Thursday, October 22, 2009

Joint communty council meeting on Highland Council plan well attended.

It looked like almost 100 people were sitting in the main hall of the community centre this evening as the first historic joint meeting of the town's three community councils got under way. There were presentations from Malcolm MacLeod of Highland Council and John Hart of the NRCG and Iain Fairweather of and then much comment from the floor, most of it critical of aspects of the Highland Wide Local Development Plan. More details below.
Jimmy Ferguson greets Danny Alexander MP
Some of the Community councillors on the top table.

Sitting on the the top table representing the community councils were Mike Smerdon, Dr Alisdair Nobel, Graham Vine, Seonaid Armstrong, Jimmy Ferguson, Bill Murdoch, Margeret MacIntosh, John Dolan and mc Rosemary Machen-Young.

Before the plan was discussed there was a quick presentation by Louise Clark that outlined the ongoing consultation process on Community Council Boundaries. It is an ongoing process that will last 16 months, if you have any views on how you see the future of community councils (and plenty of folk have) in Nairn then the e-mail address for submissions is

There then began a presentation by Malcolm MacLeod of the Planning department. He outlined out this was a pilot project that the Highland Council had been volunteered to do by the Government, the idea was to replace the out of date local plan with something that was not a plan just by planners but something integrated with other agencies in an effort to come up with an integrated result. He insisted that this was just a first step and they hadn’t made up their mind on anything and they wanted to get all ideas on the table.
There will be a drop-in session in the courthouse on Saturday between 10-18.00 if you want to discuss the plan with officials.
Malcolm told the meeting how he had had a meeting the previous evening with the Nairn Residents Concern Group and how he had found it an incredibly useful exercise He then went on to show various information and maps and diagrams for the plan, you can see them all for yourself here, you want page 21 for the diagram that shows the proposals for Nairn. Basically Malcolm has set out the Highland Council’s stall and it is our responsibility to tell them what we like and what we don’t. It really is up to us, we have no reason not to take Malcolm at his word when he tells us that this is a genuine consultation process, we have to let the Council know what is our preferred strategy for the future development of Nairn if we are unhappy with what is now being presented to us by Highland Council.

John Hart then spoke for the NRCG. A large element in his presentation was a savage critique of the proposed 80% population increase in the Nairn area. Where would these people come from? Other parts of the Highlands? Inverness? John talked about the infrastructure and asked if this was a cart before the horse approach with no planning provision or timescale for a bypass for instance. He said that the local sewerage system was working over capacity and under stress. He outlined fears for the environment with such a rapid population rise and that there was no point in building houses without providing sustainable employment. Was this a ‘concrete coast scenario’? John sat down to applause.

Then it was Iain Fairweather’s turn to once again fight the corner for the important tourist industry in Nairn. Yes it was important to have a degree of development but not developer led, it all had to be agreed and negotiate with the community. He complained that tourism was barely mentioned in the council report. Left to its own devices it could quickly become an urban sprawl and what type of development would there be for the town centre? What steps would be taken to prevent Nairn becoming a dormitory town?
Applause too for Iain Fairweather and after that most participants were applauded too for their interventions.

Margaret MacIntosh started off by demanding to know if there was pressure from the Scottish Government or Westminster to increase the population in this area. Malcolm replied that they had been asked to look at the high migration scenario. Margaret stated that to increase the population to 500,000 in the Highlands and that the river Nairn had been an open sewer this summer, she wanted to know why there was no rail link to Dalcross and thought it foolish to build on agricultural land given the dangers to the country’s food supply in the future.

John Fyfe asked if the pressure was mainly from developers. He thought that the emphasis should be in protecting the environment and way of life in Nairn. .
By now Malcolm MacLeod was building up a concise picture of the meeting’s feelings. ‘ Issues will be around the scale of development, that’s an important message I’m taking back,’ he said.

Provost Liz mentioned the care of the elderly, the pressing need for allotments and the local transport strategy. Blogger Brian Turner spoke of the limited amenities in the town and the need for more options for small businesses to expand. He wanted to see some of the derelict buildings in the town centre used for this.

The Nairnshire Farming Society flagged up the future for the showfield and said that although they had moved out of the town they would like to see the field kept as a green field site and wondered if there was a way for the Common Good Fund to get involved here, otherwise they might one day have to consider commercial options for the field.

Members of the audience returned to the by-pass subject and there was criticism of the view that you would only get a by-pass if there was development proposed. Why can’t we simply just have a by-pass? Worries were expressed that Nairn was losing its identity. Why was a district shopping centre proposed on the field opposite Broadley Garden centre, wasn’t that to close to the High Street?

Malcolm MacLeod admitted that much of the development simply couldn’t happen without a by-pass, for example Brian Turner pointed out the Cawdor Road is already coming under increased pressure from traffic, including gridlock in the afternoons as the schools empty. More housing in this direction would simply worsen the traffic situation.

Doctor Noble mentioned that Nairn’s other big industry was retirement and to bring a vast number of elderly people would put even more stress on the health provision structures – provision that was already under great pressure. To build new houses and bring people in doesn’t always create wealth.

Sorry if I didn’t mention everyone who contributed and I hope I conveyed everyone’s opinions with a reasonable degree of accuracy. It is up to you now Gurnites, if you haven’t made your submission to the plan then you have until the 9th of September to do so.

Update: articles also on the APT blog (may become a show stopper) and myNairn. Nothing on the Council's own blog yet though.

1 comment:

nairnbairn said...

Lots to comment on in the wake of this meeting. But one of the most interesting angles - not previously mentioned on the Gurn or indeed elsewhere - is the point about the Farmers' Showfield.

So here's a radical thought. What about doing a deal: exchange the Showfield for (part of) the Sandown land? That would be a win-win scenario.

Or will this be another of Nairn's "If only..." stories?

There has already been at least one round of debate, some time ago, about the future of the Showfield. That should have alerted Councillors to the strength of local feeling about protecting green spaces in the town. But the Farmers' Society is facing a tricky challenge: the field is no longer ideal for their annual Show, and the Society needs to realise some funds from its assets.

If only the trustees of the Common Good had thought about, and engaged with, the Farmers' Society, might a deal have been worked out? Couldn't the Showfield have been "swopped" for a sizeable part of the Sandown land? The Common Good would have acquired an attractive piece of green space which could then be put to community use (as a proper park and recreation facility). And Sandown would surely offer the farmers a suitable new, larger and long-term site for their show. They would have looked after that land as open space in a way that would have been good for the town and much more welcome to the immediate neighbours than a massive new housing estate such as was proposed by Deveron Highland.

Is it too late? Will this be another situation where our local councillors/trustees have missed an opportunity, or made the wrong choice and closed off options that would have been good for the town?

Or is there still a chance to respond constructively and with imagination to the message that the Farmers' Society representative delivered on Thursday evening?

Perhaps we can hope that this won't turn into another "if only..." story.