Sunday, June 23, 2013

“Hardly a great groundswell of trust!” – A Common Good issue Forres style

The main hall in the Tolbooth is not as grand as our Courthouse perhaps but it carries all the same gravitas and more. Forres only has one Community Council so they meet as the definitive body representing the town – spaces are left for the four Moray councillors, it is obvious that they all feel it necessary to attend every meeting. The image shows some of the Councillors seated before the meeting. More were to arrive and four Moray Councillors were elsewhere in the building holding surgeries. They were shortly to enter the room where around 35-40 members of the public were waiting. A facebook group “The Battle for Bogton” had passed the 1,000 membership mark earlier in the day. Maybe for every 1,000 cyber activists or protesters you can get 40 in a room? That page is available here if you wish to indulge

Before the meeting proper began a young police woman gave a run down of the latest crime figures. Maybe it had been a bad month but compared to the reports heard in Nairn it seemed to this observer that Forres is a hotbed of crime. After that he meeting moved straight to the point and first item up was the Bogton Development. An articulate, and initially nervous woman, spoke for about 15 minutes with some convincing arguments that the development was not in the town centre as defined by the local plan. She continued with other points about the impact on the High Street, Hydrological assessment, water and sewage and many other matters. One could compare her performance with the contributions that many Nairnites have made at
public inquiries and the like of that in recent years. The speaker quoted well know pro-nuke Greenie George Monibot suggesting that you create one job for ever 50K spent in local shops compared to 250K to create a job in a superstore. Hard to do a real comparison with Nairn here because the jobs in Sainsburys were jobs that were created before any money was spent – we didn’t have an existing superstore in the way that Forres had Tesco. There was also the vexing question of if Forres Mechanics Football club have to move then who builds the new stadium.

Then the meeting was open to the floor and there was a barrage of questions for the Moray Councillors from the public and the Community Councillors. Like Councillors at this level all over Scotland they are somewhat trapped between public will and the planning system. Yes, only outline planning permission had been granted but many of those present and others in Forres were unsure of what that means and sincere explanations in the face of “hardly a great groundswell of trust”, as one community councillor succinctly put it, can fall flat or even seem evasive. The members of the public present felt that they were in the majority and in that they are almost certainly correct. One of the top tier councillors stated however that there were Forresians that considered the proposed development a good thing and their views had to be taken into account. He said there were those people that had told him that the developer should be given the land to help give Forres the boost that it needs. For some this was a startling revelation. Other questions centred on historical aspects of the site and proposed development and it was obvious that in that sense there were still things to be clarified. As we know in Nairn with the Sandown situation, in these situations it is hard for even serious students of the topic in hand to have a complete grip of how things have progressed.

An interesting meeting that mirrored many things we have witnessed in meetings in Nairn in recent years but there was one important thing that to this observer demonstrated that Forres is not merely a different dimension but another planet when it comes to Common Good affairs. At some point in the future there will be a public meeting organised in an orderly fashion with speakers both for and against the development and then again, at some point in the future, a ballot for those residents of the town who live within the area of the Royal Burgh. Now if we had had that for the proposals suggested by Highland Council’s preferred bidder for the Sandown Lands then perhaps things might have been different and the Nairn Common Good debt measures proposed for next Thursday might not have been necessary? See previous Gurn articles here and here.  

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