Friday, April 10, 2009

'We'll be back here again in a year's time discussing the same thing!'

The headline was the reaction of one member of the public filing out of the community centre last night after the debate about the future of Nairn's Community Councils. Less than 50 people attended, a figure that disappointed some but others might see that as a massive attendance given the reluctance of many to involve themselves in local affairs. The gathering learned that only about 150 ballot papers had been returned to Lousie Clark at the Courthouse. That, however, was reason for disappointment although perhaps not despair. The majority of those in attendance and of those that voted were in favour of a single community council for Nairn.
Pressure of time this morning prevents a fuller report but more details of the meeting will appear on the Gurn this evening, there were flashes of controversy as the proceedings got under way and many good arguments were heard.
John Mackie chaired the meeting and gave a few details as to why it had been called. He said that many people had been asking why there were three community councils in Nairn instead of one. He mentioned the consultation workload that was now thrown at such councils, all the time they were dealing with planning. One community council for Nairn might be able to do that far better with sub-committees reporting back to the main council. It would mean a stronger voice for Nairn. He told how often people from other areas would go to Suburban meetings, people didn’t seem to know who to contact. He mentioned towns like Fort William and Dingwall and Forres that had a single council. He said that it was up to the folk in Nairn and not just Nairn, around the town there were small communities that would like to be in the area covered by the town, there were issues around boundaries that would have to be resolved. Nairn needed one voice on issues like the A96.
John then went on to list some disadvantages if the amalgamation were to go ahead. It would be hard to get candidates. The set-up would have to change with one council. There would not be so much participation from the public. The public would react to sub-committees and venues would have to be found.
There was some discussion about what parts of the town the councillors would come from as some were worried that some areas would have too much representation. It was mentioned that that already happens with no elected member for Queenspark attending the River council meetings and, at the moment, the West area had no representation at all. The interesting point about lowering the voting age for a community council was raised and how even how a special sub-committee could be set-up for the Academy pupils, that would be difficult but not impossible.
Brian Stewart was very much in favour and spoke as an ‘incomer from Forres’. He listed three main reasons, those being 1) principle, 2) we are one community and ought to be represented as such, 3) politically essential in influencing decisions.
Graham Vine outlined how he was putting the proposal for a West Council for now as quite a lot of people said yes to the proposal but that many had said it would be better to have one council. He said that one of the tough tasks would be getting enough people, he suggested that if a member of the public could get six signatures from his neighbours, he probably would be elected.
Jean Tolime and Bill Murdoch from the River Council questioned the impartiality of John Mackie, John replied that he was not biased and it was up to the folk in Nairn. Brian Stewart raised a point of order as he felt that a conversation between John and Jean was not appropriate to the format of the meeting. Sheena Baker was in favour of looking at the proposal for one council but was worried how this would affect different areas of the town. Murd Dunbar succinctly made the point that many people did not understand the function of the Community Councils and how many people thought that the River Council just deal with River Nairn issues. More publicity was needed according to Murd.
Louise Clark from Highland Council stated that her organisation was halfway through a consultation with the Scottish Government on community councils and that the consultation on a single council for Nairn would be added to the public consultation that Highland Council would get underway next year.

The Meeting only lasted an hour but the issue was thoroughly discussed. It remains to be seen if the proximity to Easter affected the attendance and whether more Nairnites will vote to state their preference because as things stand John Mackie is right to point out that there is not yet enough support for a mandate for change. Sorry if your point of view didn’t make it into the Gurnmeister’s notebook but the Nairnshire, as always, was their too so reserve your copy for next week now.

The Gurn’s Easter Message: If you want a single council for Nairn you will have to get involved to achieve that. Happy Easter fellow Gurnites.

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