Monday, January 27, 2020

"There's much less clarity over the much larger contributions from housing projects. These add up to much more money than the Common Good Fund has ever had"

This observer went over to the meeting of the Nairn West and Suburban Community Council earlier tonight and it was a fascinating event. Students of the various subjects that have dominated local politics in recent years will be fascinated by some of the comments made tonight. There was talk of where the City and Region deal cash has been spent. An outline of things that are now in the Common Good Asset Register. Where can money come from to get the things that are needed to be done in Nairn. The Alton Burn flooding. The proposed move of the CAB to the former Social Work Buildings. The A96 and will funding for it get through the next Scottish Government Budget. It was a night of facts, figures, hopes and aspirations. If time permits over the coming days we will report on some of what was said. This evening though, here's something that Community Councillor Brian Stewart had to say:

[…] That's the public money, we musn't forget that there is also a hugely significant source of other money. Especially for infrastructure like roads, roundabouts, drains, schools, playgrounds and other improvements like that. There's money for that, it comes from the contributions made by developers when they build and expand housing estates and by new businesses like Sainsbury's when they set up business. And in some areas, sadly not for us at the moment, things like wind farm projects. Over the past few decades there has been a huge amount of such development in Nairn.

You only have to look around. It continues right now at Lochloy and Kingsteps and there's quite a lot of new bids on the horizon for sites at Granny Barbour's Road and elsewhere. But while we know about the Sainsbury's money, part of it went on the High Street, and we know rural Nairnshire is getting some windfall money from windfarms, there's much less clarity over the much larger contributions from housing projects. These add up to much more money than the Common Good Fund has ever had. People talk for example, about what happened to the money that was supposed to be paying for the bridge over the railway at Balmakeith. People wonder about the windfall gain from the disposal of the substantial and valuable site at Lochloy that was originally earmarked for a school. Where's the money for that? Nobody knows.

The Council has acknowledge that there have been difficulties in identifying and keeping track of this money. The point for us, is that it could and probably does add up to millions. Millions which could and should be available to meet the necessary costs of improvements to the fabric of Nairn. The question is what can we do about it?

I think the answer is simple: Transparency, the information and the figures need to be public. We need to know how much Nairnshire chips into the pot in rates and taxes that go to the public purse and we need to know how much money, public money, comes back in the form of funding for public services. And we need to know the amount and scale of development contributions on all of the extensive developments in Nairn over the years. How has it been spent? Where is it at the moment if it hasn't been spent? And what is it going to be spent on? We need to ensure that the developments that the planners promote also can deliver the infrastructure which the town needs.

Brian went on to say that the new management structure of Highland Council and the new Chief Executive has designated and appointed regional Chief Executive Officers to oversee and champion the various different regions in the Highlands. He asked and got approval for the Community Council to ask the new CEO for Nairn to visit one of their meetings outline how she intends to promote and challenge the interests of “this her parish”.

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