Thursday, December 31, 2020

Something to help get the year end reflections started "Fare Well - Part 1"

Indeed it is a strange one this time round. One of our regular readers draws our attention to:

"Fare Well - Part 1
29 December -

Filmed in the stunning Scottish Highlands, tonight we host the premiere of the first instalment of our 2020 online celebrations.

Fare Well, a visually captivating and emotive experience, will see 150 individual drones take to the skies to deliver the UK's largest swarm drone show.

Set to the words of award-winning poet and Scots Makar, Jackie Kay. Fare Well Part One takes inspiration from what we've been able to do and not do during 2020. Jackie writes about the way that the air carries airs, music, the virus, chants and hymns. Despite the trauma of the months gone by, we can and must still hope. Hope for the future, hope for a new year and hope for each other. Part One of Fare Well looks at the year gone by – the funerals and weddings cancelled, the griefs and despairs which have been collective, with a feeling that the world has become a village."
 
 
And all the best Gurnshire, wherever you are this evening, wishing you all the best for 2021 although it seems to be guaranteeing a bitter-sweet start. Let's look out for each other, stay safe and get through the last bit of all this crap. 

Soraidh slan le 2020, farewell 2020, there were good moments but overall you were a bastard. 

More from the Gurn in 2021 folks, all the best.

Home-made anti-Tier4 protest banner appears at the King Street roundabout but message looks a bit mixed?

 

The message seems to be a little lost however with the "Not" somewhat obscured. Passing motorists could easily think the message was "Tier 4 Justified".

For what it is worth, here at the Gurn, we think the Tier 4 restrictions are justified and could go further perhaps. Hopefully we will escape the worst of Covid and especially its new variant that is doing so much damage elsewhere - but only if we all act sensibly. 

There are enough testimonies out there from medical professionals telling us how bad things are - let's stay safe in Nairn! We've come this far, let's not get complacent.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

New Top up Tap on the way for Nairn in 2021

Nairn is set to become host to one of a growing network of Scottish Water Top up Tap’s in 2021.

Planning consent has recently been approved for the publicly-owned water company to install a new tap near the East Beach Car Park, alongside the River Nairn.

The modern drinking water refill stations have been appearing across the country since 2018 as part of Scottish Water’s Your Water Your Life campaign. The taps aim to encourage people to carry a refillable bottle and to use Scotland’s world class drinking water to stay hydrated while they are on the go.

Scottish Water’s Corporate Affairs Manager Gavin Steel said: “We have been delighted by the positive response to Top up Taps from communities the length and breadth of Scotland.


“During the pilot phase when we installed the first 10 taps, people from Nairn were among the first to ask how the town could get involved. Carrying a refillable water bottle and topping up from the tap is great for your health, good for your pocket and the best option for the environment too.

“We’re really pleased to have been able to find a site which will serve both residents and visitors while they are enjoying the town’s beautiful outdoor spaces. We hope to be able to install the new tap before the Spring and that it will be well used in 2021 and beyond.”

Every refill tap is fitted with a monitor which records how much the tap is used, with total usage at the existing taps recently passing the milestone of 100,000 litres – helping to save the equivalent of 300,000 single use plastic bottles.


Local Councillor Liz MacDonald was one of the first to raise interest in bringing a Top up Tap to Nairn.


Councillor MacDonald said: “It’s very welcome that Nairn will soon have a modern refill point to make drinking water freely available to people while they are using our outdoor spaces.


“Environmental issues have always been close to Nairn’s heart. The new tap is one of many ways that we can all play our part in living more sustainably. High quality drinking water is a precious resource which we should value, while also reducing our reliance on single use plastic bottles which impact upon our environment both locally and globally.”

Nairnshire Telegraph no more - at least the print edition anyway?

The editorial in this week's edition of the Nairnshire Telegraph is headed "Truly the end of an era"

Iain Bain states:

"It is with immense regret that I have to announce that publication of the Nairnshire Telegraph in its present series will cease with this issue. It has not been an easy decision since the combined series of Telegraph and Mirror has existed for nearly 180 years and my own family's association goes back more than 150. "

"The context is the pandemic, unsurprisingly, but the passage of years is largely the reason behind the decision."

More in the final edition of the Nairnshire Telegraph, available at a newsagents near you.

Iain does go on to say at the end of the editorial that "we are contemplating other publishing projects under the Nairnshire Telegraph name. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for future developments. 

Here at the Gurn we wish all at the Nairnshire the best for the future both in their personal lives and with whatever comes next in a publishing context.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas morning down at the harbour

 It's all looking good folks. Have a great one Gurnshire and a cracking New Year when it comes. Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath Ăąr nuair a thig i!


 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

"From Boxing Day (26 Dec), the Highland Council area will be in a Level 4 Protection Area when ALL holiday accommodation requires to be closed to tourists."

 From a Highland Council press release: 

From Boxing Day (26 Dec), the Highland Council area will be in a Level 4 Protection Area when ALL holiday accommodation requires to be closed to tourists.

Hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and self-catering can remain open for essential customers only.

When providing accommodation to essential customers, this should only be open for when they require accommodation as part of that role.

Covid 19 guidance is available that helps clarify who qualifies as an essential customer  – See “Accommodation” section within Coronavirus (Covid-19): local protection levels (external link).


Should you require any further information or advice on the latest guidance please contact our Environmental Health team on envhealth@highland.gov.uk 

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Nairn Common Good Chronicles: Part 1 - Sandown - who proposed the sell off and why?

The fate of Nairn’s most valuable asset, the Sandown Common Good land, is up for debate again, as the Gurn has recently reported in a series of three articles which details questions asked of Cllr Tom Heggie at the last online Nairn West and Suburban Community Council meeting on Monday the 30th of November. You can find those articles here, here and here.

Discussion at the last NW&SCC meeting was prompted by the Highland Council announcement  of a public consultation on the proposal to sell off the Sandown land.  At the meeting Cllr Heggie was asked about the timing of the proposal, and why it was being pursued in the middle of a pandemic and over the Christmas period.   He replied that the idea should not have been a surprise, that it had “been on the table for years”, that there was “no immediate plan”, and “no pressure to sell”.

It is certainly true that the sale of Sandown was a headline issue between 2006 and 2010, when an abortive previous attempt to sell the land failed following a government planning Appeal.


So it seemed right to get the Gurn fact-checking department to investigate whether and how the idea of selling off Sandown resurfaced.  As there is no longer a local Ward Forum, there has been very little public discussion of the future of the Sandown Land.  Back in September 2018 a story  emerged that a plan to build some 65 houses on part of the Sandown Land had been prepared by the Council-backed Highland Housing Alliance.  This was subsequently dismissed by  Cllr Heggie as “a mistake by a planning official”.  There has been no whisper of selling any Common Good assets in the reports submitted to the quarterly meetings of the Nairnshire Committee in recent years.  

Our intrepid investigators have however discovered the story behind the latest initiative to put the Sandown Lands up for sale.  The subject surfaced in a Ward Business Meeting (a closed working meeting of local Councillors and officials) on 8 November 2019.  At that meeting officials were instructed “to advise that 2021 would be the last year the tenant could have the [agricultural] let”.

The Action Note of that meeting – copy now available online - also records that, although the Common Good Asset Register had yet to be finalised and published...

“Members raised the matter of selling Sandown Lands and whether to proceed.  Two options were discussed: -
1. Market the lands and find out the value of them.
2. Market the lands and specify what housing should be made available.
Members asked for a ballpark figure to be provided for marketing costs and whether this figure would change depending on the options above.”

Council officials evidently swung into action.  By the next Ward Business Meeting on 12 December 2019 – see the Action Note document - matters had moved forward significantly. It is a Highland Council official – not the Common Good Officer, but the Head of Development & Regeneration – who recommends early action to sell the land.  As the Action Note records, Mr Maguire

“….recommends appointing an independent marketing agent and put the site on the market to sell. This will need to be instructed by Members. Time is critical now, there have been several enquiries from developers about the land and now is the right time to market. Actively marketing the site shows that something is being done with the site with regards to the IMFLDP.” 

Local Councillors were “content with discussions and the proposed way forward”.  The Action Note also says….

“Independent marketing agent to be obtained for proceeding to a sale. This then needs approval by members (Nairn Common Good).  This would require following the CEA process; offers, then planning etc.”

These Ward Business meeting discussions took place a year ago.  They were never publicly reported.  So fast forward to the statements made by Councillor Heggie at the recent NW&SCC meeting that “there is no developer on the horizon”, and “there is no imperative for a sale”.

This observer finds it interesting that the pressure to market Sandown for sale appears to have come as much from Highland Council officials as from our own Councillors.  It is also noteworthy that none of these discussions mention any action other than sale to a developer, and that the intention is simply to deliver housing.   There is no debate about alternative possibilities for use or management of the land;  no consideration of phased or partial sale;  no examination of the idea of long leases so as to generate an income stream;  and no attempt to identify possible other uses which might benefit the local community.

As a side note:  Sandown is not the only Common Good asset whose fate is in question.  The 12 December 2019 Ward Business Meeting record also reveals (item 2.7) that in response to an unspecified request to rent Viewfield Stables, local Councillors are minded to “market it for use”.

Comments here on the Gurn and elsewhere have indicated that there is a strong local feeling that decisions on how to use, manage and dispose of Nairn’s Common Good should not be made in closed Ward Business Meetings, nor by a group of 72 Councillors most of whom have little connection with Nairn, but should be made following open public discussion by a properly inclusive and representative local committee.  The NW&SCC Participation Request is a first attempt to ensure wider and more inclusive community engagement in the discussion and decisions.

As Gurn readers already know, the process required by the Community Empowerment Act is now under way with a deadline of  12 February 2021.     Local residents of Gurnshire thus only have a few short weeks in which to comment on whether the Sandown land should be sold at all, to say whether now is the right time to do so, and to put forward ideas for possible alternative ways forward.  

Friday, December 18, 2020

Good news for Nairn Academy from Fergus Ewing MSP

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sandown sale controversy - outcome improvement request goes in and it is a real Community Council Christmas Cracker

Below are extracts from a Highland Council Participation request form submitted by Nairn West and Suburban Council:

4 The outcome that your community participation body want to improve (Note 3)

(Proposed disposal of) Nairn Common Good Fund land at Sandown Nairn

5 Please tell us the reasons why the community participation body should participate in an outcome improvement process: (Note 4)

The Trustees of the Nairn Common Good Fund are all the members of Highland Council. Statute has placed them in an egregious conflict of interest situation which they clearly cannot reconcile. The evidence, outlined in section 8 ante, supports the conclusion that they are incapable of discharging their duty as trustees for the exclusive benefit of the fund as distinct from the benefit of the wider electorate of the HC.

6 Please note the knowledge, expertise and experience the community participation body has in relation to the outcome: (Note 5)

One of the elected NW&S Community Council members is a Chartered Accountant and experienced Insolvency Practitioner with extensive practical knowledge of Trust Law, Fiduciary Duty and the practicalities of disposal of assets in a statutory Trustee capacity.

We also have members with a broad range of other qualifications and technical experience who have proven abilities to research, reveal and articulate evidence, which the evidence of previous transactions supports, may be at variance with that provided by the officials on whom the Trustees rely.

7 How will the outcome will be improved because of the involvement of your community participation body: (Note 6

As we have no conflict of interest, we can assist Highland Council Trustees overcome their conflict of interest so that the outcome of the proposed sale of the land/ best use of Nairn Common Good Assets, complies with the law and is for the exclusive benefit of the Common Good Fund.

9 Additional Information (Note 8)

1. There was a previous attempt to sell the Sandown land in the years up to 2013. This revealed a number of serious anomalies. The first is the discovery that the Trustees or their predecessors had allowed an annual grazing lease to become a Protected Agricultural Tenancy. The HC appear to have accepted that this was a consequence of negligence rather than intention. The Statutory to protect Common Good funds had not been applied by the trustees. The HC then set about recovering the Tenancy and a sum of £390k that was paid to the tenant to relinquish the tenancy. The £390k was originally charged to the Common Good Fund and interest charged. Following intervention by the Audit Commission the interest that had been illegally applied was cancelled.

The Council also resolved in July 2013 to cancel the debt which they had charged on the CGF. It is believed that this was not a function of benevolence on the part of HC but a function of the fact that it was anticipated that when the facts were exposed there would a call for restitution to the CGF on the grounds of negligence. The minutes of the HC meeting held on 27 June 2013 shows that the resolution was carried by 32 for 29 against and 5 abstentions. The evidential value here is that nearly half of the Trustees show their priority is to insulate their constituents from the financial consequences of the alleged negligence to the detriment of the Nairn CGF. It is evidence of the alleged conflict of interest.

  1. There were other costs and expenses associated with the previous attempt to sell the Sandown lands. These total £344k. The minutes of the June 2013 meeting affirmed that these costs should remain as a charge on the CGF and that, for undisclosed reasons, the council should take a proportionate share of the value of the lands based on a valuation of unknown provenance. The minutes show that this land value was subsequently transferred as an asset into the Councils General Fund account.

  2. The evidential value here is that it is accepted that the Sandown lands were part of the Royal Charter of 1589. There is no doubt they fall into the inalienable category of assets and have Statutory protection in sec 75 of the CEA. The Trustees have failed to comply with the Legislation and no Court approval has been sought or given for any such charge on the NCG In addition, we have a concern that Trustees acquiring part of their wards assets offends Common Law. It is prohibited by Statute in other Trustee situations.

  3. It is unclear how the Trustees can defend themselves from the accusation that will undoubtedly be made that the principal reason for the proposed current sale is to facilitate the realisation of the Trustees hoped for investment in the Sandown lands. The Trustees need our assistance to identify and verify, without conflict of interest, the real reason the land is to be sold at this time.

  4. Within the £344k costs is an item of legal expenses to McLure Naismith totalling £61082. This information was revealed following a Freedom of Information Act request. No detail was supplied. Given the costs that would be expected to be incurred in recovering the Agricultural Tenancy noted in para 1. above and the absence of any other identifiable cost that could be the anticipated legal fees we believe that the McLure Naismith costs were incurred in recovering the Tenancy and should be dealt with in accordance with the principle established in para 1. Apart from the possibility of litigation if the Trustees should yield to the conflict of interest and resist applying the principle, the primary evidential value is that the Trustees cannot rely on their officials to fully inform them of the facts.

  5. As a Community Council we are alarmed by the public statements made by certain HC Councillors that represent the wider constituency in which our Community Council is part to promote the notion that because Nairn has a Common Good Fund it should be used to support the funding of the General Fund of the rest of the Highland Council electorate. This manifests itself in the proposed use of other CGF land to create a licence to occupy land, where no HC access exists at present e.g. for the purpose of imposing fund raising parking charges. Whilst raising funds for the HC is the stated objective of parking charges no regard or research has been offered for the damage that will inflict on our community nor the long term sustainability of the CG. It is believed that the role of the elected HC Councillors may be conflicted in their role as CG trustees over their perceived duty to the HC priority of their Fidiciury Duty administration. The concern we wish to consider and possibly expose is that the NCG assets are not been maximised to the exclusive benefit of the NCG and the community of Nairn.

  6. A notice for planning permission was lodged by HC in the previous year to utilise part of the Sandown land for state subsidised housing through a Housing Association. Representations were made to us by constituents that survey works were apparently being undertaken. On being challenged to explain what was happening at a CC meeting a HC Councillor advised that the planning application was raised in error, and was subsequently withdrawn. The evidential value here is that something was clearly being planned which puts us on enquiry that the reason the sale proposal is being pursued at this time. This is not an appropriate use of CG assets without prior consultation and agreement by trustees without bias.

  7. We have not yet recovered from the effects of the 2008 recession and we have not yet experienced the potential effects of the 2020 recession which is undoubtedly lurching towards us. In 7 above it is noted the involvement of a Housing association. It is unclear if the HC has any conflict of interest in promoting a CG land disposal and their role as trustees in this situation. Selling land during a recession where there is an impaired market and a significant investment risk in the utilisation of the proceeds requires reasoned financial modelling. We are alert to the possibility that the Trustees conflict of interest may allow them to promote the sale of CG land at a time of significant market weakness and value impairment to facilitate the purchase by a Housing Association on terms that may not be acceptable when the market improves.

  8. Part of the Sandown site has been appropriated for allotments. These allotments together with a further area for further allotments are to be excluded from the proposed sale. It is understood that the lease is to HC who pay rent and sublease to the allotment holders. The lease was entered into at or about the time of the 1st sale attempt. The challenge as to why the income yield bore no resemblance to the perceived value of the land for housing we were informed that this was to be a temporary lease and the lease contained termination provisions that would allow it to be sold. There is concern that the practicalities of recovering allotments would prevent recovery and that now appears to be the case, hence the possibility that the CG assets are not been utilised to the ‘betterment’ of the Community. It should be noted that the provision of allotments is a Statutory HC function not a CGF function. Appropriation of land for allotments may be a further example of a conflict of interest and as Sandown is inalienable land the failure to apply Sec 75 of the act to a long-term lease puts it into the misappropriation category. As part of the outcome improvement of the sale proposal we will be seeking information as to how the Trustees are going to repair the impairment to the value of the CGF.

  9. 10. Returning to item 5 above. Excluding the McLure Naismith costs there remains some £284k or so that is still a potential charge to the CGF. We are of the opinion that incurring this level of costs in selling 35ha of land of very obvious housing potential is wildly excessive and does not reflect best value, and in commercial setting let alone a Trustee administration, could not be justified. Running charrettes etc to try to dictate to the purchaser what they can do with the land post purchase is not a function of the management of the CGF. Placing feudal burdens on land is no longer enforceable. There is also the fact that this is inalienable land and that the law had protected its ownership by the community since 1589 was being addressed fully and prior to any discussion or costs been incurred by Any party. It is felt that proper process with respect to management of CG assets and the CEA has not been followed. Our participation will improve the outcome to the CGF by ensuring that does not happen again and require that the information presented to the Trustees is verifiably accurate, and that the final outcome of any decisions about CG assets are robust..




Thursday, December 10, 2020

Image from the Auldearn burn on Tuesday - Picture Murray MacRae

The path along the Auldearn Burn beside the field below the cemetery flooded with the volume of water over the weekend and the first part of the week. Thanks to Murray MacRae for image.



Wednesday, December 09, 2020

New planning application for Café Lavender

A new planning application for Café Lavender is now live on the Highland Council e-planning website:

"A design and access statement for the change of use of existing guest house to form cafe reads:

"The proposal seeks change of use of two rooms within an existing guest house to form a cafĂ©. The premises is located on Cawdor Street, Nairn and has operated variously as a hotel (some 20 years ago) and more recently as a guest house. The application replaces an earlier proposal for part use of the premises as a cafĂ© and that has been withdrawn. This revised proposal has reviewed the scope of the development and taken into account the concerns raised by local residents. The main changes proposed are: 

•No hot food takeaway facility proposed 

•Reduced outdoor seating area 

•Restricted menu serving predominantly home made cakes, bread and pastries 

•Hot food is limited to soup, grilled food and a limited range of German produce which requires only reheating.

 The existing use is defined as Class 7 – Hotels and Hostels. This use allows consumption of food on the premises by residents. The proposed use intends to use the existing guest dining facilities as a shared facility. This means that guests will continue to be served breakfast and coffees within the existing dedicated dining and lounge areas but during the daytime between 11am and 6pm, the facilities will also operate as a cafĂ© open to the public."

More information here on the Highland Council e-planning pages

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Heavy overnight rain and River Nairn rises again

 The scene earlier this morning (Tuesday 8th of December).

The river is now in it's official "high" mode according to the data on the Firhall recording page. 

SEPA also posted the following information on their flood warning page:

"A FLOOD WARNING has been issued for Nairn.

Heavy rain overnight has affected the River Nairn catchment. There is a risk of flooding to agricultural land and low lying properties along the River Nairn between Broadley and Fishertown in Nairn. Areas along the Auldearn Burn around River Park and Balmakeith Park are also at risk.

The worst of the rain has passed though some heavy showers are still in the area. River levels are expected to peak during the morning."

Rosebank Lucky Squares - 100 squares up for grabs - cash prizes

Link Below will take you to the facebook page.  

Rosebank Christmas Lucky Squares!
 
There are 100 Squares up for grabs, and they are £10 each - amazing cash prizes! 1st will be £300, second £150 and 3rd £50. 
 
This will leave us with £500 towards much needed school parent council funds.
In order to claim your square(s), please pay the money into the parent council bank account: 
ACCOUNT NUMBER 00191651 SORT CODE 83-25-23
Then, message us through here with your number choice - or if you're happy to have a lucky dip, just say that!
Numbers will be drawn on December 18th. Thank you for your ongoing support!

 

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Selling the Sandown Common Good Land - Cllr Tom Heggie answers Community Council questions. Part 3.

Readers can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

The meeting continued with Brian Stewart asking a third question: “It is a practical one, it follows on from the question about market value and best value where the trustees have a formal obligation. Legislation on developer contributions has recently changed.”

Brian's sound was then breaking up slightly and Sheena asked him to keep closer to his microphone. He restarted: “My point was a purely operational one about the financial implications of a proposed sale. The legislation now requires the owner, in this case the Common Good, to be liable for developer contributions on the land that is disposed of. That could represent a substantial proportion of any sale proceeds. It's going to reduce the proceeds of the sale whenever it happens by a significant amount. So my question was, if you like, a supplementary one - have councillors taken account of this in deciding on the position that the land be sold? But it is a subordinate question which I think is less important than the fundamental one which is about...”


Brian was cut out by Sheena who warned about the length of time left in the Zoom session. She said : “Basicially what Brian is saying is if this land was sold for six or seven million pounds and then the developer came along and built on it and if x number of houses were built and the developer's contribution was one and a half or two million pounds that would have to come out of the Common Good sale proceeds so the net figure would be, we'll say, four or five million as opposed to six or seven million. So that was the question, as regards, or the reason he was saying it – did you want any explanation from that Brian or are happy that that is just placed placed?

He replied: “No I'm fine with that […] I'm content with that.”

Sheena asked Tom if was happy to leave the question there.

Tom replied: “Just leave that one because developer contributions is a very active debate at the moment and in fact in ten days time the Council will, or a group in the Council will be debating that further.”

Sheena said: “That's good to know. Right, we've not got much time left but is everyone happy now those questions have been answered and that people have had a chance to speak?”

Joan Noble then spoke: “We still seem to be hanging onto this idea that it is going to be marketed as a whole and I think we have to emphasise Brian's point. There are a whole lot of different patterns we can do. We don't have to flog this land as whole at a time that the economy is tanking. Basically we have all sorts of patterns of leasing, of selling for plots, volume housebuilding is the least amount we will get for this land – partly because of the developer contributions but also because volume housebuilders do not pay as much as selling plots. We could make a million pounds from ten plots for this land at local prices. Now why are we talking about the only show in town being flogging the entire area for volume housebuilding for six or seven million minus two and a half developer contributions. It's outrageous and the trustees are supposed to get the best consideration that they can in reasonable circumstances and that is not happening. And that has got to go to court and really I do think that at this stage we have to iron out these issues before it goes any further.”

Cllr Tom Heggie

Tom Heggie spoke: “Madam chair, could I come in on that point? There was a couple of years ago an initial thought which went public before it was actually fully formed which included some of what Doctor Noble has just said. It included a bespoke development that met housing need in Nairn. It brought in money from the city deal, the city-region deal from Inverness. It brought in money from the Scottish Government. It had plots included in it. We were at the initial stages of that. It went public, it became a matter of public controversy. It became obvious that we wouldn't be able to achieve it within the time-scale of funding that was available. It would have made significant funding and investment available within Nairn but we were not able to achieve that. So we did try that.

There is nothing, there is absolutely nothing in this proposal that says we have to do anything for the whole project. It will be for the trustees, as and when, and if, indeed there is an if in there as well. And Brian used the word pig in a poke. That was used in e-mails that were exchanged by some councillors who are in this meeting at the moment. At the beginning of my time as a councillor, believing that I would be sold a pig in a poke over another project in Nairn which I found quite insulting at that time. I have not got to the age I am to be sold any pig in a poke. As a responsible trustee and others as responsible trustees who will look carefully at anything, as and when and if, this project develops and make sure it is the best value for the people in Nairn. I have lived long enough in Nairn, not all my life, but long enough in Nairn to feel that I have that responsibility as imperative. I was not elected to do anything less than that. So I do not take it lightly that I am told I will be sold a pig in a poke. Either at the beginning of my time as a Councillor or at this stage either.”

Time on the zoom session was running out and there was just enough time for Jimmy Ferguson to comment: “The point I want to make and I make this to my fellow councillors and to Tom in particular. The question that is being asked is wrong Tom. The question that should be asked is what is the best way for us to be managing our Common Good Funds, in particular, Common Good assets, in particular the Sandown Lands. The answer might be sell for development or lease for development or whatever it is. It's the wrong question that is being asked. We should step back a bit and debate and get agreement within the community, what is the best thing that we should be doing.”

That was the end of the questions for Tom Heggie and almost the end of the meeting.


Saturday, December 05, 2020

Spate on the River Nairn

 


 
The River certainly got a decent top-up in the pervious 24 hours. The SEPA gauge at Firhall tells the story. 

Greens call for Highland Council’s Pension Fund to stop investing in fossil fuels

Highland Greens Lead Candidate for next year’s Scottish Election, Ariane Burgess, has renewed Green calls for Highland Council’s Pension Fund to stop investing in fossil fuels after research revealed that it lost £11,650,109 over the last three years.

The fund, which administers pensions on behalf of Highland Council, is one of ten local government pension funds which new research reveals saw investments in oil companies collapse between April 2017 and November 2020.

Ariane Burgess


Ariane Burgess said:

“Public pension funds invest millions in bankrolling oil companies, the arms industry and big tobacco every year. Not only are these investments unethical, but as this research shows they are actually losing pension funds substantial amounts of money.

“I don’t believe that most people who have chosen a career in public service want to see their pension funds funnelling cash into these companies when it could be invested in socially responsible endeavours like clean energy production, house building and public transport improvements.

“I urge Highland Council’s Pension fund to divest its stake in fossil fuels now and call on Highland Council to bring to bear its influence to make this happen.”

Selling the Sandown Common Good Land - Cllr Tom Heggie answers Community Council questions. Part 2.

Continuing the record of the questions asked of Tom Heggie at the Nairn West and Suburban Zoom meeting last Monday night. Brian Stewart asked the second question:

“Thank you chair and it does connect very much with the discussion or the dialogue that has just happened because I think, of the point about the whole debate right now, as Sheena said, is why now? I welcome the fact that Councillor Heggie has said there is no firm proposal on the table, that there is no developer about to start, that there is nothing immediately in prospect. That actually reinforces the question of why in that case proceed now. As he has rightly said the question of the possible sale of Sandown has been ebbing and flowing for nearly a decade. Moving it forward at this point when we are all facing these kind of dire difficulties in virtual meetings is almost the most difficult time to get a collective collaborative consensus agreed. We could hit something very difficult to manage.

My other point is this, I note what Councllor Heggie says about putting submissions into the consultation and the view expressed this evening can be conveyed to officials. There is a very important point here, the responsibility does not rest with officials, this is a matter where Common Good Trustees are fully bound, as trustees, to take decisions which are in the public interest of the borough they serve. This leads into my second question which is this one: We know this Sandown saga has been running for years. Years ago Highland Council officials provided formal written evidence about the idea of selling off Sandown then – this is 2013. They said, [and I quote]
“....Current market conditions would not attract a fair value for the land, and sale proceeds, if a sale was achieved, would be significantly lower than previously anticipated.....A sale at significantly below previous estimates of market value would not be acting in the interests of the Common Good Fund, and the Council could be deemed to be breaching its legal and feduciary responsibilities.”

The point about that is that timing matters. Market conditions matter. There is now no argument that our local and economy is on its knees. There is no argument that land prices are depressed. It therefore follows that this is not the appropriate time to be trying to sell the land. So I welcome Cllr Heggie's comment that there is no real prospect. Then it does raise the fundamental question, in that case why are you asking the question?

The Sandown Common Good Land



Tom Heggie then stated: “Well the question is usually asked for an answer and if the answer is that it is permissible to sell then it would then be to the trustees to decide when the market was appropriate and at the moment the market is not appropriate, but the lead time is extensive and there are particular issues around at the moment, and you are quite correct, going forward I am not entirely sure whether the market would be up or down.  It would be in the interests of everyone to monitor the market and then if the market did become appropriate then the trustees at that point of time would have permission to seek to market Sandown but at the moment that is not a possibility. So in the future, if the market value does increase, depending on what happens and at the moment nobody knows what will happen, then there is no imperative,  no imperative for anyone to market it but if the permission is there it then allows the trustees to make a judgement in time as to what is appropriate. And I would suspect that is not in our immediate future. That would be a long term plan.”

Ally MadDonald then spoke: “I noticed though that in the paper there were quotes from yourself and Cllr Saggers about that, it would realise x amount of money, there would be a certain amount of money that would then go into the Common Good Fund and all that sort of stuff, but again, it doesn't appear to me that not only have you not taken into account the low value of the land currently but also the fact that the stock market has collapsed or crashed – it's not doing very,very well so any kind of investments of the Common Good Fund are not going to be useful. So that is again another reason for not proceeding with this at this time.”

Tom Heggie intervened: “We are not proceeding with a sale, that is the point, there is no imperative for a sale. What we are doing is clearing the groundworks so, if and when, if and when, it is appropriate then a sale can go ahead reasonably effectively. At the moment it would take, well this process would probably take at least 12 months I would imagine before we are at a point before there is any real clarification of all the issues once we have gone through the consultation, once we have gone to court, all the rest of it. So at the moment there is no immediate sale being thought about.”

Ally returned to the discussion: “So can I ask why that wasn't made clearer in the newspaper article?”

Tom responded: “Well in the article people ask questions, we've had all kinds of things said in newspaper articles in the last few months, some of which have not been based on facts and some of which have been interpreted and so on. The imperative is not for a sale at the moment, all we are doing is clarifying if a sale would be possible and there are all kinds of factors in the value of land, particularly for development at the moment. There are various things that are being thought about through Her Majesty's Scottish Government as it is, which would affect the price of development land going forward. So it would be then for a judgement – you are referring to Cllr Saggers, he's more than aware, in fact he is more than aware of all these investment things than I am and guides us very well and asks the correct questions on our behalf. So at the moment we are simply asking for a first step along the road, that is all that we are asking for.”

Ally thanked Tom.

Sheena Baker then spoke: “Well now I'm really confused. Really, really confused because the document that I have been given is headed up “proposal to sell for development Common Good Property”, proposal to sell the Common Good property and then it moves on, further on to say, well lots of things but, all the things I highlighted. It would provide significant funds for fresh investment in the town, for potential development of existing Common Good assets. Well I heard what you said and I also heard what you said about Peter Saggers. All I can say is I hope nothing goes wrong because pour old Peter is going to have this hanging round his head forever and a day.”

Tom Heggie was very quick to respond: “Not at all, not at all, the proposal to sell doesn't mean we are selling tomorrow. It could mean we could be selling in five years time...”

Sheena intervened: “We know that, we know that Tom. We do realise that it is not tommorrow but the principle is that you want agreement to sell and it could be that as soon as that came through you could do it or you could leave it a year or two years. It's a lot more than....”

She was cut out by Tom who said: “There are still significant, there are significant steps to be taken and there has to be judgements made.”

Sheena responded: “Well how about the judgement and I just throw this in because there are people that do believe in this. We have had this land for 420 years and your forefathers (not my forefathers because I am Welsh) but forefathers from Scotland in this area all thought it quite wise to hold onto it as an asset, as the family silver and then  suddenly Highland Council is very short of cash and it seems to be more important for us to consider getting rid of it. Now, all I can say is we are already through Covid and all other things not leaving an awful lot to the children who are coming up and are going to be coming up in the future and we are also now talking about selling off the family silver. I hope...I have not seen or heard anything said to me or in the papers that have been distributed that have persuaded me that this is a good idea.”

Tom continued: “Well, I repeat what I have said, it is up to people to make their views known in an appropriate manner.”

Brian Stewart drew attention to the Chair that he wished to contribute further. He said: “I want to just to pick up the point that Cllr Heggie made here. I quite understand the point that he, he the council, are seeking permission to sell. What I find disturbing or worrying is that, in effect, what he is saying is that we want carte blanche, we want a blank cheque. Part of the point of the Community Empowerment Act is that the Community needs to be consulted on the proposal for change of use or disposal and that requires that there be clarity over exactly what for and why. And the difficulty at the moment that I have is that if the request is “will the community give consent to an unspecified proposal for unspecified development at an  unspecified time, then I think that that is not acceptable. That reinforces our key argument which is that this debate should not happen until we are in a position where we can have free, open and comprehensive discussions on exactly what, how and why. At the moment, there is in effect, Hobson's choice on the table: “Can we sell the land for development? - fullstop. There is no business case set out, there are no alternatives explained or evaluated. There are no options set out. This request and this consultation is for, crudely, a blank cheque and like Sheena I feel that we as a community have a responsibility to our fellow residents and to future residents of this town to not to acquiesce to a pig in a poke. Thank you chair.”

The meeting then heard the third question to Cllr Heggie. (more on that later this weekend if time permits).

 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Selling the Sandown Common Good Land - Cllr Tom Heggie answers Community Council questions. Part 1.

Time was allocated at Monday's NWSCC meeting for questions to local Highland Councillors on the subject of the Sandown Common Good Lands sale. Tom Heggie and Peter Saggers were the only Highland Council members participating in the Zoom meeting but Tom was the only one to reply to questions.

Brian Stewart was asking the questions for NWSCC, Brian began:

“Sandown has I think, as we have all realised, is a hugely significant issue for the town. The plan to sell it off was  announced with just a few weeks for public comment, and over the festive period. We now know that the sell-off proposal has been actively discussed within Ward Business Meetings for over a year.

My first question is why was it that Councillors did not inform Community Councils when they were invited to provide briefing and updates at successive meetings during the past year? This would have given us a far better opportunity and far more time  to consider and reflect on the very significant issues that it raises. I think it is reasonable to ask, given that it has been on the table in those meetings for over more than a year. How is it that we were not alerted to it earlier than a few weeks ago? That's my first question."

Tom Heggie replied: “The issue of Sandown has been on the table, it was on the table over two years ago when we first discussed the possibility of a bespoke

Cllr Tom Heggie
solution to an issue and that was 2018 I believe. We laid that aside and we revisited it. The initial discussion about Sandown took place about 8 years ago as far as I understand.  And all we were doing was simply discussing the rationale and so on that...we are not of an opinion that this was any surprise to anybody. The time period as has been  noted, is 12 weeks which is beyond the 8 weeks which is proposed under the Community Empowerment Act and that was to take account of the period over Christmas and New Year. That period can be extended if people feel there is a need for wider consultation, that is not fixed in stone. Therefore we feel it is appropriate. Consultations over using the Community Empowerment Act have been ongoing throughout Highland over the last year even during the comment. There is no immediate, we are talking as if we are going to be selling Sandown next year, there is no plan for that. This is simply a first step which would enable the whole issue to be considered. So that is where we are at the moment."

Sheena Baker then asked if any NWSCC members wished to comment. Ally MacDonald then said: “I think actually Tom has answered my question which was about the extension, because I did read in the Community Empowerment Act that it is a minimum of 8 weeks. So that that is a minimum, so the 8 weeks consultation process can be significantly extended if it is required, which I think it certainly...”

Tom Heggie intervened: “Well it has already deliberately extended to the 12 weeks as the minimum which you have pointed out and that is as you have highlighted, the minimum. There have been other consultations where a number of issues have been raised. There is a possibility that that can be extended. So that is dependent on the issues that are raised.”

Ally thanked Tom and Sheena asked if the meeting were ready to move on to the next question. Joan Noble wished to comment however. She said: “It's just to say that this consultation against a background of not being able to have any public meetings or proper public discussion is really very concerning. I mean if you were not going to sell it immediately what on earth is the point of consulting during a time when people aren't able to get together and discuss this properly?I cannot see why and I have to say that from the ward business meetings it looks like you were quite keen to sell it very quickly and that a developer is waiting in the wings to buy it. So I think we are getting very mixed messages here and I think it is extremely unfair on the population of Nairn that they can't go to exhibitions, they can't have workshops, they can't really take any active part in this at all. They can put in letters with a few points but how much do they know about it? How much are they able to know about it? We've been given four extremely flimsy bits of paper to sell a six to seven million pound asset with no proper figures, no proper financial outcomes , no options. It's pretty shameful, sorry.

Tom replied: “The first point is there is no definitive offer on the table, there is no developer on the horizon and if you want to call me a liar fair enough, I can state that categorically with full integrity and full honesty. There is absolutely no possibility that there is anyone in line or in any way. This is step one that would allow us the ability, if we wish, and it still has to go to court, it still has to go to full consultation. At the end of the day there is absolutely no immediate one...we are simply saying that at this particular stage there is the possibility that at some stage the market will be appropriate...and at the moment if, if someone were to say that they would wish to purchase that piece of land, it would take again, 18 months, possibly two years to get to the point where we could offer it for sale. This process is not minimal, it takes quite a long time and there is absolutely no person in mind, no developer in mind whatsoever and I will state that on any oath you wish.”

Sheena then said: “Can I just come in then because I am a simple soul, as we all know I have some things explained to me but I normally get the gist of it. I don't understand why there is any need for it to even be discussed at the moment if there is no proposal on the table, no developer looming and we know that the value of the land is absolute sweeties. That's really fundamentally where I am coming from and nothing I have heard has come to explain that to me. I just don't even know why you are bringing it up in a time when we can't have a public meeting. I can't listen to another 50 people in a room and that 50 people can't listen to me or to someone else. So Zoom meetings are OK but you only get half the story. We all know that the best way to hear or speak and have a public consultation is when get the actual body language that comes from people and I think that makes such a huge difference to your understanding of the urgency or whatever it is of the point that the person is getting across. If there is, and I'm accepting what you say Tom, if what you are saying is there's nothing on the table...well I would say...well please, let's take it off the table at the moment now and stop this consultation. Let's work together to try and work out how we go about this best for the future of Nairn with the Common Good. There's no need for people to be fighting about this, we are all adults, we can have varying ideas and compromise ultimately does happen.

It's not just right at this time so basically you've answered all the things I'm wondering by saying it's nothing there going on at the moment. So if there's nothing there going on at the moment let's take it off the table. Let's plan to put it back on the table some time in the future when we can all get into public halls, have discussions and in the meantime get together and hear your opinion, hear the Community Council's opinion and we'll work some way towards it. I do believe, I don't know whether I am right or not, but I do believe this is being driven by housing and I don't understand why in the new Inner Moray Firth Development Plan that is now on the Highland Council website why, only, and I say that, only Sandown Land is the preferred site. We all know that there are other sites around Nairn and, magically, and I'm saying that again, and magically the only preferred site is going to be Sandown on the new Inner Moray Firth Development plan. It just doesn't sound right, it doesn't smell right, I'm just not happy about the whole thing.”

Tom then said: “Quite content for the Community Council to make that point forcefully to the officers concerned and that will be considered along with other points that have been made which are not quite aligned with what you are saying but there is a wide range of views that will be taken aboard and...as I say there are three options. I've made that plain in a short piece I did in the Nairnshire Telegraph : One, it will go ahead as proposed depending on submissions, secondly it may be amended significantly and thirdly it may fall. It all depends on the Community's contribution.”

Sheena then Said: “Well we are coming back Tom and I don't want to keep labouring this point. We're coming back to, and your final point says it all, to the community's contribution. The Community's not in a situation at the moment to properly to consult and to then, from a wide range of knowledge, contribute. I think it is just the wrong time and I really do...I'm not speaking for myself, there are a lot of people out there who say why now, why now? I've just voiced it.”

Tom continued: “And there are a significant number of people who have said why have we waited so long, given the initial consultation on what was it, eight years ago now, with great debate and controversy as well. So at the end of the day I simply say it is up to each group and community councils as significant groups to make their views known.

Sheena thanked Tom and then asked Brian for the second question. More from the NWSCC Zoom meeting if time permits this week.


Thursday, December 03, 2020

Community Council critical of Highland Council decision to use "Developer contribution" cash to fund cafe at the swimming pool - "unfair competition"?

On Monday night, at their regular online meeting, Nairn West and Suburban Community Council discussed the ongoing Common Good consultations for the Links Tearoom and the old store a little further along the links. Their response on the Links tea room is that they are very sympathetic but would like the lease to be carefully drawn up.

As part of an extensive report to the Tearoom consultation (which we hope to cover later if time permits) they are critical of Highland Council funnelling Developer Contribution cash (that is the money developers pay into public funds for every house or other accommodation built) for a cafe which would compete with existing businesses in the town. A section of their response to the consultation reads:

"5.Unfair competition

As noted, NW&SCC strongly supports local businesses (such as the applicant) which are prepared to invest in providing and improving services to residents and visitors.

That being so, NW&SCC regard it as unacceptable that the Council should allocate funds (in the form of Developer Contributions totalling some £72,000) which are intended to deliver infrastructure improvements and similar common facilities linked to urban development – to fund the addition of a cafĂ© and dance studio to their own property (the HighLife Highland pool). This allocation of DC funds has not been subject to any local consultation.

It is not appropriate for DCs collected by the Council to be used to pay for improvements and extensions to its own premises and operations. Moreover, using public money to subsidise the establishment of another new seafront café which directly rivals adjacent private businesses is unreasonable, unjustified, and unfair competition. (Likewise, using DCs to pay for a dance studio when there are suitable excellent facilities already available at the Community & Arts Centre and Sports Club is a similar but separate point, and equally inappropriate).

When the the DCs in question are derived from housing developments at Lochloy/Meadowlea and in the town centre, it is not consistent with the official guidance for the money to be redirected to fund new facilities in an entirely different part of the town. The DCs are needed in, and should be used for, the areas of Lochloy/Meadowlea and the town centre respectively.

The agreement on a long term lease for the Tearoom/Strathnairn Cafe should thus be accompanied by a reassignment of the DCs to fund improvements in those other locations in town."

Nairnshire Committee latest press releases

 The Nairnshire committee is not open to the press and the public due to the pandemic but information comes out with press releases afterwards. The editor of the Nairnshire Telegraph wrote in this week's edition in in a piece entitled "Not democracy":

"In the meantime we have to make do with reports prepared by the council's communications department. Council officials become the only source of reporting on Council affairs."

Readers can find the latest press releases from Highland Council by following the links below. 

Members of The Highland Council’s Nairnshire Committee have agreed to provisionally award £28,052 Town Centre Fund Grant to Nairn BID.

Nairnshire Committee has scrutinised a Housing Performance Report for the 717 Council houses in Nairn and Cawdor covering the months of COVID-19 lockdown and early recovery from the pandemic.

 A report will go out to public consultation in the new year (2021) marking the first stage of reviewing the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Nairnshire Committee meetings "In camera" - "It's not democracy" say the Nairnshire Telegraph

We urge all our readers to get themselves a copy of this week's Leopold Street Thunderer and read the short editorial that decries the ongoing regular Nairnshire committee meetings of our four elected Highland Councillors taking place in private during the pandemic. Here at the Gurn we agree with our friends in Leopold Street - the public should be able to get into these meetings - at least via online broadcasting for now until normality returns .

Related to this subject of private meetings the Gurn understands that Freedom of Information requests to see notes and minutes of previous Ward Business Meetings has brought information into the public domain about how the Council prepared to take forward their plan to sell the Sandown Common Good Land.