Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Nairn - Think tank suggests we are the Scottish town with the most people employed in sectors currently shut down due to Covid-19

We start this article with the following tweets from the Centre for Towns organisation:
Here at the Gurn the first thing that came to mind was the methodology used to determine these statistics. We asked and promptly received the following reply:

"The source is the BRES dataset, which is available at small area level. We use our own lookups to convert small area data into towns/cities/communities and aggregate up.
The link for the data resource is here fyi: https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/datasets/newbres6pub "  

We had a look at that site and it is part of the Office for National Statistics set-up. It does contain a caveat about being a prototype however. The study that Centre for Towns did for England and Wales was reported on SKY News here and in other media outlets. Readers may find that report for England and Wales entitled "COVID-19 and our Towns" of interest. 

So no report for Scotland yet but some tables published on the Centre for Town's twitter account.  Readers may also wish to explore the Centre for Town's website which looks into the economic and social dynamics of small towns, they describe themselves thus:  "The Centre For Towns is an independent non-partisan organisation dedicated to providing research and analysis of our towns. Whilst our cities receive a good deal of attention, we believe that there should be equal attention paid to the viability and prosperity of our towns."

Regular readers may have seen the Scottish Government information that we posted earlier today: "How best can the tourist and culture industry bounce back in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, asks Holyrood’s Culture Committee." 

Here at the Gurn we feel that communities such as Nairn that rely heavily on the Tourism and Culture sectors will need substantial and long lasting support when we eventually emerge from this crisis. 

How best can the tourist and culture industry bounce back in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, asks Holyrood’s Culture Committee

The following Scottish Government information will be of interest to those who have businesses or are employed in this sector. Perhaps there will be a few folk in Nairn with ideas. The Gurn understands that Nairn BID are already proactive in looking towards coming out of this crisis:

The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee has today issued a call for views from the culture and tourism industry on the current Covid-19 crisis. The committee is seeking to consider how best the industry can be supported during this unprecedented time.

The Committee will use feedback received to recommend how the Government should provide effective support that mitigates the devastating impact the virus is having on the industries.

The Committee has set no deadline for responses. The call for views will remain open on an ongoing basis and will provide a forum for raising issues of concern.
Committee Convener, Joan McAlpine MSP said:

“These are unprecedented times and the Committee is here to listen. As the weather warms our tourism industry should be coming into its high season. Instead hotels are empty, pubs are dry, and theatres are quiet.  Visitors have been told not to travel to rural areas for understandable reasons, but that will have a devastating impact on tourism business in some already fragile local economies.

“The protection of life and the ability of the NHS to cope as the virus spreads has rightly been the priority but the long-term impact that Covid-19 has created will last longer than any lockdown.

“Scotland relies heavily on its tourism and culture industry and it is vital that our industries are supported effectively during this crisis, so that they can come back and contribute to the economy once more."

Deputy Convener Claire Baker MSP said:
“Mitigating the impact of this crisis must be a top priority of the Scottish Government, as it is for the Committee.
“The mass cancellation of events and the effective lockdown of tourism will have a profound lasting effect. We will be working with the Cabinet Secretary to ensure all that can be done is being done.”
The committee will publish responses on its website on a regular basis over the coming weeks and months.  

Background
The call for views can be found here
Media information
Tim Hustler: 07511 670 492
Text Relay calls welcome
Public information
  • Telephone enquiry line: 0800 092 7500 or 0131 348 5395 (Gàidhlig)
  • sp.info@parliament.scot
  • Text 07786 209 888
  • Ask a question online through live chat
  • We also welcome calls using the Text Relay service or in British Sign Language through contactSCOTLAND-BSL.
Contact Information
Tim Hustler

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Highland Council planning now behind closed doors - Nairn's Community Councils send letter of protest to Glenurquhart Road and copies to MSPs

The Gurn has received a copy of a letter sent today to senior Highland Council Planning officers by Nairn's two Community Councils. Copies of the Letter have also been sent to MSPs and other high heid yins at Glenurquart Road.
Here is the text of the letter:

JOINT LETTER FROM NAIRN WEST & SUBURBAN COMMUNITY COUNCIL
AND NAIRN RIVER COMMUNITY COUNCIL


(By email)

Dafydd Jones, Acting Head of Development Management

Nicole Wallace, Head of Planning and Environment

David Mudie, Area Planning Manager (South)

Jimmy Gray, Chair, South Planning Applications Committee


Highland Council 27th April,2020
Glenurquhart Road
Inverness

Dear Highland Council Officers and Councillor Gray,

Just after 8pm on Thursday 23rd April 2020 Community Councils received an email forwarding a notification you had issued titled “Maintaining our planning function during Covid – 19: Guidance for Community Councils”.

This was circulated to both Nairn Community Councils by their respective Secretaries and was read with varying degrees of worry and dismay by members. 

This Saturday, 25th April we read the P&J headline which confirmed that we were not the only people deeply concerned by the proposed changes. The heading states “Horrifying change in decision-making”.

The element that causes most disquiet is that planning decisions will be made privately between the planning official and the Chair of the relevant planning committee. The remark made by Highland Councillor Andrew Jarvie – himself a member of the South Planning Applications Committee – is both disturbing and apt: he is quoted in the press as saying, “This proposal to allow one councillor to be judge, jury and executioner is quite horrifying.”

This amended Scheme of Delegation may be temporary. But it is totally undemocratic. It removes the key element of scrutiny by a representative committee. It appears that the full planning reports normally provided to committee will not be published or circulated. The remarks made by another Highland Councillor suggest that no members other than the Chair of the planning committee will receive papers. Such an arrangement prevents proper scrutiny and is neither transparent nor properly accountable. It places extraordinary powers in the hands of two individuals, the case officer and the committee Chair, who are effectively empowered to make decisions behind closed doors. There is no indication in the details provided so far of any review or appeal procedure. The Community Councils of Nairn find this totally unacceptable.



It is a cardinal principle of all planning legislation that the rules, the standards, the criteria and the procedures are consistent across the country. If Councils are now permitted to adopt substantially different arrangements to deal with current applications, this too is “undemocratic and unacceptable”, as Councillor Baxter has observed. 

The area he represents, Lochaber, is – like Nairn – a tourist destination. Planning and development proposals are thus often particularly sensitive. We have recently lodged representations about two very contentious planning applications. In normal circumstances we would have expected both to be considered by SPAC and subjected to full public scrutiny and debate. We have pressed for them to be deferred. For such highly contentious applications to be assessed only by HC planning officials and decided by a single Councillor with no connections to the town of Nairn would be absolutely intolerable. 
We have since learned that at least one of our own local Councillors, Peter Saggers, also has serious misgivings about the new procedural arrangements and the implications for major planning applications affecting Nairn which are currently on the table, and that he intends to raise the matter with the Leader of the Council.

The notification circulated on 23 April states that the new Scheme has been agreed by the Council and approved by the Scottish Government. It does not however indicate how – in the absence of public meetings and records – the Council made the decision on such a significant reassignment of its powers. Both national legislation and the Highland Council’s own existing Scheme of Delegation (section2) make clear that by law, Councillors have to decide (which implies a formal vote) on any alteration in the delegation of their own powers. The fact that councillors currently serving on planning committees have expressed dismay, including even the Vice-Chair of SPAC Cllr Carolyn Caddick, raises questions about the apparently arbitrary way in which the changes have been introduced. 

It is also difficult to see how the Highland Council arrangements can be regarded as compatible with the terms of the Chief Planner’s letter of 3 April. There is no proposal for any “…. online alternative [to public consultation events], so that local people can still be engaged and have an opportunity to have an influence on proposals that affect them.”

The Chief Planner’s letter of 3 April also noted that “There are options available to enable decisions to continue to be made on planning matters. Local authorities already have the power to hold meetings virtually.” Indeed, the Highland Council has already and for some time convened and managed online or remote-linked videoconference meetings to enable participation in meetings by members around the region. 

That being so, the claim reportedly made by a Highland Council spokesperson that there was “insufficient support to ensure a stable enough IT platform for the numbers who could be participating” is simply not credible. Highland Councillor Emma Roddick has commented that she is “…. sick of hearing that it's impractical or impossible to hold meetings during COVID”. As one of our own Community Councillors wrote in an email, “The excuse of not being able to use IT for virtual meetings is unacceptable as it’s actually very simple to set up with a vast array of platforms available”.


It is noteworthy that both Moray and Aberdeenshire have thought laterally and found alternative options which are as democratic and as fair as they can set up during the pandemic. These local authorities – and indeed organisations all over thecountry – are moving to, and able to manage, a transition to online meetings which enables planning committees (and other such groupings) to convene, discuss and make decisions on current matters. 

There seems no reason why Highland cannot do likewise. There is no plausible justification for giving selected individuals the power to deliberate and make decisions on planning matters without public scrutiny or debate. Highland Council has IT staff who should be more than able to set up some form of teleconferencing if it really is not possible for the committee to meet in one of the larger chambers.

Engagement and accountability are cornerstones of the planning process. It would be unfortunate if the Highland Council were to be seen to be using the opportunity of the Covid crisis to bring in measures which might be described as introducing greater "social distancing" between local citizens, elected Councillors, and planning decisions.

As the two Community Councils representing the people of Nairn, we recognise that the present situation is difficult. We wish to see arrangements in place which provide for proper appraisal of planning proposals and which enable a process of publicly accountable, open and representative discussions and decision-making. We do not believe the procedure adopted by Highland Council meets this objective. We believe there are alternative, and better options for dealing with the present exceptional circumstances. We therefore urge the Council to reconsider their approach.

Yours sincerely, ( Issued and signed jointly)

Sheena Baker
Chair Nairn West & Suburban Community Council 
Tommy Hogg
Chair Nairn River Community Council

CC: Donna Manson
Kate Forbes MSP
Fergus Ewing MSP
Kate Lackie
Margaret Davidson
Scott Dalgarno
William Munro
Laurie Fraser
Tom Heggie
Liz MacDonald
Peter Saggers
Andrew Baxter 
Andrew Jarvie 
Carolyn Caddick.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

"Fury as Highland Council planning decisions go behind closed doors"

“This proposal to allow one councillor to be judge, jury and executioner is quite horrifying.”

We feel that the many serious students of controversial planning matters in Nairn may also be horrified by this Press and Journal report. Just follow the link in the embedded tweet below for more details: 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Highland Violence Against Women Partnership want to ensure people get help they need during COVID19 outbreak

An Highland Council press release:

Highland Violence Against Women Partnership (HVAWP) wants to ensure that anyone who is a victim of domestic abuse or gender-based violence gets the help they need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The partnership is fully behind the Scottish Government’s recently relaunched campaign against domestic abuse and its message that even during these unprecedented times that support services are there for those who need it.

Tackling domestic abuse and gender-based violence remains a priority for each and every member of the HVAW partnership, which includes Highland Council, Police Scotland, NHS Highland and local Women’s Aid organisations and RASASH (Rape and Sexual Abuse Service Highland).

The partner agencies continue to monitor the impact the current lockdown measures may be having on families. Even in these difficult times the partnership is committed to continuing to offer their services to safeguard the welfare of women and children.

New guidance has also been announced for social landlords around domestic abuse and Coronavirus which has been developed by the Chartered Institute of Housing, Scottish Women’s Aid and engagement from COSLA.

The report highlights what social landlords can do to support women and children experiencing domestic abuse.
Chair of the Highland Violence Against Women Partnership, Jacquelyn Jennett, said: “The lockdown dictates that we must all stay at home where possible, but for many women and children in the Highlands home is not a safe place to be”.

“This is a particularly difficult time for women and children suffering from domestic violence as they will have reduced contact with supportive friends, families, communities and services”.

“Experts have warned that pandemics have been linked to increased violence against women and children. When mobility is limited and social distancing measures are in place, economic vulnerability increases, legal and social services are scaled back and challenges in escaping abusive partners can be exacerbated.”

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Baird of Police Scotland, Highland and Islands Division added "To all those who are living through lockdown in abusive relationships our message is clear. Please do not be put off reporting domestic violence including coercive and controlling behaviour during the current Coronavirus outbreak. Police across Highland and Islands are ready and able to respond to ensure your safety"

While current measures exist Highland Women’s Aid Groups are continuing to provide outreach services and refuge accommodation to women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. They provide specialised safety planning, support planning, advocacy, emotional and practical support tailored to individual needs.

Their teams support clients by phone, text, email and social media, and continue to accept new referrals from women, children, young people and partner agencies.

Inverness Women’s Aid
Telephone: 01463 220719
Email: info@invernesswa.co.uk
Facebook page (Inverness Women’s Aid)
Website www.invernesswa.co.uk


Ross-Shire, Skye & Lochalsh Women’s Aid
Telephone: 01349 863568
Email: info@rosswa.co.uk
Facebook page (Ross-shire Skye & Lochalsh Women’s Aid)
Website: www.rosswa.co.uk

Lochaber Women’s Aid
Telephone: 01397 705734
Email: lwa@lochaberwomensaid.org
Facebook page (Lochaber Women’s Aid)
Website: www.lochaberwomensaid.org


Caithness & Sutherland Women’s Aid
Telephone: 0345 408 0151
Email: info@caswa.org.uk
Facebook page (caswa)
Website: www.caswa.org.uk

Additional advice and information is also available from Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234; www.womensaid.scot/contact/#helpline.

Specialist advice about legal issues and rights is available from the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre on 08088 010 789; www.scottishwomensrightscentre.org.uk


RASASH (Rape and Sexual Abuse Service Highland) continue to offer support to survivors of rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse whether recent or historic to anyone aged 13+ and RASASH will continue to take new self-referrals via the support line for when its ongoing support sessions resume.

RASASH advocacy staff will continue to provide information about the criminal justice system and will move to working in a focused way on individual tasks with people in order to accommodate the increase in need they foresee for medical advocacy. RASASH will also be increasing its social media presence to provide information on coping in a crisis and to share messages of connection in a time where many are isolated.

Support Services 9.30 – 12.30 and 1.30 – 4.30 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and Wednesday`s 9.30am till 12.30pm
Telephone on: 03330 066 909 and Email: support@rasash.org.uk.
New text support service: 07451 288 080

You can also contact Police Scotland on 101 for non-emergencies and 999 for emergency situations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Last night's Nairn River Community Council meeting

Eight NRCC members online last night and four of the West and Suburban members observing too. No Highland Councillors found their way online despite the invitation.

The first online decision was to follow with the minutes being approved, they will soon be available on the NRCC web pages here. The CC have £7357.19 in the bank give or take a few small bills to be paid.

NRCC gave £125 to the Nairn Task Force for the creation of ID badges, Nairn BID paid 50% of the Task Force bill with NRCC and the Association of Nairn Businesses paying another 25% each.

It was mentioned that the NRCC had been contacted by Highland Council with a view to them using their bank account to facilitate grant monies getting to local Covid-19 action groups as in many cases these groups in the Highlands are not constituted and do not possess bank accounts. Anyone that has ever tried to open a bank account for a group or organisation recently will know how arduous a process that can be even in normal times so when it comes to getting hold of available cash for the community that the authorities are making available there is a problem. NRCC members expressed a desire to hear more about how the mechanics of such a facility would work from Highland Council.

The community councillors decided to ask Highland Council to suspend all controversial planning applications in the process now until a time where something resembling our former normality returns and the merits and pitfalls of each application can be considered correctly by the community. In the meantime they voted to put in an objection to the “FIT” houses on the Cawdor Road site near the hospital. Anyone who wishes to know more about that application and why it is controversial may wish to have a look at the front page of the Leopold Street Thunderer the next time they are in any shop still open that is selling the local weekly paper.

There was quite a bit of discussion on how best to use the NRCC website and social media facilities during the crisis and it looks like information will appear very soon on the web page but there will be more discussion about what happens to the Facebook page.

We didn't stay until the end of the meeting as sound quality went a bit on the device the Gurn was using but the meeting had completed most of its businesses. More soon here.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Action needed to protect rural communities over Easter says Green MSP

 From a Scottish Green Party Press Release:

The Scottish Government must put plans in place to protect rural communities from a potential influx of tourists over the Easter weekend, according to Scottish Greens Rural and Island Communities Spokesperson John Finnie MSP.
The Highlands and Islands MSP highlighted concerns that the limited health services in rural areas could be put at risk if a considerable number of people decide not to adhere to guidance and emergency regulations.
John Finnie MSP said:
“The overwhelming majority of people must be commended for following official guidance, adhering to regulations, and staying at home. We do know however that some irresponsible individuals have continued to travel to second homes and that unbelievably properties are still being advertised on sites like Airbnb. The police have also raised concerns around a considerable number of large gatherings and house parties still taking place.
“The Highlands and Islands and other rural places thrive on tourism in ordinary times, but the current situation is far from ordinary and people must realise that these rural areas are living, breathing communities.
“There is considerable concern in rural communities that people may flock there over the Easter weekend. By travelling to these areas people put pressure on the already limited health infrastructure, risk leaving nothing in shops for local people, and potentially spread the virus too.
“The Scottish Government must explore every option to ensure that rural communities are protected at this time of crisis.
“Restricting ferry services to essential journeys has brought much needed relief for island communities and I’d urge Ministers to consider what equivalent measures may be required on the mainland to protect those communities.
“All measures, up to and including closing the snow gates, must be considered to protect communities during this unprecedented emergency period.”

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Last night's online Nairn River Community Council meeting

This observer attended the online River Community Council meeting last night. The meeting was not an official one in the end and although the number of Community Councillors present enabled the session to be quorate they decided to take points raised to another online meeting next Tuesday when other Councillors who were not able to get online last night will be present.

One issue raised is how these online meetings can fill the criteria of Community Council to hold their meetings in public. There are ways of doing that (a challenging learning curve there perhaps) but one wonders if the rules designated by the Highland Council for the conduct of Community Councils cater for online working in a pandemic situation and whether those rules should be allowed to be relaxed a little during the current situation.

Anyone tuning in last night would have seen members entering a steep learning curve as they figured out how best to use their digital devices to best utilise the Webex meeting service. Similar situations will be going on all over Nairn as various clubs and organisations get together to discuss business, conduct community resilience operations, or simply catch up with friends they are unable to visit – it isn't always easy, there always seems to be one or two individuals that have trouble accessing whatever online meeting service is used and sound problems come and go too.

Those that were present discussed the FIT homes planning application off the Cawdor Road by the hospital. There has been another submission from the Environmental Health Department which includes the following:

“Even with the inclusion of the 5m acoustic barrier it should be noted that noise from the sawmill will still be audible on the development site. In particularly noise with acoustic features e.g. bangs, clattering, reversing alarms etc will still be audible. Furthermore, several of the main noise sources at the sawmill do not appear to emanate from immediately behind the proposed acoustic barrier. Any noise sources emanating from a S/SW direction to the site would not be mitigated by the proposed acoustic barrier to the same extent as those positioned directly behind it. “

The fear is then that the new residents will then immediately start complaining about noise levels which will impact on the nearby sawmill. Gordons have themselves submitted further details via an agent. You can read the latest on this planning file here on the Highland Council e-planning pages here.

Also discussed was the equally controversial King Street application which (now) includes demolition of the existing buildings. Just how the Highland Council will determine this application in the current situation was discussed and there was a feeling that this application should now be shelved until something approaching normality returns and the economic impact on the High Street can be considered alongside the application. This observer would contend too that it is hard for people to focus on the application and come to their own conclusion with so much of normal life turned upside down now.

There were contributions from West and Suburban Councillors too and more to come next week. NRCC are to explore ways of at least allowing the public to observe although interaction may present further challenges.

Looking forward to how our world emerges from Covid-19 there are things such as the planning applications and the parking charges issue that are still in the Highland Council system – a system that is under strain itself during this emergency but with elements of planning etc that are still functioning it is best for our elected Community Councillors to keep them under a degree of scrutiny.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Nairn River Community Council to hold online meeting Tuesday 7th of April

NRCC are to hold a meeting on Tuesday evening (7th April) online. The Community Councillors are hoping to include the public in future meetings but the first meeting is to see how things go with the online meeting platform they have chosen. 

Local press have been invited however, so if the Gurn manages to access the meeting we will do our best to report on the proceedings and no doubt the Leopold Street Thunderer will show an interest in this development.

Here is the NRCC Agenda:

NAIRN RIVER COMMUNITY COUNCIL
Comhairle Coimhearsnachd Abhainn Narann
ONLINE   MEETING
(members and Highland Councillors with invitees from other Nairnshire CCs, Highland Council  and Nairn Task Force )
TO BE HELD ON
Tuesday  7th April  2020
Via CISCO WEBEX meetings

AGENDA

1  7.30 - 7.35 Welcome and Apologies

2 7.35 -7.40  Minutes of 10/03/2020 , and matters arising
 ( for approval at next public meeting)

3 7.40 - 7.45 Treasurer’s Report
NRCC grant payment received end March 2020
Donation to Nairn Task Force £125 towards ID badges

4. Covid 19 Lockdown     Nairn community response
Nairn Task Force/local voluntary sector
Highland Council helpline/ Nairn Community Hub.
NRCC priorities for action

5. NRCC communication
 sharing member contact details with public
use of online platforms for meetings and decisions ( Webex, Google votes)
Policy on use of website blog, social media policy and key messages

6 Highland Council Planning and Public Consultations
THC deferral of  parking charges consultation
Situation re Planning Applications . Request for deferral of decisions
King Street CAB/flats development and proposed demolition

7 Other NRCC Activity during lockdown
subgroups update  - governance,  communications
Joint activity/liaison with other CCs and other community bodies
Engaging with public/community using online platforms

8 Long term - What happens next ?
 Plan for a post lockdown Nairnshire community network event /Ward Forum
How can we use learning from this experience to work together to develop
1A 'resilience plan' for Nairn
2 A new Locality Plan to help Nairn communities recover and thrive post Covid

9 Next  Meeting.   
Tues 12th May 2020  online (or Community Centre conference room)
Tues 9th June 2020   AGM to be confirmed (online or CC conference room)







Dolphin Chipper to reopen but on restricted hours and days and Telephone orders preferred.


Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Scottish Government National Volunteering Plan for Coronavirus

 From a recent press release:
 
Campaign launched for those able to give support.

A new ‘Scotland Cares’ campaign has been launched to encourage people to volunteer during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

While the most important ask for the public remains to stay at home and follow the essential public health guidance, people who are healthy and not at risk can volunteer to provide practical or emotional help to those most in need.

Those wanting to volunteer to support their communities have three options which are signposted from the Ready Scotland website:

• returning NHS workers will be directed to existing voluntary arrangements in NHS Scotland

• people wishing to offer their support to our public services, including the NHS and local authorities, will be directed to a site co-ordinated by the British Red Cross

• those looking for opportunities with other charities or community groups in their area will be directed to Volunteer Scotland for information

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“We know there are a huge number of people who are already volunteering and many more with a desire to help their communities, public services and voluntary organisations. And for that we are incredibly grateful.

“This site means that those who are able to can contribute in a way which makes a real difference. It helps people to help each other, as we all get through this together.”

Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley-Anne Somerville said:

“The Scottish Government is working closely with local government and a range of partners to co-ordinate the volunteering effort across Scotland.

“By providing this national portal we will be able to connect people to where their contribution is most needed in their local community, ensuring everyone can play their part in helping Scotland come through this pandemic.

“For some, that may involve roles responding to specific needs in health and social care. For others, it may be that we draw on their skills, enthusiasm and energy in the weeks and months to come.

“It is important to remember that the most helpful thing many of us can continue to do to help the NHS is to stay at home and follow all COVID-19 guidance.”

Background

Volunteers who want to support their communities should visit www.ReadyScotland.org to find out how they can help.

The website is being constantly updated and provides advice on volunteering safely and the organisations to register an interest with such as Volunteer Scotland and the Red Cross.

Businesses who can offer support should email covid19response@gov.scot