A picture that appeared on-line showing Highland Council workers taking away another layer of the high bank that supported the big slide and also acted as a wind brake at the Links play park prompted another round of irate but well considered comments on the social media earlier this week. As always the popular "Nairn when you were a bairn" facebook pages were the epicentre of citizens’ concerns. One member of the site posted the following comment which contained information from a Council official.
“Councillor Liz Macdonald asked Iain Reid, operational support officer, Highland Council to answer my questions that were originally directed to herself and Laurie Fraser, have patience here is his reply to me:
'Comments relating to the area in general and a desire for this site to be aimed towards younger children in particular (up to age 10 to 12 years old approx) have been received over a period of time by way of parents raising the matter with Highlife Highland and also directly with Members. Via discussion between members and the old transport, environmental & community services dept (now community services) as part of the councils ongoing assessment of assets, a strategy was in place to make any changes reflect facilities for younger children at this site (older children have facilities available at the putting green play area). You will appreciate members are elected to represent and act on behalf of their constituents and do so on a day to day basis, as they have done in this instance.
The slide had defects relating not only to the unit itself but the access steps which were in poor condition. Parents had contacted the council voicing concerns.
Funding was available within this years budget for some improvements to the play area but this funding could not be guaranteed in future years and so there was a one off opportunity to not only make the site safer but also take a step towards the goal of providing a much better play experience for the younger children.
I cannot comment on the flattening of the hill as this was not part of my involvement with the project.
I am disappointed that there has been negative publicity regarding the improvements carried out at the links and the putting green sites over the past few years as there has been a sustained effort to improve play facilities here. I can confirm that works at the links are not yet complete and further play equipment will be installed over the coming months to supplement what is currently in situ which I believe will lead to a more positive and fulfilling play experience for younger residents and visitors alike.”
The comments from Iain Reid are worthy of analysis in the light of the public outrage that has surfaced in recent weeks over this issue. It is ironic that sometimes issues that can define political careers can come out of nowhere but our local councillors should have been more sensitive about the Links and this problem is of their own making. One of our regular readers told us recently: “Some people may think a row over a slide is a storm in a teacup. But is symptomatic of a much wider and deeper problem with the way the Council does things and it’s not the only example!” There are many that would agree with that. This issue has struck the public consciousness in a way that others often fail to do and it could have unforeseen consequences in the long term for local members. A large number of local residents (probably the majority) feel deeply offended by the way that Highland Council have gone about spending public money on the recent Links play area “developments". Anyway, below the image are some Gurn thoughts on what Mr Reid has to say.
|Big Slide no more and now Big Brae no more |
i) He says that comments were made by parents to HighLife Highland and to Members. Where is the evidence of this? How many comments/complaints? Why did none of this ever appear in any printed or online outlet or on Twitter etc (after all, Highland Council is now very social media savvy and almost any other local issue of concern appears on these platforms)? Why did it never come up at Community Councils (after all, the Tradespark playground and the Riverside skatepark have been raised at CCs).
ii) if it were the case that the slide and its access steps had "defects", then the obvious question arises - why not just fix or refurbish instead of demolishing and removing? Doesn't exactly square with the notion of value for money in tough times.
iii) he says that the "strategy" to remove and replace equipment was decided by discussion between Members and the former TECS, now community services officials. Why no public discussion? Why no mention in the Nairnshire, or by Members at CC meetings? Why no Ward Forum meeting to discuss this and other local issues? This is a compelling argument for Ward Business meetings to be open to the public - or at least for the minutes/action notes to be published.
iv) the suggestion that the playground equipment be reorganised or replaced in such a way as to have one area for little kids by the paddling pool and a separate area for older kids over in the leisure park area has already been shot down in flames as a stupid idea by parents on the "Nairn when you were a bairn" site, who point out quite rightly that most families have kids of various ages, and separate playparks make things more difficult for parents to oversee kids and for families to have an outing together...
v) the reference to funding being available in this year's budget (but perhaps not next year's) blows the notion of a "strategy" or a systematic plan out of the water. In the absence of information in the public domain it could make some feel that this was indeed a "rabbit out of hat" project done without thought and at short notice simply to get rid of some spare money before the end of the financial year – the Council need to put more information out there on the process that led to the project.
vi) again in the absence of other information the remark that Iain Reid was unaware of and uninvolved in "the flattening of the hill" is very interesting. Not only does it very strongly suggest that this was not part of the original plan but will feed, rightly or wrongly, the suspicion that this was the Council's retaliation against public criticism and a way of making sure the big slide could not be reinstated. That hill was also a pretty good shelter belt. It seems to us the public has a right to ask who decided or authorised the removal of the hill, and to hold that person to account.
vii) Michael Green said publicly that the Council would learn from their mistakes over this. We note that Mr Reid refers to plans for further play equipment to be installed. A foregone conclusion? We don't see any reference in his message to the prospect of any public consultation over what further equipment and where.....Just what other surprises might Nairn residents find when they take an early morning stroll on the Links?
The Gurn feels that Highland Council should call a public meeting to explain their decision making processes up to this point; put their hands up with a sincere apology; put all the costs of this project in the public domain and then seek the blessing of the community for anything else that might be planned for the Links.