Return to work on Dingwall High Street development welcomed as coronavirus restrictions eased; Safety is key as flats and retail construction project headed by Ark Estates resumes
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THE resumption of work in Ross-shire's county town on a multimillion-pound flats and retail development stopped in its tracks by the coronavirus crisis signals the first tentative steps on the long road to recovery.
With around a quarter of the Highland workforce experiencing furlough, a number of businesses failing and many others still counting the cost of the global pandemic, the phased return to work of the construction industry is being seen by some as symbolic of the challenge now faced in rebuilding the economy while keeping the killer virus at bay.
The High Street and Mart Road development, centring on the site of the former Picture House nightclub and surrounding units, promises to breathe fresh life into the heart of Dingwall.
Managed by Ark Estates, it will see the creation of 30 new flats, to be managed by Highland Council, and two private retail units. It will also support the employment of as many as 30 workers and marks what bosses say will be the “soft restart” of the construction sector with many safety precautions in place.
Managing director of Ark Estates William Gray said: “The safety of the on-site teams, and the wider Dingwall community, remain our priority. This is why we took the decision to only open the site when government advice had clearly changed, and we were entirely happy that we could put in place all the necessary safety measures.
“It is really difficult and worrying times for guys going back to work because there are some guys who are genuinely nervous and intimidated about going back to work because they have been self-isolating for weeks.
“At the start of the lockdown we had about 30 men on site and that was 30 when it was quiet, so it would have been stepping-up with joiners to about 50 or 60 men – but it will be a good while before it gets up to that.
“There is a wider concern of what costs this adds to construction and what cost this adds to developments in the future and is the Scottish Government going to be there in the future with enhanced levels of grant funding to support such developments?”
The site has been shut since March 23 and will look different when it is re-opened this week by ARK Estates and lead contractor O'Brien Homes with safety measures in place. Those include daily temperature checks for staff and visitors, a rota system and one-way routes to allow for social distancing.
O’Brien Homes director Tom O’Brien said: “Working together, we have put in place completely revised plans to ensure the safety of our staff and visitors alike. We are confident that the work can be done safely and we look forward to getting back to work and playing our part in delivering much-needed new homes for Dingwall.”
Local MSP Kate Forbes, also the finance secretary who played a key role in delivering cash to businesses across Scotland, welcomed the project and return to work. She said: “Housing, at affordable prices, is probably one of the most frequently raised issues with me, showing how important it is. I know that this development in Dingwall will make a difference in my constituency.”
Local councillor Alister Mackinnon said it was "excellent" news: "I know the way the firm works and I am sure they will take every precaution to protect the workforce and the community and I am fully supportive of that. It will be great to get the economy back to work albeit slowly."
Mr Gray, a former Dingwall Academy pupil himself, also called on members of the public with any concerns to get in touch directly. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
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