Monday, November 30, 2020

Proposed sale of Sandown Common Good Land: "[...] the Council need assistance to overcome their conflict of interest."

At tonight's online meeting of Nairn West and Suburban Community Council the chair, Sheena Baker, asked Brian Stewart to outline the current feeling of her organisation in relation to the Highland Council proposal to sell the Sandown Common Good Land. Brian said:

“Our view and we have discussed this in preparatory discussions of West and Suburban Community Council is that the sale proposal as currently set out should not proceed. And most of you, I suspect, will already have seen public comments made by Sheena as chair on the views and concerns that this community Council has. In summary:

We are unhappy with the idea that this should proceed. Firstly because the current Covid constrictions and costraints prevent proper public consultation and discussion. Secondly, because in our view this is the wrong time to attempt to sell our prize principal asset, with the economy in recession, land prices depressed, the Common Good will not secure best value. Thirdly it is our view that the case for selling the land at this time and in this way has simply not been made. There is no rationale and there is no business case presented to the public. Fourthly, other options apart from sale have not been considered and assessed. This proposal, as it has been put out for consultation, is to sell the entire site as a single deal to a large developer because who else is going to buy it as a job lot. Possibilities such as long leases, phased partial sale, community self-build, local buy-out and many other variations at least need to be evaluated.

                                            The Sandown Common Good Lands

 This underlines our central concern that there is no policy and no strategy for managing Nairn's Common Good, or if there is we have no real idea of what it might be and the community certainly hasn't been consulted about the policy. So as well as opposing the principal of this proposal at this time, we believe that, especially given the law on engagement with communities, we as a community should be involved in the policy making and priority setting from the earliest stages. For that reason we have collectively agreed that we will also wish to submit a formal participation request asking that we be given the opportunity to take part in setting the policy – not just commenting on proposals that have already been drawn up without our knowledge. So at this point I'm going to pass the virtual microphone over to Bill who is going to explain in more detail what it is that we envisage doing by way of action on the Sandown proposal.”

Bill Said: “There's two elements of this, there's the consultation which Brian will perhaps come back too shortly and the second element is the participation request to invite ourselves in to be part of the future management of the Sandown Land and we recall Mr Gillfillan in 2012 reading the Riot Act to the Community Councils, telling them there was actually no place for a Community Council in the management of the Common Good Fund. What since has changed is section 22 of the Community Empowerment Act which makes it very much right that Community Councils do now have a place at the table and we'd like to exercise it.

The outcome, or the rationale, is to approve the outcome. At the moment Highland Council are hopelessly, and hopelessly, conflicted – for no fault of the current trustees, the Council appear to to have tried to help themselves to £344,000 worth of the Sandown Land, it's represented in the Council accounts of 2014 as an asset. There's two things which are wrong with that. The first is that in general trust law, the trustees are not allowed to acquire the assets of the ward. And the second thing is they didn't take title to a specific area, it's £344,000's worth of the whole. So, the point of law is that you are not allowed to get your funds as a trustee mixed up with the funds of the ward. So there's two things wrong with that.

Now there was a previous planning application in 2018 which was first office of estate, it was an environmental assessment for part of the land, not the whole of it. Now that came to grief for various reasons and, which was all reported in the Nairnshire, and now this is now a reincarnation. There's a document from the Council – strategic housing which identifies Council owned sites suitable for housing and on that the first application was for something like 80 houses, it's now been cut down to 50 houses. Now, there's no part of a Common Good Fund is appropriate, sorry no function of a Common Good Fund is to provide housing. It's just not right, and the Common Good Land was acquired 400 years ago and if there were some need for a Common Good Fund to provide housing there would be some examples of that right now. So for first principles it's wrong. We think, or we want to make the representation that the Council need assistance to overcome their conflict of interest. Now we have no conflict of interest, we are 100% on the side of the Common Good.

The Council were never, ever elected to deal with the Common Good. What the guy in Achiltibuie, well, his interest in Nairn's Common Good Fund will be absolutely nil other than the fact that some of the money we are now spending from the Common Good to support things in Nairn which ought to be provided by the Council will mean that there is more money for him in Achilitibuie. So that is why we want to invite ourselves in to participate. It's not to be negative, we just want to be sure that we sell the ground for the right reasons, at the right time and we comply with the law. We've drafted a draft and it's now being finnessed by some other members of the Community Council to smooth some of the rough edges if you like and I think we have already agreed that from a policy point of view we are going to launch that in the appropriate time.”

Bill referred to the time allowed for this item and offered to move on. He was in fact told by Ally MacDonald who was running the Zoom session that there was still 10 minutes allocated. He added:

“I think I've really said it all, this is a fairly technical document, we need to get it right. We have to comply with the law and we have to ensure that we give the appropriate reasons and we have a number of examples of conflict of interest. In fact far too many and I think we will, will finnesse it up and look at it and see what happens. It can't really do any harm and it might do some good.”

Brian Stewart then spoke again mentioning that the participation request was one avenue but they could also engage in the process of consultation as it goes forward. He added that they thought it should be deferred but they intended that step one of their action should be to submit the participation request and thereafter they would aim to, as it were, do more homework on the issue of the Sandown sale itself. He asked if everyone was willing to see the participation request go forward as outlined.

Sheena Baker, then said: “OK so we know that Bill has drafted it and we know that there are one or two other people are reviewing it with him, so it is not ready to roll yet. I need from Nairn West and Suburban the OK for us to submit this participation request as and when it is ready to go. Everyone happy?”

The other members gave their consent. Shena continued, “But we do just feel very, very much at the moment that this consultation is happening when the public cannot participate. That is wrong, that is fundamentally wrong and we are taking the other action that you have heard today.”

Later in the meeting Tom Heggie was asked some questions about the proposed sale and this too turned into an extensive session, we will report some of this later this week if time permits.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Observations on where Covid Community Cash went in the Highlands - questions to be asked on Nairn's share or lessons to be learnt?

One of our regular readers has seen a document from July that lists Covid Community Grants payments made from Highland Council to areas of the Highlands. Our observer suggested we look at COVID-19 Grant Awards Appendix 1 in a document that went to the full Highland Council committee on 30 July and was entitled “Review of Covid-19 services: Humanitarian assistance and food supply”.

The early part of the year and the full lock down was an extremely challenging time for communities and for the local authority and the needs of each area would have been very different perhaps – as the document itself says:

“The scale of the task has been considerable. By 10 July 1,234 shielding people have been supported to access Scottish Government food boxes, a further 1,024 households have been supported to access our food support, just over 6,000 bags of emergency food have been distributed, medicines have been delivered to 438 people, 174 people have been referred for welfare support and over 200 for social support. We have received over 6,100 calls for support, advice and guidance and made outward calls to over 5,000 to understand their needs and check in on their well-being as well as face to face contact through deliveries. We have borrowed over 120 staff from across Council services, engaged over 120 volunteers from HLH, Eden Court and worked directly with over 110 community bodies. We have redeployed our fleet and made alternative use of council buildings.

In looking at the appendix however (Click on the image below to enlarge) our regular reader maintains the following can be observed:

Aside from the £182,405 allocated to "Highland wide" groups, the following received money
Caithness & Sutherland              £ 469,437     consisting of £429,858 to 83 community organisations, plus £39,579 to Caithness wards
Ross & Cromarty inc Black Isle   £ 492,009      to 109 local groups
Eilean, Caol, Mallaig, Aird           £ 389,494      to 78 local groups
Inverness                                    £ 388,404       consisting of £271,218 to 60 local groups, plus £117,186 to Inverness wards
Ft William & Ardnamurchan        £ 149,379      consisting of £121,344 to 18 groups, plus £28,035 to Lochaber wards
Badenoch & Strathspey              £ 143,015      to 9 local groups
Culloden & Ardersier                   £    6,100      to 4 groups
Ward 18 Nairn[shire]                    £  4,906        to 7 local groups

Our correspondent added:

“Nairn(shire) with the second largest urban centre in the region and 5.5% of Highland population, got precisely 0.22% (£4,906) of the total money dished out to Highland communities. 

Badenoch & Strathspey has about the same population share as Nairn (5.9%). They got almost £150k (6.7% of the total funding).

By comparison Caithness and Sutherland (17% of the population) got 21% of the total money;  Ross & Cromarty (24.5% population) 22%;  Ft William etc (4.7%) got 6.7%.”

As we said above, horses for courses and all that and things could have been very different in other places. Gurnites will remember that the existing and new networks that popped up performed really well from a standing start and maybe our community networks needed less help to perform to the best of their combined abilities. 

We hope however that our Community Councils will quiz our elected Highland Council members as to why Nairn was presented with or needed such a small amount of cash compared to other areas in the Highlands and whether any lessions can be learned here for the future. 

Click image to enlarge

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Meanwhile on the Gurn twitter account

We're old media now too, most news in Nairn breaking over on Facebook these days but we still have our moments from time to time.

In the meantime if there's not much being posted here it's worth having a look at the Gurn twitter account. Quite a lot happens in the Nairn twittersphere these days and you can scroll down the wee twitter box on the right hand side as far as you like to see what the latest craic is. You don't have to have an account to look at tweets either. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Café Lavender support petition on planning points gathering momentum - 10 jobs under threat?

 A page in support of the popular Café Lavender reads:

"Help keep Café Lavender in business and save 10 local jobs as well as our livelihood

 Please support us, as we are trying to keep our Café Lavender open for you and push back at some planning permission points that we find harsh, we want to continue serving people who have praised us on Trip Advisor, Google and Facebook and been loyal customers to us. 

We employ 10 local people and use all local suppliers and bring a taste of German cafe culture and hospitality to beautiful Nairn where we love living and communicating with our many loyal customers and tourists. Please sign to help our campaign to keep open and continue business."

More on the petition site here. 


Update after careful consideration we have decided not to take comments on this article

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Sandown Common Good Land for sale - going for about 6-7 million but a small matter of public consultation first

 The Highland Council consultation document reads:

"What is proposed?

A sale of 38 hectares of Common Good property lying either side of the A96 at the western boundary of Nairn. The extent of property included in the proposal is shown in the plans and images below and is described in the Highland Council Common Good Asset Register for Nairn as follows:

Inverness Road, IV12 5NT.

UPRN: 130111934.

The lands run either side of the A96.

On the left/north side (heading towards Nairn) the lands are bordered by road to Ruthven, A96, Sandown Farm Lane & properties to the rear of Tradespark Road.

On the right/south side the lands are bordered by A96, Sandown Road, Rear of properties on Wyvis Road & Moss-side Road.

The allotment gardens together with a parcel of land for extension of the gardens will be excluded from the proposal."

 You can download a copy of the document here.  

Meanwhile a few opionions already emerging from the community over on the Nairn our Town, our views Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Nairn County raising £1,000 to support Alexander's Journey to provide food parcels, gifts & mental health support to those vulnerable or shielding at Christmas in Nairn.

The crowdfunder page states: " Alexander Sherret is raising money for his local community as part of the `County at Christmas` Campaign. He has volunteered to do 19.14miles in his wheelchair around Station Park, the home of Nairn County FC assisted by a team of helpers.

Weʼre raising £1,000 to support Alexanders Journey to provide food parcels, gifts & mental health support to those vulnerable or shielding at Christmas in Nairn.

 The goal, together with other fundraising events, is to raise £1000 which will be spent in local businesses to purchase food parcels and small gifts for those vulnerable or shielding over the Festive Period. Also to donate towards local mental health charities who are supporting people who are particularly challenged at this time of year."

More information on the Crowdfunder page here 

or click image below to enlarge 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Common Good consultation on proposal to dispose, by lease, of the Tearoom and on proposal to dispose, by demolition, of the old store and return the land to public amenity, both located on The Links, Nairn

A copy of the consultation document is available here on the Highland Council website.

Here's why this consultation is taking place according to the document linked above

"The Highland Council have a statutory obligation to seek court consent before disposing of Common Good land which may be ‘inalienable’.

In this context ‘inalienable’ refers to Common Good property that falls into at least one of the following categories: -

  • The Title Deed of the property dedicates it to a public purpose, or

  • The Council has dedicated it to a public purpose, or

  • The property has been used for public purposes for many years (time immemorial) without interference by the Council

In this case the property is located on The Links at Nairn which derived its title from the Royal Charter of King James VI dated 15 October 1589 and, as such, it is considered that a question of alienability may arise. Therefore, the proposed lease cannot be concluded until Sheriff Court consent has been obtained. If after this consultation, the proposal progresses to a court application the public will have a further opportunity to make representations within the Court process. A statutory advertisement will be placed in the Nairnshire Telegraph to inform the local public that the court process has been commenced."

Nairn West and Suburban AGM and regular meeting – a perfect Zoom event – but should the gathering storm(s) have been discussed?

Given the previous evidence from River CC of how Zoom meetings can go off the rails into chaos and rancour this was a remarkably well organised event (divided into two because of the Zoom basic package limit of forty minutes). Brevity, polite behaviour and concise language were the order of the evening. Testament perhaps to how much of our lives are moving into the online sphere now. In times to come when we get a bit clear of Covid then surely a lot of these types of meeting will continue in the Zoom fashion and save people venturing out on cold winter nights - saving organisations cash too when it comes to hiring venues. 

(Here at the Gurn we are delighted with the Zoom meetings we have participated in with various groups. After meeting socialising is possible on Zoom too with a cuppa and biscuits or something stronger if you wish. But we digress - back to NWSCC matters.)

A virtual observer might have found the discussion strangely unsatisfying and lacking in substance - it felt very unusual to this observer  A case of watch dogs that have suddenly stopped barking for some reason?

As for the AGM the formal proceedings and election of office bearers was undisputed, perhaps this suggests a lot of careful prior consultation and planning.  In these difficult times there is something perhaps to be said for continuity and well done if there were consultations beforehand too, it saved time on the evening – after all who would want to be a community councillor these days – all your debates and decision making can tempt the wrath of social media and you can be pilloried on occasion whether you deserve it or not. The tendency and ability of us all to hit the Facebook front page with our thoughts must surely deter some from stepping forward to allow themselves for selection to these roles? So well done all those who continue to do their best and at the same time but themselves up for increasing levels of scrutiny.

There was nevertheless something odd about the discussion.  The town has been going through turbulent times.  Covid has had a major impact on the local economy.  Businesses have been struggling, visitors staying away, and the next six to twelve months look bleak.  Alongside that, there has been controversy and dissension over plans for the future of the town centre, with plans for a new housing block and offices pushed through in face of strong objections from across the community - including the CCs.   Anxiety is growing over the way in which some feel that Common Good assets might be exploited by Highland Council. Here at the Gurn we do feel there should be more frank discussion on the way forward for the Common Good and associated subjects. The Common Good really does need to come home in the full sense.

But from last night's discussion there was little sense that that the rescue and regeneration of the town is a top priority.  We had a brief reminder - given the evidence of last week's spate - of the importance of action on flood prevention, where progress seems to be remarkably slow.  There was reference to the hoped-for improvements in local 'active travel' routes and signage for which Highland Council has a special allocation of funds because of the Covid social-distancing requirements.  In passing, the possibility of parking charges and the vexed issue of motorhome facilities were mentioned without debate.

For debate on parking charges and argument about the flats and CAB office to be built in King Street it is perhaps worth turning to the editorial colums of the Nairnshire Telegraph this week. The Nairnshire concludes: “Will there be a need for all that parking in a future in which Nairn High Street may not be functioning as a retail centre? Should we wait out the current recession before making any plans at all?”

Maybe that is where we all are just now, individuals, councils and businesses, waiting for the Covid dust to settle to pick up the pieces see what we can resume of the old way of life? No doubt Highland Council and the Scottish Government have recovery strategies, how they will fit into what Nairn will have to face seems to be unclear at the moment.

Perhaps inevitably, there was discussion of how best to adapt to the new normal of virtual meetings, managing the technology, and developing an online presence and website, where NW&SCC has a long way to go. For some considerable time now they have been debating a potential web presence, perhaps it will happen this time round.

Otherwise, we were back to parochial concerns.  One was about speeding traffic in the residential streets of the West End:  this seems to have taken over from seagulls and dog-poo as a neighbourhood watch issue.  Councillor Heggie seemed to think this was a matter for CCs to deal with, we think he was indicating here at a consultation level – or maybe Highland Council could sponsor a speed gun for local residents to use or some other out of the box initiative to counter a growing problem?  He was reminded that road safety and traffic management are statutory responsibilities of the local Council.

The prospect of a new Nairn Academy was also raised.  Not just the priority and timing, but concern that basing the new school on a forecast of 780 pupils would provide inadequate capacity if the many thousands more houses indicated in development plans were to be built.  It was also suggested that a new school might be better relocated nearer to such new housing.  Tom Heggie said there had been meetings with officials... there would be more meetings ..... there would be public consultation .... alternatives would be considered ..... before plans were drawn up.  As for location, Cllr Heggie said that building on the playing fields would involve "nil cost" for the site, and anyway, people were "used to the current school location".  One thinks here to the established obligations on developers - so spectacularly squandered at Lochloy - whereby a developer contribution takes the form of the allocation of a site for a school or other community facilities. Any new development can pay a huge chunk to new school costs?

To round off the evening, Tom was asked for an update on Highland Council's current priorities and activity, the response was that "there were a number of ongoing matters being resolved elsewhere".  Here at the Gurn we wonder what those ongoing matters are and whether any of them will explode into prominence in the way so many issues have done in Nairn in the past. Or maybe the spirit of polite efficient Zoom meetings will trickle down to all levels of civic debate in our immediate and uncertain future and all will suddenly become uncontentious.