It was quite a meeting with Jim answering some awkward questions that led to some lively debate. There were a couple of no-nos from the beginning however. Sandy started: " I think we are all aware that Sandown is Common Good land, we're not going down that road tonight, if there are any issues with common good land we are not discussing any issues anyone may have. There's a meeting on Monday night with the community councillors so we'll be discussing it in full on Monday night. So we will not entertain anything regarding the legalities or otherwise of the Common Good."
Jim stated that he understood that there were anxities about the Common Good: "As the Scottish Government we have no locus with this and from what I've seen from correspondence that has passed my way I guess that this is something that could well end up in court."
Jim outlined the other no-no too: " The other point I made and I made it a month ago in the town house, we're not revisiting the principle of development on Sandown or anything else in this area, that has been established for quite some time and it has been through a development plan examination, the reporter recommended basically endorsement of everything that was in the Highland wide local development plan. Some of you may well disagree with that, well the reporter's recommendations are binding and as I undstand it Stuart (turning to Stuart Black) you'll be taking it to the council for final endorsement as the second local development plan and the most up to date local development plan in Scotland. So revisting some of these debates really isn't on the cards."
The planning high heid yin then went on to open the debate: "What I do want to do tonight is having heard from Tim is really asking two questions. How was it for you? Is this a better way of doing business than the council say here is the plan what do you think of it? Were you able to contribute effectively to the process. Were there barriers that you felt in terms of the timing of events? I know that people were concerned at the last meeting that there wasn't sufficient notice. So I kind of think yes, we need to learn from some of the successes but also maybe we want to learn from things that maybe haven't gone so well too. At the end of the day however inclusive you find the process or however bad, at the end of the day what you will judge this by is the quality of the development that arrives in Sandown. That is the ultimate test."
There then followed a presentation by Tim Stott who showed drawings slightly amended from the previous versions and he made a plea for those present not to try to undo all the work that had gone into the charrette so are and to suggest fine tuning in the future rather than radical change and to put in what everyone could agree on but to leave flexible those areas where was presently no agreement. This observer found one part of what Tim had to say extremely interesting, he spoke on the taboo subject of the common good fund but on in the sense of its relevance to planning. He said, "It's worthwhile that the common good retains an interest, an ongoing interest in the site, we talked about a design code and one way to enforce a design code is the for the landlord if you like, it is far easy to enforce a design code if it is written into the title rather than relying on planning conditions to do that."
Tim also spoke about long leases rather than selling off the entire site. He also suggested what might be a solution for the complaint that local people are not getting their fair share of affordable housing that is built in Nairn. He said, "If you a benevolent local landowner then the Highland small communities housing trust can actually have an allocations policy that favours local people. If you are getting government grant aid for affordable housing then the allocations policy has to be on the basis of need but if you have a benevolent local land owner and a housing trust involved that doesn't rely on government hand-outs then you can alter the allocations policy in favour of local people."
After Tim's presentation Jim made reference to the unsatisfactory situation the community faced with Deveron's application for 550 houses and then opened the meeting to comments and questions. John Hart said that Sandown had been allocated for 100 houses originally to which Jim responded: "I'm always very nervous about the arithmetic of housing supply and demand, what we are trying to create is get quality out of..." He was then interrupted by laughter from a small section of those present. At this point he was pretty firm and told those amused by his comments:
"It's all very well sniggering and all of that, there are some serious issues here, we are trying to transform the planning system, there are more opportunities for public involvement in planning, guaranteed by statute than any other area of public policy and this a genuine attempt by the council to do things differently, and what I want to know is, you may have reservations about the principle of development but that debate has been had, as a way of influencing how this area was developed, do you think this was a good way of going about it."