pre-completion visit, the sales staff noted that down, and all seemed well until twenty-four hours later when the sales agent phoned us whilst we were driving back to Reading saying that her site manager had been in and said it was company policy and they absolutely would not allow snagging inspections prior to completion.

It’s not unusual – Taylor Wimpey are well known for operating the same policy. The argument is that given that the developer is supposed to fix all snags raised in the first two years, snagging it before anybody moves in is unnecessary. Given it was company policy we then raised it up via the solicitor, who spent the best part of this last week arguing with Lovell that this was prejudicing the sale because we couldn’t be expected to attend for the week ahead “home demonstration”, and that we should be able to nominate whomever we like to attend the demonstration in our place. Not surprisingly they were having none of it, but it was worth a try. The advice I’ve seen says that if the developer won’t play ball to get a snagger in as soon as possible, and certainly before you move in.

As I said, there isn’t really anything in the house that leads me to think there is anything wrong with it, we’ve also talked to the neighbours who said they’ve only had minor issues and Lovell were quick to rectify anything that was raised, it’s just generally good practice, indeed the NHBC themselves publish their own snagging checklist of things to check.

Anyway, at the moment it looks like completion will be on 16th November, and I’ve got a snagging inspector coming to give the house the once over on the 17th, then we have a few weeks to organise all the essentials like broadband, phone lines, TV aerials and so on before we actually move. Hopefully that should mean that when the kids finish the school term and move up the house is at least vaguely sorted – although when we moved into this house we had boxes from moving in at the back of the garage for years afterwards.

The Tory-SNP deal that may reshape the UK

This story came up in the Guardian earlier this week, but has largely been lost in amongst all the run up to the publishing of the Leveson Report, however if this happens it will have some pretty big consequences for the whole of the UK.

Essentially the story suggests that the Tory government is making a deal with the SNP to make the independence vote a choice between full independence and the so called devo-max option. As part of the devo-max legislation Scottish MP’s will be removed from Westminster, however they’ll also use the opportunity to resurrect the boundary reorganisation plan that they failed to get through earlier this year. There are no Tory MP’s in Scotland, and the boundary changes favour the Tory party too…

For all of the miscalculations and cock-ups of the past two-and-a-half years, the Tory party, and David Cameron in particular, are as strategically focused as ever on winning power and holding on to it.

Few will be surprised to learn, then, that Cameron is still determined to force through parliamentary boundary changes next year that will reduce both the number of seats in parliament and in particular the number of Labour MPs, (by about 30) – and all in the face of opposition from Nick Clegg. And despite Clegg’s protestation, the Tories will probably be able to buy off some Liberal Democrat MPs threatened with extinction with a place in the Lords or on a quango. That he appears to be promising more devolved powers to Northern Ireland and Wales in order to win over the unionists and Plaid Cymru is quite logical in the circumstances.

Click here to view original web page at www.guardian.co.uk

Over the Sea to Skye

Once upon a time there were three ferry routes to Skye. The ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh, which has now been superseded by the Skye Bridge, and the longer ferry route from Mallaig exist largely thanks to the railways – the ferry route from Glenelg is a bit different – and much, much older.

Glenelg sits across a stretch of water called the Kyle Rhea narrows, the narrowest stretch of sea between Skye and the mainland, historically it was the point where routinely cattle raised on the island were made to swim across to be herded to market, it is also from here that Dr Samuel Johnson made his crossing in 1773. This was once the main route to the island. Now on both sides of the narrows the approach is via minor roads, much of it single track with passing places, and with the proximity of the bridge and the main A87 road why would anyone want to take the diversion over the Bealach pass to catch the ferry any more?

Now I have to say that the A87 is a great road, whilst you do get the odd speed freak and plenty of caravans, the road is wide enough and with enough clear stretches to make passing the caravans straightforward and give the speed freaks the chance to pass without too much tailgating. It’s certainly got some spectacular scenery along the stretch you’d miss taking the ferry, and the bridge is quite a spectacular engineering feat in itself, but it certainly isn’t quite the same experience as taking the ferry. If you’ve got the time to spend, I can recommend taking a ride on the now community owned Glenelg ferry.

Unlike the bigger ships running the route from Mallaig, the community are running the route from Glenelg with the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland, now forty years old. The service runs as required, and amazingly is operated by only two people, even turning the turntable itself with up to six cars on board. The crossing takes barely five minutes, but especially if you’ve just driven the long drive up from the lowlands there is a chance to pause and take in the quiet and stunning scenery before boarding.

On our last trip up to Skye I took the opportunity to film our whole crossing – watch out for a curious seal who pops out of the water as the ferry nears it’s destination.

So there you have it, it certainly isn’t the fastest way to Skye, but it is a much more memorable way to start your time on Skye and along with that you’ll be helping to keep a little bit of the history of the area alive.

Confidence in an Independent Scotland

The news recently has been including a lot of talk about the possibility of Scotland becoming independent, following on in part from the victory of the Scottish National Party in the May elections.

As you may be aware, I did work for what was officially a Scottish Company, Scottish and Southern Energy, which was formed from the merger of Scottish Hydro and Southern Electric. Officially the head office is in Perth in Scotland, although if you look at this map you’ll see that they have operations all over the UK, so Scotland declaring independence could certainly cause some problems.

As a result, it was certainly interesting to hear rumours from friends still at SSE of the company considering relocating their head office back south of the border, possibly to their current London office (the old Southern Electric head office at Littlewick Green being long gone) – certainly if it happens it will be a big indicator of a lack of confidence of cross border businesses in the viability of an independent Scotland, and certainly a significant blow to the Scottish National Party.

Sea of Souls

The BBC doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with Sea of Souls. After the first series they replaced two out of the three major characters, and in series three they went from three two part stories in the series to six single episode stories. ‘Series 4’ which was shown this week on BBC1 was in actual fact just a single two part story, and whilst it obviously had a bigger budget, and was definitely more glossy looking, they had again done away with two out of the three major characters, and it largely stands separate from the previous series, leaving the only consistent aspect of the programme being Bill Paterson, in the starring role as Dr Douglas Monaghan.

Despite the changes of format, this new Sea of Souls was as spooky as ever. The story opens with a couple arriving at a deserted and near derelict house in Scotland, and with Dr Monaghan working on a book about The Golden Dawn, and the Cipher Manuscripts on which the organisation was based.

Working on the derelict house, the couple find a strange painting on the wall under the wallpaper, and the wife posts a picture of it on the internet. This comes to the attention of Monaghan – it shows that someone in the house was a member of The Golden Dawn, and Monaghan asks for permission to investigate further.

Arriving at the house, he also finds that the wife has been having strange experiences – voices coming from radios when they are turned off, and later she starts to have visions. As Monaghan investigates the house further, he finds evidence that alongside The Golden Dawn, Palo rituals were being carried out too with symbols associated with the rituals carved in the floor.

Like a number of previous Sea of Souls plots, this had it’s twists and turns, and a pretty big twist just towards the end which finds Monaghan, on a research trip to London, rushing back up to Scotland. The extra budget is clear, with luscious and glossy cinematography, and the whole story fairly obviously being done entirely on film and on location – even for the University sequences, where Monaghan now has a very grand office. There are also a number of grand sweeping helicopter shots of the Scottish landscape, and some location filming both inside and outside at the British Library down in London.

Having said that, with the big budget and locations, we’ve also lost a lot of the main character interplay, and university politics elements of the previous story, essentially this is one story. As such it is a somewhat slower paced drama, with a definite slow burn in some respects.

Despite the loss of the character interplay, there is some interesting character development. In earlier series, Monaghan was a confirmed sceptic, always looking for a rational explanation. During the third series he seemed to change somewhat, finding things that he just could not explain. In this episode he mentions his wife and child, his wife having died in childbirth many years ago, followed by the baby, and how he admits that he saw his wife at their funeral, and that was what started his work with the paranormal. He is also very ready to believe in the presence of spirits in the derelict house.

There is a fairly stylised blending between the present day house, and the house in the past, partly because it is the spirits of the previous occupants haunting the building, but at times this is also showing the audience events that occurred in the past, essentially keeping the audience a few steps ahead of Monaghan as he investigates. Having said that although there are hints, the final twist comes as a surprise, and in the last fifteen minutes or so we get a tumbling of revelations and realisations, and a classic creepy Sea of Souls ending that really leaves you wondering if that is really the end.

Unfortunately, with the big budget, this is the only story we’re going to get at least for the near future. It was definitely spooky, and whilst it looked good, it is a shame not to have any more…

If you find yourself needing some more of the series, the first two series are still available on DVD.