Brian Stewart, one of the team members that submitted the paper to the hearing from the town's three Community Councils, the NRCG and Joan Noble, gave us his analysis of how it went last week at the hearing that was held in the Community and Arts Centre:
"I have rarely - in 35 years of working in government - seen such a poor performance as the Scotia team's professional experts put up on the first day. Their transport expert (who wrote the Transport Assessment!) seemed incapable of answering the Reporter's simple but forensic questions on his own documents. It is very telling that the Appellants ended up calling in three different transport experts, and eventually a QC, to bolster up what was so obviously shaky supporting material. It was embarrassing to observe the highly-paid and very clever QC having to explain and protect his technical experts from digging themselves even deeper into the hole they were in. It was only because we figured that the Reporter could see how threadbare was their analysis, and we could see how exasperated he was by their evasiveness, that we thought it was worth continuing so he could grill them further, rather than - as we could have done - pulling the plug on the whole show because of the way the Appellants [the Scotia team] had attempted to confuse the discussion by tabling different and inconsistent supporting documents.
The site visit (Cawdor Road/underpass/Sawmill etc) was pretty effective at illustrating some of the traffic problems. I am not sure what the Reporter learned from walking over the fields of the actual site. It was very clear that the proposals for bund and buffer are likely to be inadequate: and Gordons' are right to be worried that they will be very hemmed in.
I'd like to think that the dose of reality provided by the site visit, and the fact that the TA material was such a dodgy dossier and so clearly manipulated to support this particular proposal, will have registered with the Reporter and reinforced an impression that the roads can't cope and that capacity is an issue. Joan's critique undoubtedly impressed the Reporter rather more than the performance of the "expert" who wrote the transport assessment. The Firhall representatives made some cogent and persuasive points. But the time the Reporter spent during days 2 and 3 on discussing the measures to tweak the junctions (lights, pavement
|Loreine Thomson and Brian Stewart at the hearing|
widening etc) led me to think he was looking at how such modifications might "solve" the problems. He might go along with the idea of blocking Balblair Road or making some of it one way to reduce the hazard and conflict of HGVs versus other users. And he seemed to take a relaxed and benign view of all the matters that came up under possible conditions: none was seen as a showstopper, although the idea of a "pause and review" (if the development is agreed) will undoubtedly be thrown out because it's non-compliant with planning law.
It's a tough call to predict what he (the Reporter) will decide. Naturally we have to hope he will uphold the refusal. I think there are still very serious questions as to whether the Appellant's application actually complies with the requirements of the HwLDP. This is being considered separately by the Reporter alone, and we have submitted written representations identifying all the ways in which the Scotia bid does not conform to the local plans. But I'm not sure which way he'll jump. A provisional 'yes' is no comfort to us, because if the S75 details are left to be negotiated between the developers and HC planners, the officials will probably agree to whatever the developers want....
We've been through a battle at the Appeal hearings, and we gave it our best shot. But I'm not sure yet what the outcome will be, and there's a way to go yet.
The key (but depressing) thought is that we, and Nairn, only have one chance to get this right. If this development is allowed and it proves to be unsustainable and the roads/infrastructure etc all seize up as we fear, the developers, highly paid experts and government officials won't care. They will all have taken their profits and their fees and gone back to wherever they come from, and the Council will have met its housing targets. But we the local community will be left to live with the consequences."