Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Realism versus Nairnbairn - a debate for hearts and minds and the future of Nairn town centre

There's been a lot of comment on the Gurn recently concerning town centre matters, if you haven't visited recently, make a cup of tea, scroll down and read the latest in the posts below this one. Two particular comments are quite striking and perhaps summarise the position/quandary/crisis that is the situation today and the choices facing the community. Ladies and Gentlemen here's Realism followed by Nairnbairn's response:
'We might lament the lack of a bustling High Street complete with a daily market, throngs of people praying at all of our churches, queues along the pavement waiting to get into the cinema, gridlock on the A96 as cars wait to fill up with petrol, hundreds of passengers waiting to get on a local bus. But to a great degree the need for any of these buildings that we complain about has gone, that’s why they are empty!I suspect that even the arrival of a new Sainsbury’s (if it ever comes) will still mean convoys of Nairnites travel to nearby towns to do their shopping, and at the same time they will fill up with petrol, and maybe even catch a film at a multiplex. Buses are a good idea but the routes they travel these days are not much of a deviation off the main A96, and car ownership has never been cheaper. Our working lives have changed as well, more folk work from home so have less need to travel to an office, or indeed need an office out of their homes, and I wonder how many of you reading this have shopped on line, so do we need the same number of High Street shops? Patently not. Trying to re shape a town centre designed many centuries ago for modern day living is nigh impossible. We may cry out for a quaint High Street but I would suggest none of us use is it as our ancestors did with daily food shopping. Because we know it exists we want more, more goods, more shops, more choice, and all at cheaper prices. Shopping is still a necessity but it has also become an experience, a leisure pursuitIn common with most of the UK Nairn has a growing elderly population who consume less than their younger counterparts. The greatest threat to the town centre in Nairn isn’t derelict buildings or construction of blocks of flats but work, or rather the lack of it. In the Highlands we are dependant more than most upon the Public sector, which is going to go through a radical change in the next couple of years with unparalleled job cuts. We don’t have industries in the Highlands since the oil construction yards closed, and we now have a global economy which means it is cheaper to build in China. Regrettably I can only see the Highland economy collapsing, there is nothing waiting in the wings to rescue us. Our only mainstay is tourism that is largely seasonal and provides only a handful of jobs. Young people are understandably leaving looking for sustainable futures elsewhere. Will we ever see a bustling town centre in Nairn, not in the near future. Embrace what is being offered or more buildings will stand empty. Our vision should be that of realism not dreams, and remember that we cannot even afford what we have, witness our new community centre.'
Nairnbairn's response
'The analysis offered by Realism above is seductive but misguided. As a description of recent and current patterns of local shopping and behaviour, it's pretty accurate. But it would be a mistake to design the Nairn of the next 20 years on the basis of the lifestyles of the past 20 years. Yes, our lives have changed: but even greater change is coming.It's important to look forward and to anticipate the trends of the future, not assume that existing patterns will remain. Some of these trends are already apparent.In housing, town-centre apartment blocks are discredited because they tend to become ghettos (look at Scotland's central-belt towns). Suburban housing-estate sprawl is becoming less appealing because of its soulless anonymity. Thoughtful urban planners are trying to design environments which deliver the kind of diverse urban architecture that promotes sustainable, integrated communities.The shopping of today is indeed based on the car and the edge-of-town supermarket. But there is already the stirring of a backlash against "Tesco-isation". In search of quality and choice, and in reaction to the "foodmiles" issue, people are shifting away from supermarkets and back towards independent shops and local producers. Hence the nationwide revival of farmers' markets. This shift may not yet be very evident in Nairn - but it will come. The trend is clear.People are also rebelling against the homogenised High Streets with their chain-store frontages. They are beginning to appreciate the importance of local tradesmen and the value of a variety of retail premises. Just as micro-breweries have flourished while the big brewers have struggled, Ashers may yet prevail against Mothers' Pride...The change in shopping habits may be forced on us anyway by transport trends. Rising fuel costs and ever-worse congestion will make car travel more expensive and more tedious. Town centre shops will again become important. Who knows, we might see more folk cycling! Business, too, is changing. Better IT will enable more decentralisation and homeworking. Other countries like China and Korea will be increasingly the heavy industrial producers. To thrive and offer employment, the Highlands has to embrace the service sector, get into high-skill high-value manufacturing, and recreation and tourism. That means people - whether investors, workers, or visitors - will increasingly value the quality of the environment, the quality of local services, and the sheer quality-of-life. We have to plan the development of Highland towns and countryside to respond to these expectations.
So, Realism , your view may be "realistic" but it is also short-sighted. We should not indulge in unrealistic dreaming. But we do need rational analysis and pragmatic vision. We also need to cease playing catch-up. There has been too much development based on yesterday's obsolete thinking and today's lifestyles. Instead, we should be planning for tomorrow. We need development which doesn't just address present problems, but which also aims to influence and take account of future change. '


Iain said...

Excellent debate and both parties make some very good points. Very true, the past has gone; let's not bring it back. But the big question is, what kind of future do we plan for? And yes, we can plan for it as long as we don't allow silly developments in every vacant plot.
In both these submissions there was only one mention of tourism - and I recognise this was not the subject of the debate. However, it is central to the future of Nairn. Realism points out that we don't need all the shops we once did for local people. But should we be thinking about what would draw visitors? Do we need a new type of High St that would draw visitors and give locals a new sense of pride in their town? I worry that Inverness-based planners will not do that for us as they are driven by other targets.

Graisg said...

Ideally I would like to see a weekly market on the site of the present community centre, perhaps with a few stalls up the High Street too. The market could have a charter that would only allow produce and goods made in Nairnshire by Nairnshire residents to be sold. For the rest of the week the market site could be used for badly needed extra parking.

Where would the council find the money to demolish the Community centre and other buildings though? This could be why they are talking of housing, because only a developer could afford to knock them down now

Anonymous said...

Iain says "I worry that Inverness-based planners will not do that for us as they are driven by other targets."
That to me is what is at the heart of all this at the moment. Is this, like many other projects in this area, where is is being driven from; planners and developers? Quick fixes and a quick buck with no vision for the future outcome?

what a nice man said...

No money issues for your idea Graisg, according to the quote in this weeks Nairnshire simply supply Graham Marsden Demolition Ltd with the requisite sledge hammer and stand back

He's all for taking on eyesores apparently!

Perhaps we could hire him out to Inverness when he's finished in Nairn?

Sear said...

It would be wonderful if either Highland Council or Nairn shopkeepers had enough money in their respective coffers to buy up the empty buildings, and as has been suggested turn them into parking if nothing else to encourage more people to visit the High Street, unlikely to happen I know
The council looks towards developers for income to do anything it can possibly get out of them, witness what Sainsbury's have been asked for in order to build their store in Nairn
Large corporations do have money to spend, the ordinary small business person in general doesn't, certainly not on any great scale
As for the suggestion that our High Street shops should address tourists more, I shudder as I think of the likes of Fort William for example, is that really how we want Nairn to be?
Planning and development is about the future, shopping trends may be difficult to predict but its clear at the moment which way its all going

Go West said...

Maybe he should have a word with the
Nairnshire then.I'm sure they could point him in the right direction.

Come and visit said...

What Nairn needs is an attraction to bring people to visit us. Yes, we have the links and the beaches. But what if it is raining? I shudder to think Nairn becoming a Blackpool of the North, but, maybe, a Whitby up the coast. Who Knows?

But at least give visitors a nice vista when they come to visit or travel through.