Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Planning high heid yin tells Nairn campaigner “I can’t argue with your figures, your figures are absolutely correct”

At the combined Nairnshire Community Councils planning meeting in the Community and Arts Centre on Monday night, Highland Council’s Malcolm MacLeod faced a grilling on many aspects of Highland Council’s planning policy locally. He spent some time in debate with Joan Noble

Joan Noble said: “Malcolm, you talk about housing pressure and I’m going to come right back to growth because the figures are just out from GR0 for 2013: Highland population grew by 0% this year – a big round zero. More deaths than births, 40 migrants. Now the plan is based on 1650 people coming in every year and we had 40. Now where’s this going, we said all along that you based your plan on 2007 when all the eastern Europeans were coming, there’s a housing crash, there’s a bubble. You haven’t budged an inch from that. You’re still working on maximum projections. The projections now are for 600 people a year and a 4.5% increase in the next 25 years. And you are wanting to build 2,100 houses a year for the whole of the Highlands and there’s 800 being built. You are wanting to build a 170 in Nairn and there’s 20 being built. Now this is the level it is at, It’s crackers, it’s absolutely crackers. These huge developments, 550 for Sandown, 300 for Delnies, God knows how many for Whiteness, Nairn South 600 for Nairn South and we are building 20 houses a year for the whole of Nairnshire. No wonder people are up in arms.”

Malcolm, the head of Planning and Building standards at Highland Council, replied “I can’t argue with your figures, your figures are absolutely correct. Obviously just to set the context for others perhaps in the room. We do try and be
Malcolm MacLeod on Monday night
Seated to his right and chairing the meeting
Dick Youngson. 
optimistic in our targets. Most people actually think that’s a good thing to do, to be aspirational about growth in the Highlands, to aim high but what it comes down to always is, and as we’ve talked about long and hard in the past: none of these houses are going to be built if people aren’t coming. You are absolutely right and it is disappointing that our population didn’t grow as much as we projected absolutely, and that’s disappointing, it’s extremely disappointing. Should we stop and say [...]let’s plan to stay as we are, let’s stay as we are? That’s not what our government wants, it’s not what our Council wants and I don’t think people are really, I mean, if I could just point out the other things that you think I have got wrong, but I don’t think everyone in this room, and perhaps everyone is at a certain age, or a lot of people are at a certain age where perhaps, people have moved on or whatever but I don’t think a lot of people in the community want us to say actually we want the Highlands to stay exactly as it is at the moment.”

Joan stressed: “You can’t make it happen by building houses.”

Malcom was quick to respond: “However, your point is very well made about population growth. The projections aren’t as high. Your objections on that basis will be going forward to the Reporter. We are at the moment right now preparing an updated area housing demand assessment which will take into account these up to date, and in some ways your foresight in saying you’re planning too high, you’ve been too optimistic, you’ve been too aspirational – it’s come true. We haven’t grown the way we hoped. So what we are doing, we are preparing as we are required to do, is preparing an up to date area housing need and demand assessment which will inevitably, inevitably, given some of these figures result in a lower growth profile but importantly it will always include a level or aspiration because that is where the council wants to be.
[...]The bottom line is, and this is where people get, people get, not one house will be built, there is no developer in the current climate who will build one house when they don’t have a customer. To say that we are going to have two and a half thousand houses built and stand empty, at the height of the boom in places like Ireland that’s what happened. It’s so far away from where we are now where not one house is built without a developer having a customer for it. “

Joan (left of picture) last September at the
 major  demonstration against the Nairn
South planning application
Joan had more to contribute to the conversation: “Why are you planning for these huge developments why can we not have developments which are in proportion to the town? Why can we not have 20 houses at Kingsteps? Why can we not have a hundred houses at Nairn South?”

“I feel strongly about planning for the long term and that’s what I feel strongly about. Your comments were well made and you’re right about your projections. They will go to the Reporter, we’ve adopted an optimistic approach, an ambitious approach to the growth of the Highlands and we try to make sure that when things happen there are houses available. Because if we wait and things start to pick up and suddenly we’re going “oh hang on a minute we’re going to need some houses” then we are always going to be in difficulty. I understand we’ve got something of a [...] opposed views on this and I totally appreciate where you’re coming from, " replied Malcolm

“Well you’ve planned for eight times as many houses as you are building Malcolm, something is wrong, it is all aspirational.” Joan made another point.

“Something actually is right by providing choice, you don’t actually end up whereby Nairn will be having one site which is coming forward and that is dangerous I think for the housing market,” said Malcolm.

More from Monday night’s meeting when time permits.

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