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|
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.