Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Democracy: the best show in town!

From the previous article you will be able to understand what a unique occasion was experienced by all those present at the Nairn Courthouse today. It is hard to say if all those that wished to attend the planning hearing were able to do so, some may have gone home in disgust given the long queue trying to get into the debating chamber but sometime into the process members of the public were even allowed into that part of the courthouse where those that used to dispense justice used to sit. The Gurn will never forget the sight of local man Stewart Bisset and others standing behind the Chair of the committee and his team of officials. The public was well and truly present to see that justice was done one more time.

There was a time at the beginning of the meeting when disgruntled members of the public nearly took control of the proceedings in their demands that the meeting should have been moved to a bigger venue. The chair stood his ground but our four local members looked distinctly uncomfortable at this stage as public anger at the inadequate venue mounted. The Gurn maintains that if the committee had decided to vote against the Sainsbury’s proposal, then they would have needed a police escort to leave the building.

The representatives from Pettifer Estates and Sainsbury’s were very warmly applauded. The applause continued despite the chair informing the throng in a head-masterly fashion that they mustn’t applaud. The people were having none of it, they had had enough of having to go out of town for a choice of food and they were there to have their say even if they were not allowed to speak. Jean Tolmie of the River Community Council was allowed to speak for the proposal, having been invited to do so by the applicant and she too, was warmly received when she stated that local people would never forgive the Highland Council if they turned down the application.

With all the big guns that the Nairn Business Association possess it was left to David Brownless and his colleague Jan Rob to speak against the proposal and often there was much laughter at times from the assembled Sainsbury supporters as the opponents tried to articulate their argument with points of view that didn't go down too well. John Taylor speaking on the behalf of residents that would be affected by the proposal wasn’t ridiculed however when he mentioned that a building 6 metres high and 72 metres long would soon be blocking out their sunlight especially in the winter months. Jan Rob perhaps attracted the biggest laugh of the proceedings when she asserted that Nairn already had a supermarket. Later in response Sainsbury pointed out that they wished to be good neighbours and things could be changed. Convenor Sandy Park was very interested to find out how members there were in the Nairn Business Association and how many were present at the recent AGM, 50 and 20 came back as an estimated response. To be fair to the opposition they put their case with courage and were perhaps a little unfairly treated by the majority at times but such was the frustration felt by many consumers that attended the meeting.

And then it came to the members to speak, starting with Sandy Park who gave a potted history of the last 8-10 years. Years of frustration for Sandy as the plans never transformed themselves into action. It was a confident polished performance from Sandy and it is interesting to see how far his political skills have developed since he became the Convenor of Highland Council. If he continues in this vein is there a danger that he might rise to higher levels one day and even perhaps enter the Scottish Parliament? He pointed out that Nairn doubled in size during his 40 years of experience in the retail trade but High Street trade has stayed at the same level. For him it was time to move on and he supported the proposal. He pointed out that although the site was zoned for industrial use, up to now no one had asked for it. He believed that there was now a precedent with other retail uses having been allowed onto the industrial estate. Liz MacDonald backed the Convenor and pointed out that a supermarket had been proposed for Culloden. She went on to say that the proposed roundabout would be a benefit for users of the industrial estate across the road. Graham Marsden too was for the proposal and stated that Nairn as the second largest town in the Highlands needed the development desperately. Laurie Fraser was passed over in favour of Cllr Roddy Balfour who whilst worried by the development harked back to the days when Nairn was a vibrant shopping centre 30 years ago and Invernessians came to Nairn to shop. Today he said that people from Croy and Ardersier even went as far as Elgin to shop. Then Laurie who cheekily remarked that he would be delighted that his wife would no longer have to go to Inverness and shop and would be able to do it in Nairn. Laurie stated that he wasn’t afraid of competition. And then more debate from other councillors. It culminated in a vote for an amended motion from Provost MacDonald which would centre on landscaping screening and perhaps reducing the number of retail units. The vote was 12-2 in favour and the applause was deafening.

Ever the polite diplomat, Mr William Gilfillan, the area corporate manager stood by the main door downstairs as the public left, apologising personally to everyone for the inadequacies of the venue. A damage limitation exercise that was no longer necessary given the result of the proceedings but a welcome touch all the same.

The successful application is against the local plan however, and will have to be called in by the Scottish Parliament for scrutiny. If the current administration in Edinburgh wished to completely lose their support in Nairn then they could turn it down but that would be hard to imagine. One seasoned observer of local government affairs in Nairn said afterwards to the Gurn that he thought it would be about 18 months before work started on the site. We will have to wait and see on that as quite a few details remain to be sorted out but outline permission has been granted and there will be no going back on that.
What now too for Somerfield? Will they go ahead with the new town centre supermarket and do many of us really care what they do now that another alternative is now on the horizon?

All in all an extraordinary meeting that will be remembered for a long time and if just a few of the multitude present retain an interest in other planning and council matters then democracy in our town will be all the better for it.

1 comment:

jayteescot1 said...

Who needs a newspaper report with such an enthralling account by the Gurn !
Well done, keep the news flowing !