AROUND 30 years ago, when manufacturing and construction group James Walker (Leith) wanted to diversify into housing development, the board installed Bruce Dunlop as managing director.

In a sector which has ebbed and flowed fairly dramatically since 1987 – when the average cost of a house in Scotland was £29,591 – Mr Dunlop has remained in post, and has just overseen the busiest year yet, with revenue reaching £38 million.

The average house price in Scotland today is more than £140,000 – and those sold new by Dundas Estates average £195,000.

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Price isn’t the only thing to have changed in the intervening years of course. Materials evolve, as does the technology that goes into designing and building a home. Throughout, Mr Dunlop has been a constant. Qualifying as a quantity surveyor he cut his teeth at Cala Homes before James Walker (Leith), through its Walker Timber Group division, came calling.

It had just launched a development business, but did not have the right person to grow it. In Mr Dunlop’s words, he was brought in to nurture what was started and push it along.

“It was a very modest affair,” he says of the company’s beginnings. “It was pretty much myself, we built a few houses a year, the first couple of years five to 10 units.”

The strategy was to buy up double feus in Edinburgh, split the plot, sell the house and build another on the feu.

“We gradually, methodically and with precaution built up from there,” says Mr Dunlop.

In the last ten years however, as the company has grown into itself, and Mr Dunlop says optimally the company now operates across six or seven sites. It is currently active on six – one of which is set to change the way Dundas does business.

The business won three industry awards last year for its Calderwood Village site in Coatbridge. The development is based on the philosophy of sustainable community and was designed with particular importance on the planning of streets and inclusion of attractive outdoor space.

Mr Dunlop, explaining, says that the streets, houses and community spaces all contribute to providing a sense of place and a clean, green neighbourhood. This includes building a community hub, the upkeep of which is currently being paid for by Dundas, before the community itself takes over.

It is a different level of development altogether, and one which reflects the changing nature of new developments. As Scotland faces an ongoing shortage of new houses, Mr Dunlop says the planning system works “reasonably well” but laments the “endless consultation” with bodies such as Scottish Water.

“We tend to work with the planners in a collaborative manner, which not everyone does,” he says. “Some prefer to take them head on but we get the best results by working with them. I don’t have an axe to grind other than certain aspects of Section 75 [of planning regulations], which is a land tax which can be grossly excessive and on occasion can prevent development.”

While challenges continue to come along, Mr Dunlop says the largest is simply “adapting to market conditions and endlessly trying to look ahead of yourself”.

He looks back to late 2007, recalling the dread as the economy fell apart. “It was becoming clearer and clearer that something fairly calamitous was going to come along. We were busy trying to pre-prepare for that.”

Reflecting on it now, he says: “We had a few redundancies, but there were a lot of competitors which sadly didn’t survive. Anyone who did survive did pretty well.”

The company made it through thanks to its prudence, he says, noting that with a strong capital base a business is more able to resist downturns.

With Brexit looming, another challenge arrives - that of sourcing sufficient labour. “I think everyone has concerns about the lack of supply in labour, the lack of apprenticeships, Brexit may or may not effect it,” he says. “There are some very good eastern European workers who may or may not stay, it’s difficult to tell.”

The business is branching out, having just concluded missives on the Corstorphine Hospital site, which will see Dundas Estates operating as part of a joint venture with Sundial. The development will see almost 80 units built or refurbished, with an average selling price of around £450,000 to £500,000.

Protecting long-term relationships is something Mr Dunlop believes has been integral to the company’s enduring success. Beyond his own 30 years, three other members of the team are celebrating their 25 year anniversaries with the business this year. And the group has been working with the same joiners for 27 years, and has bought stone from Ibstock every year for the past 25 years.

But the business stays up to date, thanks to six monthly product reviews which recently have focused on sustainable and low energy components. “If you’re going to remain competitive, you’ve got to understand the innovations and new materials and how that all ties together with what the purchasers’ desire.”

In a wider context, Mr Dunlop says a Government target for new builds could be put in place but market conditions make it difficult to know what that target should be. “There is still some very weak housing stock around,” he said. “It’s been there a long time and should be replaced, but it’s one thing to do it for affordable, and another for general housing when it’s subject so much to market conditions.”

Looking ahead, and it would seem those market fluctuations which have kept Mr Dunlop on his toes for three decades will continue, but his prediction for the long-term is general stability.

“Demand will remain reasonably stable. I don’t think there will be a great price growth,” he said. “A lot will depend on the Brexit negotiations. And interest rates, but I think [the market] will remain where it is just now, which is not as good as it was two years ago. In an overall context, if you look at a 30 year period, it’s pretty stable and we’re not expecting any great changes.”