Kincluny: Scotland’s first sustainable village

Kincluny is aiming to be Scotland’s first sustainable village. But its notion of community sustainability goes far beyond eco-bling, as Clare Goff reports

An artist’s impression of how the Aberdeenshire village of Kincluny will look.

‘The problem of all development is how do you create community?,’ says Bill Burr, managing director of Chap Homes in Aberdeen. With his company’s latest project, however, he thinks he has found the answer.

Kincluny, on the edge of the River Dee, is aiming to be Scotland’s first sustainable village. It will comprise 1,500 mixed tenure eco-homes and businesses, will have a closed loop approach to waste and will be self-sufficient in energy.

The eco technologies to be used in the development will break new ground in the UK, but the real novelty lies in its approach to building a sustainable community.

The Kincluny site as it is today.

The Kincluny site is the biggest development project undertaken by Chap, and Burr wanted to ensure that the physical development was matched by community development. He’d witnessed the failure of many large scale developments to build a true sense of belonging; in many cases the physical elements of community – the pubs and schools – were built in but a lack of community involvement in planning and managing the infrastructure meant that a sense of community had failed to grow.

Thus, before even the first brick has been laid, Chap – in partnership with Foyer Enterprises – has set up a community-led social enterprise, the Kincluny Development Trust, which will manage the community of Kincluny as it develops.

Each householder and business in the new village will be a stakeholder through a formal ‘share’ agreement in the trust. Chap is investing £400m in land and building work and other amenities, such as the school, shops and renewable energy, and will also donate £1,000 to a community fund for each house it builds, creating a endowment of more than £1m, which will be used to invest in shops, office units, workspaces and green spaces. The trust will manage the fund and use it to set up self-sustainable businesses and social enterprises within the village, ensuring that the village’s micro economy is kept ‘locked in’.

The trust will also take over ownership of a number of community assets such as its green spaces, fishing pond and the community-owned energy system.

While development trusts are usually set up as a result of a gap in services or an identified local need, the Kincluny Development Trust aims to plan, run and manage the village’s services from the outset.

‘It’s about building in the sense of belonging before the first brick goes down,’ says Leona McDermid, commercial director at Foyer Enterprises. ‘A sense of belonging needs shared history. We’re trying to create that shared history from the beginning.’

The planning application for the site has now been submitted and the trust’s working group is sketching out a vision for building social capital into the community’s design.

The building work itself will provide jobs and training opportunities for local people, and a report into how the trust will work offers a glimpse of how Kincluny could look in the year 2040.

It imagines a letter written by one of the village’s first residents, who came to the village as a child and is now watching her own child play in one of the community spaces. She describes the local facilities within walking distance from her house, local transport provided by a social enterprise, a community learning centre she attends in the evenings, local cinema clubs and restaurants. Older people are looked after with meals on wheels delivered from produce grown in the local allotments.

It ends: ‘We are pretty self sufficient now and there is a great feeling of community spirit.’

The report recognises that of the three elements of sustainability – social, financial and environmental – the most difficult to manage from the outset is the social. By involving and having conversations with residents before a brick is even laid, by employing a community development worker and providing a range of opportunities for involvement, the trust hopes to foster social capital. The social enterprise at the heart of this community will ensure that community benefits are locked in for perpetuity.

While the trust will manage community sustainability, the homes themselves are to be built to the highest eco-standards in the UK. Alan Owen, reader at the Robert Gordon University’s Centre for Understanding Sustainable Practices and leading the research into Kincluny’s sustainability, says that 20 years ago he was considered a local loony. Now, however, his ideas – which include the use of human waste in energy generation – are mainstream and accepted. While many developments claim to be sustainable, Kincluny pushes the concept much further; the village will not rely on any outside resources, as the diagram below illustrates.

Human waste is one of the biggest gaps in the system, says Owen; at Kincluny the villagers’ waste will be used for allotment compost and to help run the Combined Heat and Power energy generation system.

Drinking water will come from an on-site bore hole, while non-drinking water will be collected from rainwater and grey water collection sites. The vast majority of the site’s energy will be generated through wind farms located a few miles from the site.

‘This is the most ambitious project in the UK,’ Owen says. But the technology used is tried and tested and the houses themselves will look like ordinary homes, rather than ‘23rd century strange-looking boxes’, he says.

As resources get squeezed Owen says that developments such as Kincluny will need to become the norm.

‘The existing technologies for building housing are not sustainable,’ he says. ‘Aberdeen and its surrounds need another 70,000 homes but there’s not enough water supply for that level of development.

‘It doesn’t matter how many houses we build they will still need water and so we need to develop sustainably. We can’t continue as we are.’

It has long been apparent that physical development is no longer enough; communities need to think about their long-term resilience before even the first brick is laid. How they become more self-sufficient, how they provide energy and food, how they move about, how they make a living and how they look after each other all need to be considered.

Kincluny provides a model for a resilient community with environmental, financial and community sustainability written into its design and offers a blueprint for where large scale development needs to go. As the trust’s report says: ‘Chap Homes are to be applauded for taking what some may see as a bold step as a developer, heralding what we believe should become the norm when considering the establishment of new communities.’


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