Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Getting it right for the Sandown Lands - What the community needs to discuss!

Following on from the Gurn report of the latest meeting of the Suburban Community Council where the subject of housing on Sandown was raised (or as Dick Youngson suggested, what might feature soon in talks between the CCs and Highland Council “the need for housing, the market and who we’d like to produce all the property for”) the Gurn think tank has been looking at issues surrounding the Sandown Lands and what any community debate should encompass. 

There are many questions that the community has to resolve. We have already stated that it is essential that a debate about the future of our Common Good should be be fully transparent and open to members of the public. It should involve all interested parties – elected Councillors, Community Councils, and residents of the town. 

Consideration of the future of the Sandown land will have to take account of the existing Sandown Development Brief drawn up by Council planners. This development brief came after the Charrette organised by Sandy Park back in 2012 (a copy can be downloaded here). Drawings of how the outcomes might look on the map also appeared as part of the process. Images taken by the Gurn can be seen here. The Development Brief didn’t give precise outcomes for the future however, here’s para 2.3 in its entirety:

Sandy Park launches the Sandown Charrette in Feb 2012
“A consensus was not reached on the precise boundaries of any development areas. Indeed, written comments received since the Charrette have emphasised disagreement on the extent of development south of the A96. Similarly, the field south of the expanded allotments proposal attracted disparate ideas for: a farmers’ showfield, an events space, a football club pitch and a farming let. One neighbouring household disputes the requirement for housing at Sandown or Delnies.”

So fast forward to 2015 and where are we now? Well we cannot see any debate about the Sandown Lands as simply being about what kind of housing is built there, or the nature and scope of the Wetlands plan. There is much more to consider.

Two factors are key. One is that Sandown is the biggest and most important asset the Nairn Common Good has. So the question of its future use is crucial. Equally important is how it could or should deliver revenue into the Common Good Fund (as a one-off lump sum, or ongoing income stream?). The other is that we are not starting from a blank sheet of paper. There is a current lease (details still not in the public domain). There are allotments. There is an existing development plan (however inadequate). So any debate has to take all this into account.

So then, wider strategic choices to consider on the back of the development brief - to develop or not? Sell off or lease? More allotments? Housing or Wetlands? What kind of tourism facility - and could any community initiatives such as the wetlands and visitor centre “wash their faces” financially in the current climate)? How much housing, and of what kind? Should space be set aside for a recreation venue, a new showfield, or a business park?. These should not be instant or short-term decisions. What sort of timescale should the planning be based on? 

All these options really have to be looked at alongside the draft Investment Strategy that Liz MacDonald has told us is being prepared by officers for the Nairn Common Good Fund. Here’s what we wrote last December:

“Liz and Colin and their colleagues on the Area Committee point to the forthcoming “investment strategy” and whatever may be coming down the tracks in the form of the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill which may have specific instructions on Common Good funds. There has been acknowledgement that the community should be consulted on this investment strategy – this would be useful, there will be people in Nairn with the ability and background to cast a critical eye on any investments proposed by the Highland Council.”

Highland Council acknowledges the mistakes of the past and having put their hands up they promise a better deal for the future. There are those who are worried that whilst work is being done on an investment strategy there is no engagement with the community on how the Common Good is run with all debate in that direction being sidelined for the time being. 

Surely too this “investment strategy” will not be all that grand. Nairn Common
What next for Sandown?
Good has very little in the way of available capital funds which might be "invested" in the way the Inverness millions are invested in income-generating stocks and shares. Nairn's Common Good has assets in the form of land; and a very small amount of annual income from rents etc (Caravan park, showies etc). So what would officials suggest we do with the Sandown Lands as part of this strategy? Will they deliver a series of options to the Community and will Nairn residents have a veto (via the Community Councils) on anything they consider inappropriate? 

In advance of any discussions, here are a few ideas and suggestions that we believe have already been talked about in the local CC ether at various times:

· hang on to the land, let it appreciate as a capital asset, and use it as collateral for raising money to spend locally;

· build housing as the overriding priority - either sell Sandown off to a developer to build commercially (didn’t work well at the last attempt), or form a local trust to build cheap housing on that land for locals-only;

· develop it gradually for diverse mixed use by subdividing it (even creating and selling-off individual plots) and allowing phased development by local builders, businesses, amenity-providers, etc over - say – a 20-50 year period;

· use it as a long-term source of continuing income, as Inverness does with the Longman estate, by leasing the land to business/industry/whoever while retaining title and ownership, so as to have a continuing and increasing rental-revenue stream for 99 years or whatever;

· keep it as largely undeveloped green space with allotments, a new Showground for the farmers, and - yes - wetlands, both to retain views/tranquillity/tourism amenity and equally important, to ensure a "green lung" for the town over the next 50 years as Delnies and beyond gets built up.

There are many other possible variations on those themes. We would suggest that the point is that there has never been any strategic thinking, never mind policy-option studies, about how to manage and/or develop the most important asset the Nairn CG has, for the long-term benefit of the people of Nairn and their descendants. 

Decisions have to be made but whatever happens to Sandown has to have the blessing of the community and past experience proves that will only happen if all discussion is had in the public domain.


Anonymous said...

I thought there was some money. Use the caravan park few hundred k to start to build houses (or sell building plots) sell some to reinvest and others as lease assests. If/when there's enough to do a grander industrial complex etc. we can. Variations welcome but building towards a future income source should be part of it surely.

Anonymous said...

If I ever won enough on the lottery I would buy Sandown and give it to the people of Nairn, to be retained as it is, allotments and a green open space that folk can enjoy

Brian Turner said...

IMO the management of the Common Good Fund needs to be established, with a clear constitution that provides a guide as to how to dispose of, monetise, and spend income from, assets such as Sandown.

If I recall correctly, developers offered £8 million in cash for Sandown, but the HC instead agreed a profit-sharing deal with Deveron to develop the site.

Even taking into account any fall in land value, Sandown is still worth millions to Nairn. However, this is money that could be frittered away or wasted without any clear guide on what the Common Good Fund actually aims to achieve, and how it would expect to go about it.