Given the previous evidence from River CC of how Zoom meetings can go off the rails into chaos and rancour this was a remarkably well organised event (divided into two because of the Zoom basic package limit of forty minutes). Brevity, polite behaviour and concise language were the order of the evening. Testament perhaps to how much of our lives are moving into the online sphere now. In times to come when we get a bit clear of Covid then surely a lot of these types of meeting will continue in the Zoom fashion and save people venturing out on cold winter nights - saving organisations cash too when it comes to hiring venues.
(Here at the Gurn we are delighted with the Zoom meetings we have participated in with various groups. After meeting socialising is possible on Zoom too with a cuppa and biscuits or something stronger if you wish. But we digress - back to NWSCC matters.)
A virtual observer might have found the discussion strangely unsatisfying and lacking in substance - it felt very unusual to this observer A case of watch dogs that have suddenly stopped barking for some reason?
As for the AGM the formal proceedings and election of office bearers was undisputed, perhaps this suggests a lot of careful prior consultation and planning. In these difficult times there is something perhaps to be said for continuity and well done if there were consultations beforehand too, it saved time on the evening – after all who would want to be a community councillor these days – all your debates and decision making can tempt the wrath of social media and you can be pilloried on occasion whether you deserve it or not. The tendency and ability of us all to hit the Facebook front page with our thoughts must surely deter some from stepping forward to allow themselves for selection to these roles? So well done all those who continue to do their best and at the same time but themselves up for increasing levels of scrutiny.
There was nevertheless something odd about the discussion. The town has been going through turbulent times. Covid has had a major impact on the local economy. Businesses have been struggling, visitors staying away, and the next six to twelve months look bleak. Alongside that, there has been controversy and dissension over plans for the future of the town centre, with plans for a new housing block and offices pushed through in face of strong objections from across the community - including the CCs. Anxiety is growing over the way in which some feel that Common Good assets might be exploited by Highland Council. Here at the Gurn we do feel there should be more frank discussion on the way forward for the Common Good and associated subjects. The Common Good really does need to come home in the full sense.
But from last night's discussion there was little sense that that the rescue and regeneration of the town is a top priority. We had a brief reminder - given the evidence of last week's spate - of the importance of action on flood prevention, where progress seems to be remarkably slow. There was reference to the hoped-for improvements in local 'active travel' routes and signage for which Highland Council has a special allocation of funds because of the Covid social-distancing requirements. In passing, the possibility of parking charges and the vexed issue of motorhome facilities were mentioned without debate.
For debate on parking charges and argument about the flats and CAB office to be built in King Street it is perhaps worth turning to the editorial colums of the Nairnshire Telegraph this week. The Nairnshire concludes: “Will there be a need for all that parking in a future in which Nairn High Street may not be functioning as a retail centre? Should we wait out the current recession before making any plans at all?”
Maybe that is where we all are just now, individuals, councils and businesses, waiting for the Covid dust to settle to pick up the pieces see what we can resume of the old way of life? No doubt Highland Council and the Scottish Government have recovery strategies, how they will fit into what Nairn will have to face seems to be unclear at the moment.
Perhaps inevitably, there was discussion of how best to adapt to the new normal of virtual meetings, managing the technology, and developing an online presence and website, where NW&SCC has a long way to go. For some considerable time now they have been debating a potential web presence, perhaps it will happen this time round.
Otherwise, we were back to parochial concerns. One was about speeding traffic in the residential streets of the West End: this seems to have taken over from seagulls and dog-poo as a neighbourhood watch issue. Councillor Heggie seemed to think this was a matter for CCs to deal with, we think he was indicating here at a consultation level – or maybe Highland Council could sponsor a speed gun for local residents to use or some other out of the box initiative to counter a growing problem? He was reminded that road safety and traffic management are statutory responsibilities of the local Council.
The prospect of a new Nairn Academy was also raised. Not just the priority and timing, but concern that basing the new school on a forecast of 780 pupils would provide inadequate capacity if the many thousands more houses indicated in development plans were to be built. It was also suggested that a new school might be better relocated nearer to such new housing. Tom Heggie said there had been meetings with officials... there would be more meetings ..... there would be public consultation .... alternatives would be considered ..... before plans were drawn up. As for location, Cllr Heggie said that building on the playing fields would involve "nil cost" for the site, and anyway, people were "used to the current school location". One thinks here to the established obligations on developers - so spectacularly squandered at Lochloy - whereby a developer contribution takes the form of the allocation of a site for a school or other community facilities. Any new development can pay a huge chunk to new school costs?
To round off the evening, Tom was asked for an update on Highland Council's current priorities and activity, the response was that "there were a number of ongoing matters being resolved elsewhere". Here at the Gurn we wonder what those ongoing matters are and whether any of them will explode into prominence in the way so many issues have done in Nairn in the past. Or maybe the spirit of polite efficient Zoom meetings will trickle down to all levels of civic debate in our immediate and uncertain future and all will suddenly become uncontentious.