Friday, February 28, 2020

Erection of 12 flats and CAB offices, bin store, landscaping and associated infrastructure - Nairn West and Suburban Community Council submission to planners

The Gurn has received a copy of the submission by the Nairn West and Suburban Community Council to the recent planning application for the King Street site:

"Erection of 12 flats and CAB offices, bin store, landscaping and associated infrastructure
62 King Street Nairn IV12 4DN Ref. No: 20/00338/FU – Comments

At the monthly meeting of the Nairn West & Suburban Community Council on Monday, 24th February, 2020 the application to build a new 12-unit housing block with office for the CAB was thoroughly discussed. The majority of voting members were against the application for various reasons. Two members were in favour of the proposed plan (with some suggestions for possible modifications).

All NW&SCC members are supportive of the CAB and the excellent role it plays in our community. However, the need for a bigger CAB building has been ongoing for over fifteen years. Several workable good options were proffered during that time but not grasped. The members are also fully supportive of the need to provide suitable housing in the town. NW&SCC has requested, along with another Nairn organisation, to meet with the appropriate Highland Council officials to find ways to regenerate empty first floor and other properties located in the town centre. There is a firm belief that those involved in such a meeting would be able to identify properties which could be converted or remodelled to meet the needs of those on the waiting list. It is also believed that there are several building blocks located on the High Street, Leopold Street or Cawdor Road where the ground floor could be made suitable for the CAB and the upper floors repurposed for housing. 

Against this background, the feeling of the majority of NW&SCC is that this application is inappropriate, and is being pushed through purely to access a small fund of money on a specific timeline. Few if any other options seem to have been explored for the provision of local housing by repurposing existing buildings, nor for an alternative for the CAB. This application is piecemeal development: a single building, proposed simply to gain a small government hand out. This is not the most appropriate way to deliver the regeneration of Nairn’s town centre. It does not justify ignoring an already-agreed set of principles and an adopted town centre plan which is supposed to be a blueprint not just for the next ten years but for the next hundred.

The key point made by those commenting on the planning application was that it was inconsistent with the existing agreed town centre regeneration plan. This plan was produced in a charrette organised in 2014 by Highland Council, facilitated by consultants (Rydens) and funded by a £40,000 grant from the Scottish Government. Its aim was to consult the town on an agreed future town plan which included the best use of the centre of Nairn, vennels and walkways. The charrette was well attended over its two day duration. The plan agreed at the charrette was later formally adopted in 2015 by Highland Council as Supplementary Guidance. It is therefore a material planning consideration.

Recent legislation, namely the 2015 Community Empowerment Act and the 2019 Planning Act, have given further stimulus to the local community in Nairn to take forward local place planning. We were encouraged by the readiness of Highland Council planners at the recent meetings convened by Scott Dalgarno to engage and collaborate in such efforts. It now seems to be inconsistent for the Council to ignore the existing agreed guidance and the collaborative approach we were anticipating. The proposed building risks pre-empting or preventing, rather than enabling, the improvement of the central heart of the town.

The chance discovery of the existence of a very recent building warrant (dated 13 Feb and apparently agreed within days, with no public notification or consultation) for the demolition of the historic old Police Station building now referred to as the Old Social Work Building, has considerably increased local disquiet. In the 2015 adopted Nairn town centre plan it clearly states that the building should NOT be demolished and that new uses should be explored. It is a heritage building which complements other nearby historic buildings namely the listed former school and the Courthouse. We are told that its demolition is intrinsic/directly related to the current planning application. Its removal is allegedly necessary to allow the planning application to meet the car parking requirements and to compensate for the loss of the car park on the proposed site of the new build. 

There are many questionable matters surrounding the Building Warrant, not least the timing issue. The warrant was submitted and approved before the planning application was received and subsequently logged. There has been no process of local notification or consultation around this building warrant for the demolition. What assessments have been made regarding the condition of the building, the business case for retention or removal, evaluation of alternative options and the implications of its demolition both for the adjacent common good property and the historical heritage of the town? There is a clear need for the whole process to be transparent, for full and proper appraisal and most importantly for full local engagement with all the foregoing facts made public before any decision either way is made!

Aesthetic consideration also needs to be given to the change of view that would be seen driving through the town on the A96. Again the Nairn Town Centre Plan has clear criteria surrounding the need to plan and prepare for the A96 Bypass and to develop a vital, diverse, and attractive town centre that will attract visitors, link the High Street to the Viewfield area and offer both better public space and improved amenities. The OSWB is [as per the charrette plan] an important historic building with character, that merits resurrection. The housing block proposed in the current application would do nothing to enhance the historic character of the town, neither would it provide amenities for visitors or residents. It would obstruct the one attractive visual view of the Courthouse and the clock tower. Little thought appears to have been given to this during the planning process so far.

We would appreciate receiving answers to all the questions posed above, before any decisions are made or action taken. Given the existence of approved plans and guidance, and the commitment to a new, and collaborative approach to the town’s development, meetings need to be arranged to look at all other options. Time must be allowed to enable the views of the town and its residents to be discussed, but to allow that to happen we now need to receive full information, detailed evidence and a clear explanation why this is the only option available.

Sheena Baker

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I live in the town and have done all my life. I would like to see this go ahead. I'm sure if it went to a vote It will be aproved.

Things move on in 1 year, let alone 5. I would also suggest that the new Community centre/police station and Bus station flats are not in keeping with the surrounding buildings. One more wont hurt.