Friday, July 11, 2014

Can Nairn avoid more 'planning drama' ?

At the joint Nairnshire Community Councils meeting in the Community and Arts Centre on Monday night Brian Stewart made a point to the Highland Council’s head of Planning and Building Services, Malcolm MacLeod. His comment will be very interesting to the many serious students of local planning matters and sums up very well the present situation in this observer's opinion. Brian said:

“One of the issues which I think arises with this whole business of local planning is that land designation which from the planners point of view is large scale or strategic, is never the less, for the people adjacent to it, very local and it is that that is generating the kind of reaction that we see on this particular site. I would make a more general which follows on from what Morton said a little bit earlier about the extent to which input delivered in consultation is or is not taken on board and that I think will become a recurrent them. It’s fair to say quite a number of the sites in and around Nairn have been on the books for ten years or more. They featured in the A96 corridor framework, they were rolled forward...I’m talking about Delnies, Nairn South, Lochloy to some extent...they featured in the A96 because they were deemed to be strategically important for that framework vision. They were rolled forward into the Highland Wide Development Plan and comment on them was constrained because they had already been in the A96. They’re being rolled forward now from the Highland wide into the Inner Moray Firth and again there was a constraint on comments because they’d been in the A96, they’d been in the Highland Wide.

One of the features of many of the sites in and around Nairn is, and it is different in each case, we’ve just had twenty minutes about the density proposed or envisaged or indicated for Kingsteps and there is a general lesson here which are under pressure to deliver housing targets, so there is a natural instinct for planners to put what should be the maximum possible conceivable as a kind of upper limit. That then becomes a reference point that upsets people. Even if as you say 90 houses might not end up getting built on Kingsteps but the fact that you have enshrined formally this as a kind of datum point means that it becomes a point of reference for developers; it becomes in effect the baseline around which arguments happen. With local residents saying we want less than 90 and with developers coming along and saying, “Look, unless we can build more than 90 it’s not going to be viable. We had that experience with Sandown.

 My general point is that in each and every of the major areas around Nairn there are particular issues which usually show up in the consultation process and which don’t get taken on board. As a result we have already had two rounds of drama. We had a round of drama with Sandown where the maximum, leaving aside the Common Good issues and the question of sale and disposal, the proposals the developers were putting forward were so far in excess, even of the indicative...Sorry can I just finish my point which is, for each of the sites, Sandown, Nairn South, now we are just talking topically about Kingsteps. There have been particular issues that have been critical to the viability or otherwise of that patch of land. In Sandown it was scale and volume of housing. In Nairn South it was infrastructure, with the Farmers Showfield the issues is to do with green space in an urban context. In Kingsteps ,if it is endorsed as a development site, the issue would be of density.

The point is that each and every and all of these, there have been very clear, very practical, very substantial, if you like, operational arguments and points that have been put forward that need to be taken account of in the planning, they weren’t and as a result the Council the community and everyone else got involved in a lot of embarrassment, a lot of fuss and a lot of headache over consequential appeals. My point is, essentially it is in your interests as planners as well as ours, that what goes forward as the blueprint is as realistic and as locally acceptable as possible. There may be different arguments for each of the sites. I’ve just indicated some of the reasons. The key point in all of this is to try and make sure that the points that are put forward in consultation are then reflected in what is ultimately delivered as the local development plan."

Malcolm MacLeod responded: “Point taken, what can I say? [...] and I totally agree. However, I always come back and say that in this wonderful world of yours where we all agree everything. Every bit of infrastructure or difficulty is sorted out before any developer appears. Frankly is not going to happen exactly as you say so eloquently, it’s just not going to happen. However, have I learned lessons about consulting in Nairn? Absolutely.”

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