This observer enjoyed the talk given by Tim Stott of Highland Council over at the River CC meeting in the Community Centre on Tuesday night. It was a joy to actually have someone speaking without a power point presentation – a few more officials that come to Nairn should try a bit of this – why should powerpoint be so compulsory when talking to the masses? Anyway Tim gave the meeting about fifteen minutes of quality off the top of his head and then a further thirty minutes answering questions.
He explained the present status of the Highland Wide Development Plan and also the more local plan that takes in Nairn. It does seem strange to this observer calling this a local plan when it extends north to Tain, over to Garve, down to Fort Augustus and along back to encompass Nairnshire via the boundaries of the Cairngorm National Park, but such is our place in the greater scheme of things now.
Some might recall the Highland Council’s recent “call for sites” where landowners had the opportunity to put their properties up to be included in zones that will eventually be accepted for the “principle of development”. This process also gave everyone the chance to put forward suggestions for areas that should never be developed. In short it gives pro and anti development lobbies the chance to have their input into the process. Things are now at the ideas stage. In the autumn there will be a meeting in Nairn where a map will be shown indicating all the areas suggested for development and those that have been put forward as areas that should not be touched. In between now and then the Highland Council Planning Development and Environment committee will have decided what it thinks are the best options and these too will be indicated on the map. Then everyone will have a chance to react to all the proposals and then after this consultation a list of options will be drawn up next year. Those, who in Tim’s words, might be “really annoyed” by elements of the decisions made will have the chance to take the issue to a Public Local Inquiry which will be the formal legal phase at the end of the process.
River CC had suggested that the Links, Maggot, playing field, Riverside Walks and space either side of the river and Viewfield should never be developed. The only suggestion they had submitted for development was the Bus Station area. Tim indicated the development ideas that had come forward so far: Nairn South (where landowners and developers had submitted similar proposals), Househill farm (where the landowner had submitted, via an agent, the entire farm for a mixture of housing, public parks, employment, retail and tourism). Sainsbury’s were also asking for the rest of their site to be included for the principle of Class 1 retail development, giving them the option to expand in future. There was also an infill site at Lochloy adjoining the existing development, this submission was from Mr Derek MacDonald.
Later in the meeting during the Q&A session Lesley Boulton, after giving a list of all the major developments proposed in the area: “Isn’t there a danger that Nairn will be overwhelmed with residential development?”
Tim replied that Sandown had had a business park element and the wider proposal at Delneis has a golf course, a hotel and tourism related development. He went on to say: “I don’t think all these developments will happen, and they certainly won’t happen very fast because there isn’t the demand out there. I wouldn’t panic too much in thinking all these developments are going to happen because, the market demand, quite a few of them, Delnies for example, don’t have a builder lined up as far as I know.”
Lesley Boulton went on to air a complaint heard before by this observer at this type of gathering:
“Well surely the planning process is planning for a possibility, a probability, something that may never happen. It seems to be we spend a log of time going through lots of plans which will never come to fruition. Not in my lifetime anyway.”
Tim replied: “We always have a choice of sites, it is a conscious policy of the Highland Council to have a choice of sites. You don’t tie up all the land supply in Nairn with one owner, because you give all the power and the only housing site down to one land owner or developer and the price of land will go up and therefore the price of houses as well as a result of that. We don’t put all our eggs in one basket, we don’t have a single land-owner with total control of the land supply in a town. So that’s why we zone more land than there is the actual demand for people to buy houses, but the idea is to provide lots of choice, the landowners have to compete. The net result of all that is the price of land comes down therefore, other things being equal, the price of houses sold at the end of the process should be less as well.”
More from this meeting later in the week if time permits. No doubt many Gurnites will be waiting with anticipation the eventual map that appears this autumn. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on up until then and no doubt folk will want to be ready if they feel that some of the proposed developments are inappropriate or excessive. There will of course also be some that will be willing to praise developments, Gurnites will remember how the Delnies proposal received the backing of many when it was shown in the Community Centre. Interesting times aren’t they?