Thursday, October 16, 2008

Can we have our town back please?

Contributed to the Gurn by Iain Fairweather :
(Update: 18/10/08 further support for Iain, see below and in comments)
In recent years there have been numerous developments in Nairn. Some good, some not so good. There have been bold plans for the town centre. Yet once again these have been stymied because they are too closely aligned with the fortunes of supermarket chains. Perhaps it's time to consider other options. Developers, while correctly going through the right channels, appear to sneaked a few projects under the noses of community councils, or that's how it seems. Some residents are beginning to feel disenfranchised. Decisions which will affect our town and our lifestyles are being made by those who may have a degree of vested interest. Numerous ad hoc developments seem to pop up with regularity and we wonder if anyone has an over-arching vision for Nairn. Is there a long-term plan or are we just being buffeted by external forces, whether developer, elected representative or even Highland Council? An increasing number of residents are worried about where it's all heading, so can we please have their town back?
In principle I am not against redevelopment. I'm for anything that improves our lot and results in Nairn being an even better place to live. But we seem to be subject to various random projects that adversely impact on our way of the life or on the kind of town we want to live in. It's not easy to step back and take a long-term view of the kind of town we want to become. Perhaps it's about time we got together to develop a vision for the future and plan a 10-year project. Nairn has a lot going for it and there are new festivals and events drawing visitors to the town. Is there anything further we can develop to give Nairn a unique appeal? What building developments do we actually need and how can we stimulate the improvement of the High St.? Given a blank sheet, what kind of town centre do we need in order to deliver the kind of town we want to live in and attract visitors to? A new shopping complex may be good but does it need to be a supermarket? Could it be something that would see numerous small retail or specialist businesses established and thus attract more visitors?
The new Visit Nairn Tourism Association recognises the importance of bringing people to Nairn. Too often they only come for an overnight stay. Isn't it about time Nairn became a destination rather than an overnight dormitory? We have golf, walking, a rich history and the classical Scottish experience all waiting to be developed and marketed around the globe. But if we do attract more visitors, what are they coming to? Will we be able to deliver a positively memorable Scottish experience? Or will the dilapidated High St be their lasting memory? Without tourists our future is bleak and it is within this context than town planning needs to take place. Too many schemes are decided purely on a project by project basis. They need to be looked at together with impact assessments on how each will affect the whole. Too many new developments of the wrong type will adversely Nairn as a serious Highland holiday destination. Could we even end up living in a town that we no longer enjoy being part of?
When we ask about getting money for this project or that we are generally told that there is nothing in the budget. Well let's look again at the budget. Perhaps money is not being spent in the right areas and we, the town's people, would like to have more say about what our money is spent on. If there is no funding for something then let's find some creative ways to get the funding. The Community Centre is a shining example of what can be done. If the planners have got it wrong then perhaps it's time we told them how to get it right. Is too much being imposed from above instead of arising from within? Perhaps, we have for too long believed that others would look after our interests and we haven't engaged in ways we ought to have done. But we have now been dispossessed and we see things happening we are not happy about. There are many things over which we feel we have no control. The people of Nairn need a new platform to debate issues of key importance to us all. So to the people of Nairn I say, "let's get together again as a community and take greater responsibility for our town". To those who'd rather keep control, we say, "give it back to the people - please!"
Update: 18/10/08
Support for Iain from 'Nairn Bairn':
'Iain Fairweather's comments are perceptive and his appeal for a fresh approach is compelling. His post should be reproduced on the front page (or editorial column)of the less-than-inspiring local newspaper, and pinned to the door of every local elected representative!His analysis highlights the dysfunctional nature of local administration and decision-making. The successful evolution and development of the town needs three things: vision, resources, and the powers to decide and to implement. At present the public authorities who have the power (Highland Council and other public bodies) have limited resources, priorities elsewhere, and precious little vision. Most of the time they appear to do little but acquiesce in, or obstruct, the initiatives of others. Those who have the resources (mainly private landowners and developers - from Cawdor to Deveron to Pettifer) are inevitably driven by the profitability of the specific investment they propose, with scant regard for "the wider picture". And incidentally the inclusion of affordable housing or childrens' playgrounds as the price for inappropriately-intensive urban development and as a sop to supposed public opinion, misses the point and compounds the problem.
There are clearly some like Iain (and the Gurn...) who have - or would like to see emerge - a vision of Nairn as a pleasant, vibrant place with a thriving town centre, a diverse range of shops and activities both commercial and recreational. Nairn cannot be an industrial centre, and should not become a dormitory suburb of Inverness. It needs to reclaim its proper identity - which as Iain says, largely revolves around tourism. Creating an environment that draws in visitors, and gives them decent facilities and an interesting range of things to see and do, will enhance the quality of life for residents too.
Problem is, it seems that those who have the power and resources don't seem to share this vision. Supermarket chain stores, cheap and charmless housing blocks, bleak carparks, and crowded highways won't deliver it.
So Iain is right: there needs to be a new coalition in the Nairn community. Getting a unified Community council, as Gurn suggests, would indeed be a useful first step. And getting elected councillors to act with some sort of coherence and vigour in pursuit of such a vision would be progress indeed...'


Graisg said...

Very good comment Iain. It's very true, the people of Nairn do need to take the town back under their own control. As the Gurn has said before - Time for a Royal Burgh of Nairn Community Council?

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Well said, Iain.

Graisg said...

We live in a caring community, we still have what other places have lost. We need to fight to preserve our community, yes it must grow, but let it be on our terms.

If people are going to make money out of building 'affordable housing' (whatever that catch-all phrase means) then let it be houses with gardens and not blocks of flats. Let's ensure we have a future as a caring and civilised community. The present chaos in the financial world demonstrates why life shouldn't be all about making a profit.
Rise up Nairnites and take back your town!

jayteescot1 said...

Iain should contact the other Iain at the Nairnshire Telegraph and get them to do an editorial piece on the Future direction of Nairn as he proposes.

I think you will find that apathy is the big enemy here in Nairn.

People cant even be bothered to report simple everyday things to the council offices, they would rather turn a blind eye walk past and wait until someone else takes care of the problem.

Getting the population fired up and some civic pride installed will be no easy task.
Perhaps approaching the existing powers that be, our / local councillors and getting a consensus among them on this topic might also help ?

Nairn is a nice place and should be preserved and enhanced with the right leadership and commitment.

Best of luck Iain !

Anonymous said...


The Nairnshire Telegraph - responding as usual with all the speed of a striking snail - has finally printed Iain's article in this week's issue.

The blue touch paper has been lit...let's see if we get fireworks, or a damp squib.