We asked all our four Highland Councillors if they had anything further they'd like to say about the decision on Tuesday to pass the South Nairn planning application in the face of considerable opposition from Nairn residents. Liz wasn't at the meeting she told the Gurn:
"I had a Nairn Community Transport meeting and a funeral so couldn't attend the planning committee." She continued: " In my view the outcome was a fait accompli. There was no way the application could be refused or the applicant would have got it passed on appeal. This site visit was just playing to the galleries. There have been several site visits recently about applications that were impossible to refuse under planning regulations including Tornagrain and a wind farm. These in my opinion are a waste of time and money, unless a recomendation can be overturned what is the point of hiring buses, taking councillors and officers around the countryside to no avail.
If I had thought for one moment that there could have been a vote and the application would have been significantly altered then I would have made a point of being present.
Applications coming forward that are in the Highland Wide development plan and the Inner Moray Firth plan will be difficult to overturn as there already is an acceptance of them."
Here are Colin's specific answers to questions we put to all the Councillors. Each Gurn question is in italics followed by Colin's individual answers.
Seeking comment on the suggestion that when the bus arrived at the sawmill and parked on Balblair Road the Councillors on board were advised to stay on the bus on Health and Safety Grounds as HGV's regularly use the road?
If Councillors had wanted to get out at that point and proceed up to the ridge, then we would have done so - no doubt being careful. Mention was made about the traffic and about the fact that no permission had been sought to enter the field. We stayed on board outside Firhall - because we could see the site well from the roadside. We got out at the manure/silage corner - to get a perspective of site rising up in the direction of the Gordon's Sawmill. One Councillor expressed a desire to enter the field, but the consensus was that we could see the site well enough from the bus.
Any comment on the outcome of yesterday's meeting would also be welcome if anyone feels so inclined.
Full recognition that many people - particularly the residents of Firhall - will be extremely disappointed with the granting of permission. I don't know when development work might start and I have no idea how it will actually be phased given the fact that the economy isn't yet resurgent. Although mortgage rates are low, many folk are unable to find deposits and others are cautious about future rate rises in a couple of years. The 100 limit pause and review is key as is the local liaison arrangement. I was surprised that a couple of Members actually praised the quality of urban design proposed - "beauty in the eyes of the beholder" I guess.
There are some positives - but the pressure on infrastructure - really outweighs all of these.
I hope that there is very little development on-site in the next few years and that the bypass is advanced as early as possible - but it is just a hope at this stage!
Did Nairn have no chance of stopping this application given it fitted the requirements of the Highland Council's Highland wide development plan - a plan that has been endorsed by the Scottish Government?
My view, based on advice from officers was that if permission had been refused, then it would have been successfully appealed by the developer. The site is zoned, there is a masterplan - and although we could have blocked it, a majority of the Committee would have had to have been persuaded that we has "material" reasons to refuse. The ability to have our officers negotiate the pause and review and the local liaison and all the other Section 75s - made the risk of an appeal being upheld outweighed.
Can we expect more of the same in coming months and years?
I hope not, but it does evidence the need for development planning to become more local - because it is the development planning that then directs the application process. The Area Committee structure will help - a step in the right direction after years going in the wrong direction.
I keep lobbying to see a full-scale reorganisation of local government across Scotland - based on natural communities. It is clear following the summer Cabinet visit to the Northern Isles that the Scottish Government has agreed to consider greater devolution to the island authorities - and I've already requested that they consider that aspect within a national context. Communities the size of Nairn could very easily run a range of services - we've done so in the past - and we need to do so once again.