Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Yesterday at the Sandown Public Inquiry

Day one of the Sandown Public inquiry and this observer sat through quite a lot of it. Perhaps the most striking feature of the day’s events was the ‘proceed with confusion’ element of the process (detailed a little in a Gurn article below). The Gurnmeister was not alone in being taken aback by this. It is however an inquiry, and this inquiry is now also about inquiring into what exactly is the exact proposal before the inquiry. It sounds a bit silly but perhaps it happens a lot in this line of business? Does it say more about the actual planning process in our area that we have come to this situation or does it say more about the Public Inquiry process? Again as John Hart said, if the professionals are confused then the public are doubly confused? John further stated in the protracted ‘confusion’ period that the Community Council had not seen the particular drawing that had been before the councillors at the time of their refusal until that day.
We would urge Gurnites to order their copy of next week’s Nairnshire Telegraph in advance in order to be sure of reading a much fuller version of events, there were after all several hours of question and answer sessions which commenced today with Mr Alistar Kerr giving his Summary Precognition and being questioned by the objectors and sometimes by his own side too – as is normal in these affairs. Before that however, there was the attempt to sort out the confusion and discussion of other matters that needed clarification. As a result of some discussion about how access would eventually be provided to the Cawdor Maintenance Trust to the west of Sandown Mr Alan Farningham representing the CME decided that there was no longer any need for him to remain at the inquiry.
Then it was the turn of the first witness for Deveron Mr Alistair Kerr. Mrs Karen Lloyd began the cross-examination for the Highland Council and she had quite a good day of it we think. Previous observers of the Sainsbury’s inquiry will remember this newly married lawyer as Miss Karen MacLeod. She had a good morning asking a forensic series of questions on changes in the plans and the history of meetings with council officials. We began to get some idea of how Deveron came to decide on the number of 550 houses, we were told they took some time to arrive at the number. There was mention of the Scottish Government’s position of housing, ‘New Urbanism’ and how Deveron seemed to feel that higher density housing was appropriate given the design brief and meetings with officials. It turns out that the shops and other community elements such as the garden centre are ‘aspirational’ elements of the plan at this time. In other words certain parts of the plan would have to be successfully marketed to potential clients before they went ahead. Mention was made of how the density figures were arrived at given the different densities of houses on both sides of the A96.
In the afternoon it was the turn of John Hart to question Mr Kerr and he too looked into elements of the meetings between Deveron and officials. Among other things he asked how shops would benefit the regeneration of Nairn town centre. Mr Kerr replied by saying that additional population would do that and that the shops would offer the chance for existing businesses to open secondary shops.
Dr Alistair Noble asked questions about the numbers of over 65’ and 75’s that would be living in the development. Mr Kerr could not give an exact response but he said that the number of over 65’s was set to double in the next decade. Dr Joan Noble inquired into some of the concepts being used in the development she had researched
‘Smart Growth’ and ‘New Urbanism’ and asked of their relevance to Nairn in Deveron’s thinking. She told the inquiry that 'Smart Growth' was an initiative created to deal with dereliction in the inner cities of America.
Cathy Stafford of the APT asked how the business park allocation would be affected by the take-up of the business park at Inverness Airport
Councillor Graham Vine seemed to hit a raw nerve when he questioned details of the potential number of shops etc, and as to whether they were over and above the number of 550 units or whether the number of units would be reduced if there was a demand for the shops. Graham’s questioning caused an intervention from the Reporter who seemed to feel that 550 units plus additional for shops etc would in fact represent another application. Quite an interesting moment, and perhaps very important for the reporters eventual decision?

The impressions of the day? Well a window into the planning world and how our community is at the mercy of planners, government policies, developers and the latest concepts such as ‘New Urbanism’. It would be ridiculous for us as a community to say no more development ever, but given that there will be few total nimbies in Nairn, what is wrong with us as a community having more control in the densities of any future development? It was quite telling that Mr Kerr admitted to John Hart that over a period of 18 months citizens had had no opportunity to influence a reduction in the number of 550 homes through consultation. Granted yes that Deveron had changed the make up of the plans after consultation, it seems they were very confident that the quality of their scheme enabled them to go ahead with the 550 figure. It is remarkable that it has to come to a public inquiry before the community can have any say in trying to reduce this figure. Surely if the figure had been reduced to 300-350 then a most of the objectors would have stood aside and by now houses that people need could be being built on Sandown. We have to ask were Highland Council wise to enter into the process with Deveron, or any other company, in the way that they did? As the Nairnshire Telegraph editorial hinted this week, there will be ramifications for the council once this inquiry is completed. Should it have all been done a different way, then instead of building a separate community the size of Kinguissie on the edge of town we could have had a more organic solution that would have been less controversial?
The inquiry continues for this week and part of next, if you have a chance please go along and witness some of it for yourselves.


Zero said...

The enquiry certainly raises many questions about development in and around Nairn

I imagine that there are a large number of shop keepers on the High Street who would welcome a flock of new customers on their doorstep, but beyond that I find it hard to imagine many other Nairn residents being pro the Sandown development in any shape or form.
It is easy to plaster over this attitude as being a NIMBY, but what real rather than imagined positives would any development of Sandown bring to Nairn?

There is the hint of jobs, but we know that this is going to be small industrial units and not another major industry such as another oil fabrication yard. Development at the moment all points to Nairnites having to share current resources with the new Sandown dwellers. From beaches to doctors, space on the A96 to places in schools.

The Gurn hints that people would be happy with 300-350 new homes, but I reckon people would be really happy with zero new homes. Many of us appreciate open spaces not little boxes!

Sandown looks just fine as it is, shame it has to change

nairnbairn said...

This is shaping up into a David and Goliath story.

Deveron Highland have assembled a formidable team of - no doubt very expensive - legal, planning and technical experts to defend and justify their development plans. Their lawyers are very skilfully playing the Perry Mason game of using procedural arguments to prevent certain lines of questioning.

The Highland Council are in this confrontation with one hand tied behind their backs. Sandy has to defend and uphold the Planning Committee decision to refuse Deveron's application. But his legal and planning team are handicapped because the Council's own planning officials supported, assisted and helped to shape the Deveron plan. So whenever anyone queries the design, the plans, or the infrastructure issues like roads and water, the Deveron team are able to duck the questions and justify their plans by pointing out that council or agency officials had acquiesced.

That leaves the local Nairn Residents' Group - a team of dedicated and concerned citizens with very little experience of such inquiries - as the main defenders of Sandy's recommendation to refuse the decision, and as representatives of the interests of the local townsfolk. A few public-spirited individuals have added their voices on certain points. But it is a pretty unequal contest.

It would be good to see the Reporters take a more proactive role in ensuring, in their chairing of the Inquiry, that the genuine concerns of ordinary citizens are properly heard, and not suppressed by clever lawyers using procedural tactics to protect Deveron from the awkward questions.