Thursday, February 25, 2021

Sheena Baker: "This Consultation offers no monetary figures, is totally open-ended and tries to give HC unfettered discretion to dispose of Sandown Lands"

The Gurn has received a copy of Sheena Baker's submission to the consultation on the Highland Council to sell the Sandown Common Good Lands. Tomorrow is the last day of the consultation, if you wish to make a submission yourself there are details of how to do that on the Nairn West and Suburban Community Council website.

Anyway, here's Sheena's contribution:

 

CONSULTATION ON PROPOSAL TO SELL LAND AT SANDOWN, NAIRN

I am writing in a purely personal capacity and not in my role as the Chair of Nairn West & Suburban Community Council. This is my personal representation to the above consultation.


Introduction


I am of the firm belief that this is not the time to be conducting a consultation on such an important part of Nairn’s Common Good Assets whilst the country is in a pandemic situation resulting in national lockdown.


1. I firmly believe that the timing of this consultation is fundamentally wrong and that it should be withdrawn. How HC can believe that they are fully meeting the need under the CEA to properly engage with Nairn residents on this proposal during a pandemic is beyond my comprehension. A local Councillor reported that a HC Officer had advised that the online responses were higher than normal. I would sincerely hope that that is correct. Both Community Councils, local and Inverness press and social media outlets in Nairn have all put a considerable effort into engaging with residents and urging them to respond. This is still a totally unsatisfactory state of affairs because the ability to hear and question other views has been severely limited by the lack of open to all public meetings during this consultation. Under Covid regulations any public meeting is banned and Zoom meetings do not allow reactive conversations to easily take place and allow everyone to join in. Many residents do not have computers or iPads let alone the facility to use Zoom and there are others, particularly those of the older generation, who do not have broadband connections to their homes. To my knowledge this proposal has not been on public display at our local council offices, public libraries, or the community centre as none of them have been open due to COVID restrictions. All this consultation legally does is allow HC to be able to state “we engaged with the Nairn public” It is, as far as I am concerned, a pure tick box exercise and needs to be recognised as such! This land has been part of Nairn’s Common Good for some 430 years, surely this could have been postponed until the pandemic was behind us and the matter could be openly publicly debated. What makes the rush even more unseemly is that the HC say there is nothing actively being planned. If that is true, there is no need to have a consultation!

2. The Legal situation

3. On 24th November,2020 I submitted a letter to the Nairn Councillors as Trustees of Nairn Common Good. They immediately passed it to Highland Council and after several requests I eventually discovered it was on the desk of HC’s Legal Manager.


4. On 17th January,2021 I chased a response from him and on the 18th received an acknowledgement that he was dealing with it. Since then I have had no further contact from him or any other HC Officer on the matter.


5. I mention this correspondence as I had hoped it would have been resolved and I would then not have to refer to it in this response, regretfully the dilatory way my letter has been dealt with has left me with no other option but to include it.


6. I laid out all the background to my belief that Highland Council have illegally transferred £344k of the Sandown Lands (or a pro indiviso share to that value) to the Council General Fund Balance Sheet. Sandown Lands are inalienable and to have legally taken the action that HC did, they would have had to have received Sheriff Court confirmation before acting.


7. We are left with an illegal act and it is clear that Highland Council need to rectify this immediately by reversing the actions they took in earlier years.
What exactly is the reason for the Consultation?


8. The “mantra” the Council has steadfastly been denying is that there is any developer waiting in the wings to buy this parcel of land. That is patently incorrect. FOI’s and latterly Ward Minutes clearly show that from 2017 to date HC Officers have been actively engaged with ongoing correspondence with two major developers. Both are developers, and both have clearly indicated an interest in acquiring this land. Either the HC Officers have been economical with the truth with our four local Councillors or the quotes made to the press have been disingenuous. If there is any truth in either scenario then that is a very unsatisfactory way for a Regional Authority as big as HC to be conducting affairs relating to Common Good Assets. Officers do not have any legal responsibility in relation to Common Good Assets and their disposal, Trustees however do.


9. If there truthfully is not a development being planned then, I say again, withdraw the consultation. We are told in the statements released by HC Councillors that there is no potential sale in the offing (the Ward Minutes and emails seem to scotch that). If that is true why, oh why have the Four Nairn Trustees and Councillors agreed to this action which from the minutes has clearly been initiated and encouraged by one or two Officers of Highland Council? This appears to being driven solely as a cheap fix for the HC housing waiting list. There is a statutory obligation on Local Authorities/Councils to home people, there is no such obligation relating to Common Good land or assets.


10. If this was to go ahead against the wishes of many in Nairn, and the land is disposed of, it is pie in the sky thinking to believe that any developer, other than HC or an arm of a HC housing Association, would build a development of affordable houses. It is more likely, as has been the way of recent years, that private developers would build and sell the private housing first to maximise their profits then towards the latter stages build some affordable housing. Private developers would look to acquire the land at the lowest price, this is hardly likely to be a good long-term deal for the Nairn Common Good Fund.

ALTERNATIVES

11. The BID working with the NW&SCC compiled a list of many first-floor empty properties in and around the High Street that could easily convert to good quality one- or two-bedroom flats. This helpful suggestion appears to have been hastily sent to the bottom of the in tray of the HC Head of Development. The suggestion clearly did not fit his/HC ideas and timings. This all helps to suggest that there is an agenda being closely followed by HC Officers and the Nairn Common Good land at Sandown is the easiest fix to meet this agenda. Not good enough!


12. I realise that there is a need to find land for development in Nairn but am incredulous at the suggestion in the new IMFLDP that only the Sandown lands have been preferred out of the many other identified and proffered Nairn sites. How convenient that here again HC is judge and jury! The site proffered at Househill would clearly be an excellent site especially now we understand that the Nairn Bypass will be completed. Househill should also be a preferred site on the new IMFLDP thus providing an alternative option.

13. Next Actions and moving forward. Before HC can do anything with any of the Sandown land, they must purify the title by reversing the illegal action they took with this undoubtedly inalienable land. If there is to be development, then the best site would be the area next to the allotments on the north of the A96. It is the only completely dry site and has good access to the necessary services. This site properly marketed, bringing in maximum long-term gain for Nairn’s Common Good Fund, could be developed in a manner allowing for the needs of both private and affordable housing to be built. It could easily accommodate a mix of Housing Association, some individual built sites, and some developer site. This would only necessitate a small portion of Common Good land being disposed of. Let us openly discuss that suggestion in a public forum unlike the decision formulated behind closed door leading to the SHIP proposals for 2021 -2026 which only cites Sandown.

14. Learn from the past - back in 2012 meaningful engagement with Nairn residents took place and due attention was taken to the views of the town. Yet again that was another waste of public money as it now appears that the outcomes of that Charrette have been firmly kicked into the long grass by Officers of HC.


15. Why did HC and the Trustees of the Nairn Common Good not decide to start with a decision to hold meaningful engagement and discussion with Nairn? I proffer the answer – it would not have allowed them to do what THEY have DECIDED IS BEST for Nairn!


16. Over the years I have heard quoted from HC Officers that Nairn is the town that likes to say NO! I am sorry that this is the impression HC has. After all, if we are saying No it is purely because HC keep TELLING rather than asking Nairn what its needs are going forward. Communication is a wonderful thing – why do HC Officers not start with that way of working and maybe then we can all move forward in harmony!


17. This Consultation offers no monetary figures, is totally open-ended and tries to give HC unfettered discretion to dispose of Sandown Lands. If it were to progress it would result in Common Good land, which has been part of the Royal Burgh for some 430 years, being sold off for the equivalent of sweeties. Nairn would be being robbed of its long-term inheritance to fix a hole in HC’s depleted finances.
CONCLUSION – Highland Council should remove this consultation from the table. As always, I would encourage meaningful ongoing engagement from both our local Members and Highland Council with the town, its Community Councils, landowners, and other interested groups such as NICE and the BID. This would allow for an acceptable route map for the agreed future development of this town and its Common Good Assets and Fund.

Sheena Baker
24th February 2021

The Nairn Ward Community Resilience Fund is open for applications

"Have you formed a group or are you a member of a group supporting your community in response to the Covid 19 pandamic? Apply now for funding to support your group's efforts. Grants available up to £1500"

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Highland Councillor Peter Saggers: “ I believe that the reason why Easter Ross and the West Coast may get more attention is because the political background there is more amenable to the powers that be. I think Nairn is seen as a different kettle of fish[...]”

A conversation about playing fields and play facilities in Nairnshire took place last night at the regular meeting of Nairn West and Suburban Community Council. Bill Young started the ball rolling with a call for a general review of playing field provsion and how adequate or inadequate the facilities in Nairn are. We hope to return to this part of the meeting when time permits as Tom Heggie had one or two interesting contributions.

It was some ten minutes into the conversation however when Highland Council member Peter Saggers said something that quite surprised, even shocked, some folk present. It's best to start perhaps with the contribution from Joan Noble that precipitated his comment.

Joan drew herself to the attention of the Chair Sheena Baker and then spoke: “ I think this links in to the work that Peter is progressing about having a proper chair of the Leisure and Recreation budget. I really don't think that voluntary groups in Nairn should be raising all this, be given the responsibility for raising money and maintaining and this and that and the next thing. When, in fact, our Leisure and Recreation budget is actually laughable in Nairn. We have all these figures of comparative spend and Nairn has way, way below the spend of any other area in Highland. Now that is absolutely not right and I would really ask yourself (Joan was speaking to Tom Heggie) and Peter and our other two councillors to start questioning why we don't know what our per capita Leisure and Rec budget should be and why we are not getting a Leisure and Recreation budget. I mean basically, we get a fraction of other areas.

Now I don't think the volunteers and PTAs and Nairn Play and everybody else should be expected to get the funding and do all the spade work and everything else for facilities that are a statutory duty of the local authority. I feel that very, very strongly, I mean it can't be a case we haven't got the money we are not going to do it. The money is actually sloshing around, Easter Ross and the West Coast and all sorts of places and they are getting lots and lots of Leisure and Rec spend.”


Joan then noticed that Peter seemed to be amused and said she would send him the spreadsheet. She continued: “we know exactly where it is going, and that's our money that is going to other areas while we are being asked to form voluntary groups to do this and that and the next thing, and I mean you are talking about the Riverside, the swings there have been chained up, well they've disappeared for two years. Nobody's put in a couple of swings, now for goodness sake. Surely we can afford a couple of swings. This is the sort of thing that is just shameful. It's absolutely not right and it has to be sorted out we need a fair share budget of Leisure and Rec spending for Nairn and I would ask all our Highland Councillors to be on a campaign for that because it is very, very unfair for folks in Nairn, especially the youngsters.”


Sheena said she was seeing a lot of nodding heads and asked Peter if he wished to respond. He said:

“I was smiling a minute ago because I believe that the reason why Easter Ross and the West Coast may get more attention is because the political background there is more amenable to the powers that be. I think Nairn is seen as a different kettle of fish and we do need to make sure that we endeavour to get the proper funding. And the area which I am looking at at the moment is the question of the amount of money that the Highland Council charges the Common Good Fund for grass cutting and such like. That is a work in progress at the moment.”

Gurn opinion. For many Peter's comments will simply confirm the belief that Nairn does not get its fair share from Highland Council and is even discriminated against by the local authority. Thank you Peter for your insight into how things really work at Glenurquhart Road.

Funding for Covid resilience grants in Nairn - Limit now upped from £500 to £1,500

 From the Nairn Our Town Facebook page:

"The limit has now been changed from 500 to 1500 pounds and in the last month more have applied then the previous 3 months Cllr Peter Saggers stated at last nights Nairn west and suburban community council meeting , a couple have been rejected and lots have been accepted payments to be made soon and a couple have just fallen under the guidelines so are getting help from the councilors to help them meet the criteria if possible." 

 More applications are welcome and further details over on Nairn our Town. 

Police in Nairn are appealing for information following a number of vandalisms overnight on the 21st of February 2021

Police in Nairn are appealing for information following a number of vandalisms overnight on the 21st of February 2021. 
 
Sergeant Steven Maclennan of Nairn Police Station said;
 
“We responded to several vandalisms of car windows and property windows in area including Park Street, Harbour Street, Cumming Street, Lochloy Road, King Street, Riverside Court, Firth Street and Glebe Street. 
 
We would ask anyone with private CCTV in these areas to check accordingly and if anything suspicious or of note, please contact Police. 
 
These incidents have caused great upset to the local community and it is disappointing to see that so much damage can be caused in one night, and I would urge that anyone with information to contact the police."
 
Anyone with information in relation to these incidents can contact Police on 101 or via the Police Scotland website. 
 
Anonymous reports can be made to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Ref PS-20210221-3426 / NM/278/21

 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Alastair Noble: " I am registering my strong objection to Highland Council attempt to sell all of our inalienable Common Good land at Sandown."

The Gurn has received a copy of Alastair Noble's submission to the consultation on Highland Council's proposal to sell the Sandown Common Good Lands. You still have time to have your own say on the proposed sale of the entire Nairn Common Good Sandown lands for development. Closing date is now Friday 26th February 2021. More details on the Nairn West and Suburban Community Council website.  

 Here's Alastair's submission:

Objection to Highland Council’s proposal to sell all of The Royal Burgh of Nairn’s inalienable Common Good land at Sandown.


I firstly declare an interest as my wife and I own an adjacent property.


My objection is on the grounds of inadequate consultation; no financial options or choice of alternatives to sale of the whole; the foolhardiness of selling at this time of impending economic meltdown; loss of community control over community land and no community control over what will happen to the proceeds of the sale. In addition there is uncertainty about the title due to an illegal appropriation of Sandown land by HC in 2013.


Notwithstanding these objections, my main interest is in the historic Scottish principle/ownership and use of the Common Good.


We as inhabitants of the old Royal Burgh have owned this land for over 400 years. The Nairn Common Good has some amazing property in its portfolio. It includes the lower section of the River Nairn and its banks, The Maggot, Nairn Dunbar Golf Club, Parkdean Caravan site, the Links, the Foreshore, Sandown, Viewfield and a lot of the Town centre. These taken with other small pieces of land are worth their weight in gold in environmental, green and sustainable terms alone as we move forward to addressing climate change and Scottish Government policies.
These policies include Community Empowerment, Place Planning, Place Principle, Place based investment, linking Community and spatial planning, Town centre first, local resilience, water, sewage transport etc, with above all an infrastructure first approach.


We are also facing enormous financial challenges in as a result of the Corovid 19 pandemic. These Common Good assets are the basis for Nairn Tourist economy. They also make Nairn and Nairnshire a very desirable place to live and work. We should be building them into our economic regeneration recovery plans and helping Nairnshire, the Highlands and Scotland to be financially viable going forward. We need to deliver as speedy an economic recovery as possible.
Some extremely basic questions /philosophical arguments need to be addressed first.


What is in the Common Good? Well for over 4 centuries the good people of our Royal Burghs have answered that by preserving all this valuable land in the Common Good.


Who decides what is in the common Good? This is obviously the question raised by this attempt by Highland Council to sell our Common Good. The fundamental conflict of interest this has raised shows the fundamental weakness in the system at present. No Highland Councillor can meet their obligation as a trustee of the Royal Burgh’s Common Good and their financial and other responsibilities as Highland Councillors. We therefore should use Nairn as a model to fundamentally address and solve this. We must have clarity on this issue before any decisions can be made.


Who decides what is the best use of our common good assets? Again, it is obvious that all the Highland Councillors cannot and should not take this conflict of interest position on themselves and leave themselves personally exposed to any financial risks as trustees of the Common Good and its assets.


Andy Wightman in his Common Good book titled The Poor had no Lawyers sets out what has happened in the past to a lot of Scotland’s Common Good land where robber barons have taken over. The difference here is thanks to the careful custodianship of our forebearers we can have access to due legal process.


The obvious answer is to halt this process now and use our shared knowledge base to sort out a sensible and sustainable future for all of Scotland’s Common Good. Nairn is very willing to contribute and assist this process.


I do not think we can look at Sandown in isolation and would strongly support Highland Council withdrawing this proposal and working with the inhabitants of the Royal Burgh, jointly approaching the Scottish Government to achieve lasting legal clarity about how we maintain our custodial role of the Common Good and pass it onto future generations in as good or better shape than what we inherited.


If Highland Council decide to play the robber Barron role, I reserve the right to use any or all of the submissions from Nairn West and Suburban CC, Nairn River CC, Nairn Resident’s Concern Group and their supplementary submission in any Court Action before a Sherriff as well as this submission.


In conclusion, I am registering my strong objection to Highland Council attempt to sell all of our inalienable Common Good land at Sandown.

Dr Alastair L. Noble MBE
21/February/2021

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Nairn Common Good Chronicles, Part 2: Sandown is not the only asset that could be “disposed” of soon?

The Sandown Common Good lands are certainly headline news these days. The consultation about selling off the Sandown land, launched before Christmas, has  been extended.  Nairn West & Suburban CC have put out a useful guide giving an explanation of exactly why Common Good matters to the town. The recent comments of Provost Laurie Fraser, echoing considerable concern in the town, also bring the whole subject into greater focus.

Just before Christmas the Gurn research team revealed evidence that local Councillors, urged on by Highland Council officials, had been considering and planning the sale for over a year.  

But it emerges that Sandown is not the only asset whose disposal our Councillors are contemplating.  The records of Ward Business Meetings during 2019 and 2020 reveals that list of sites in the frame is rather longer – see attached copies of extracts from those records, now publicly available.

Among the other assets potentially up for grabs is the Viewfield Stables building.  Back in December 2019 Ward Councillors decided that in the light of enquiries from “a community group lingering in the background” officials should look into the practicalities of marketing the property for lease or sale.  Official advice was that “…[As] the property is seriously dilapidated, an outright disposal would seem appropriate”.  Since the building is a Common Good asset, consultation for change of use or disposal would be required.

Viewfield Stables have of course been useful for local community activity.  Part of the building has been used to store equipment. Green Hive have had a small tool store there for some time. More recently the enthusiasts of the Coastal Rowing Club spent many months using the Stables as a workshop where they could construct their skiff.  This observer was however under the impression that the stables were part of the curtilage of Viewfield House and so a Category B listed building.   

As one Councillor observed, there is however no strategy for the management of Viewfield.  While the Sports Club and the St Ninian Bowling Club have lease agreement for their sites on Viewfield, and pay rent into the CG Fund, Green Hive has occupancy of their community orchard site rent-free and lease-free.  It is hard to imagine that the Common Good trustees would agree a similar rent-free arrangement for the entirety of the Stables for any interested group or individual.

Other assets which our Councillors seem set on getting rid of include the property and yard in Grant Street in Fishertown, which Green Hive was  looking to take over.  In March 2019 the previous Ward manager was to pursue discussions on this, and in April the plan was apparently to arrange a ‘Licence to Occupy’ pending a possible Asset Transfer request. It is not clear what has happened since.

Also on the list is The Maggot.  This substantial area of Common Good land beside the river is used for recreation, and there is also a car park there.  The WBM meetings reveal that at their February 2020 meeting Councillors decided to dispose of land at the Maggot by a 25-year lease to the Athletics Club.  Any lease over 10 years is regarded as a disposal and so requires public consultation.  The Maggot has of course long been used as an area for sports training.  The records do not reveal what the likely terms of any lease might be, nor what rent arrangements are proposed.  The question also arises as to whether the lease would give the Athletics Club exclusive use and thus preclude wider public access.

This observer feels that Nairn is very lucky to have such extensive and potentially valuable Common Good land and property.  It is a pity that almost all the discussion so far about possible use and disposal of the Common Good has taken place in unreported Ward Business Meetings.  The people of the burgh ought perhaps to know, and have a say, in what happens to the assets from which they are supposed to benefit.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

"Nairnites! You still have time to have your say on the proposed sale of the entire Nairn Common Good Sandown lands for development. Closing date is now Friday 26th February 2021"

 Reproduced from Nairn West and Suburban Community Council Website.

"Nairnites! You still have time to have your say on the proposed sale of the entire Nairn Common Good Sandown lands for development. Closing date is now Friday 26th February 2021

Click here for the Sandown Lands Nairn Consultation Document.

Get involved and have your say by submitting your comments by e mail to commongood@highland.gov.uk

or post to Sara Murdoch, Highland Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness IV3 5NX.

If you want to know what NWSCC thinks then read our submission and supporting documents below but remember your own opinion counts so even if you agree or disagree with our submission make your OWN view known to Highland Council.  This is your chance to get involved in shaping Nairn for the future."

More information here