A remarkable meeting in the Community Centre on Friday afternoon as the new Chief Executive of Highland Council, Donna Manson, made good her promise to return to Nairn to find out more about issues raised with her in advance of one of her budget consultations in the town. She had received a paper from the town's community councils listing both ten good things about Nairn and ten issues that have to be addressed – details of that document here. Having made the effort to come, listen, and commit to changing the Council's approach and to collaborate to address local concerns and aspirations, Donna Manson has raised expectations and revived a sense of optimism. This makes it all the more important to see some real results in terms of decisions and action
She listened to a generally positive presentation, led by Alastair Noble and Mandy Lawson from the
CCs, they didn't shy away from outlining some of the problems that have poisoned the relationship between Nairn and Highland Council in recent years though. There were numerous speakers that briefly expanded on a number of topics. NICE, the BID, Team Hamish, Nairn Health Care, the Harbour Working Group and others gave a detailed explanation of their worries and their hopes for a positive future for Nairn. A feeling that Nairn is ready to go and get working on so many projects was pervasive and a culture change towards the Council being more inclined to listen to Nairn and to offer more help was needed. There was a wish expressed for the many consultations to have meaningful outcomes with contributions genuinely taken into account. Readers can view a copy of the slideshow here - a remarkable account of how so many volunteers in the town wish to find new ways to work together productively as a local community to get things right for Nairn and Nairnshire.
|Donna Manson, Chief Executive, Highland Council|
It was refreshing to see her recognition that there were problems and her determination to repair the badly damaged relationship, she even went so far as to say that external help may be needed to achieve change. She wants everyone to work together. She mentioned the challenging climate that her organisation faced as a background to all it tries to do but she genuinely wants things to improve and wishes to act as a catalyst for that. It was remarkably refreshing and folk went away impressed and hopeful. Donna promises to come back with responses to the questions asked at the meeting and also is going to make another visit soon to discuss things further with Team Hamish.
The elephant in the room though is parking charges. And the Councillor with her, Alastair MacKinnon, the budget convener, made his apologies over the way the parking issue had been handled so far and seemed to offer the slightest glimmer of hope that an alternative way may be found (without parking charges) in budgetary terms but with something else locally having to suffer.
We really are at a tipping point. A new relationship and all the positivity that entails or a new irreparable level of toxicity injected by parking charges, souring the atmosphere in terms of Council v Nairn much more severely than anything we've seen in the past. Just look at what the immediate economic impact of charges has done to the Angus towns, with businesses being damaged and employees being paid off and all the misery that entails.
To be specific: first, if a parking regime does come in it will create a problem where none exists at the moment, it will stuff up access not only to the town centre but it will have knock on effects for Viewfield, the Links, the Community Centre, the harbour and elsewhere which will make nice new Team Hamish-style schemes much less accessible. It will wreck the viability of what remains of the High Street. It will deter tourist visitors and passing trade. The imposition of a parking regime, with or without modifications, will send a disturbing signal that the Council is not listening, or does not care. The town, like the BID, will be looking to our elected Councillors to take effective action to prevent serious damage being done to the town's economy
In the frightening parallel universe that is being played out in the Angus towns, after only six weeks of parking charges, witness this video detailing economic impact in Montrose and a friend in Kirriemuir tells this observer : "two cafes are 50% down in trade and another cafe down 40%. two staff let go. one of the cafes has decided to shut for the whole of January and will see what happens in February." Real time victims of parking charges foisted on a small town
Here at the Gurn we wish Donna Manson all the best and we hope that Highland Council finds a way to back off from implementing parking charges in Nairn. Fingers crossed for positive outcomes.