Thursday, August 22, 2013

The South Nairn planning decision - Further comment from Liz "In my view the outcome was a fait accompli" and Colin

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.


Spurtle said...

If we extend the Provost's reasoning about the waste of time and money spent on site visits for Councillors who can't influence any planning decision recommended for approval, what's the point in having planning committees at all ?

Seems like the machine has won.....

Toon Loon said...

This story raises so many questions and concerns that it's hard to know where to start.

This proposal has gone through despite widespread and detailed practical objections from across the local community; despite specific and persuasive arguments against it from Cllr Green; and despite some wishful thinking from Cllr Macaulay who appears to hope that it won't happen (or at least not soon).

Cllr McDonald's comments are a defeatist cop-out. She simply presumes that there's no point in standing up for local views, and deflects the discussion into the merits and costs of site-visits (which in the wider scheme of things are an irrelevant matter of administrative practice and - as Spurtle observes - a pointless waste of time).

The suggestions for a review after 100 houses and a local consultative group are fig-leaf gestures: well-meant but ineffective. Once building starts, there will be no way of stopping or modifying it. And given the way in which all other local views have been ignored, what hope is there that a consultative group will have any influence at all?

The outcome underlines three unwelcome truths. First, the powerlessness of the local community and its representatives. Second, the extent to which the Inverness-centric Council and planning committee members with no direct responsibility for Nairn, can impose decisions against the clearly-expressed wishes of the local community. Third, the way in which Highland Council development officials (who, let's not forget, are in dialogue with developers) effectively call the shots irrespective of local elected Councillors' views. Officials devise the development plans, negotiate the conditions with developers, and also recommend approval of applications (and then dissuade those like Liz MacDonald from challenging them).

It's not as if there have not been plenty of local warnings about the unsuitability of this site for intensive residential development. Detailed concerns were expressed during consultation over the Highland-wide plan, and about the bypass scheme, but were dismissed or ignored. If officials had had proper regard for the requirements and future of the sawmill they would have revised the development plan. But they dismissed all these considerations and refused to modify the draft plans.

The practical issues of roads, traffic, the underpass and railway bridge, drainage, sewage and other infrastructure were raised again by the Nairn community in discussion of the detailed Nairn South "masterplan". Again the concerns were brushed aside. Officials have too readily accepted the developers' own assertions that access and infrastructure capacity etc are not significant problems. Yeah, right!

There are many questions raised by this decision which remain unanswered. Just a couple of examples:

i) The Council's formal position when drawing up their so-called "masterplan" for Nairn South site was that the two rival developers should collaborate and reconcile their - competing - proposals for the site. So why has the Council now approved one bid, this (Scotia) consortium's application, separately?

ii) what will the other (Allenby) group now do? Will they seek to challenge this decision? Will they press for a decision on their rival application? Has the Council, in approving the Scotia application, set the scene for a costly and untidy wrangle which will blight the site and the area, and generate lots of ill-feeling, for a long time to come?

Anonymous said...

Extending Spurtles comment, what's the point in having local councillors if they're not all going to attend arguably the biggest and most important planning meeting since that on Sandown!

Anonymous said...

What if planning issues were devolved back to Nairn, what difference would that have made to the application being approved or not? If the application falls within planning rules there would seem to be little anyone can do to oppose it

Toon Loon said...

In response to Anonymous of 7.36pm. The planning rules and procedures only set the framework within which specific applications have to be considered. They do not remove the need for proper assessment and judgment of each planning bid on its merits.

Councillors should exercise that judgment in the light of all the relevant factors (which include local views).

The problem is that the officials who examine and report on planning applications almost always exercise their judgment in favour of recommending approval - and most Councillors are either too ill-informed or too afraid to query or challenge the recommendations made.

Sandown proved the point. Officials recommended, and the Council originally approved, Deveron's proposals. Only in the face of a compelling and well-argued local challenge, and a Reporters' enquiry, was that original Council approval overturned.

The moral of the story - for both elected Councillors and local residents - is that just because officials say a proposal is "within planning rules", this does not mean that it should automatically be approved. Such an approach brings the whole process into disrepute.

APTSec said...

According to old planning literature - PAN 81, now superseded by other docs but premise still holds true:

22 The law requires that any planning application be determined in accordance with the development
plan, unless there are material considerations that indicate that a different decision should be
taken. It is therefore essential that people are given adequate opportunities to participate in the
preparation of the development plan. It is often too late for people to object to the principle of an allocated use at the stage when it becomes subject to a planning application. It is the role of the planning authority and elected Councillors to promote a wider sense of public awareness of development plans by engaging actively with the people that they represent. The community too has an important role in engaging early with the planning authority as all parties need to have a common understanding of the issues. Greater recognition of the importance of development plans will result in more active engagement by the public and other parties in preparing those plans.

...The impact of development, much of which is irreversible, on the lives of individuals and
communities can be very significant depending on its nature, scale and location. While there are already opportunities for people to engage in the planning system, there are barriers to getting involved. The system is complex and highly
technical; it can be confusing and people may feel that their views are not considered sufficiently
leading to a breakdown in trust between all parties involved. There is a lack of awareness of the
relevance of planning to people’s lives which means that many have no interest in getting involved until a development proposal directly affects them. All too often, engagement is left to the last minute,whereas early involvement might have resulted in better outcomes in terms of decision making...

...Better engagement cannot, however, guarantee that everyone gets the decisions or outcomes
they desire. Land allocations and investments in the infrastructure that society needs, or demands,
throw up tough choices and hard decisions. There will always be cases where differences
cannot be resolved...

END of extract...

Well, for this 'Nairn South' decision see para 22 above.

HOWEVER, despite all the encouraging remarks by 'government' about 'getting involved' - which you can read for yourselves at the link here...

...and all the 'opportunities' to get involved, it is the 'tough choices and hard decisions' which seem to win out, no matter at which stage you start putting forward your views.

Development plans are being shaped it seems to me, by what are presented by development interests at the Local Plan stages as 'oven ready' proposals.

Certainly, the A96 Corridor work was heavily influenced by development interests and in turn this non-statutory A96 Corridor work went on to strongly influence the development plan - with the Reporters unable to alter anything to do with the A96 Corridor work because THC Planning Authority had lobbied to have the A96 Corridor work put in NPF2 (inclusion in NPF2 effectively made it an exception to the Reporters' powers). Neither could the Reporters examine it as a whole independent document; they could not examine it as the 'supplementary guidance' it was approved as in 2007.

Oh, and by the way, there is still no specialist developer contributions protocol for the A96 Corridor (as was promised); but by the looks of the comment in the Nairn South committee report - which I am still fuming about, and which hope I have misunderstood - the developers here may not have to contribute to it anyway????????

Hope this makes sense...