Friday, January 15, 2021

Nairn River Community Council Chair's Report for 2020: "internal division and a lack of cooperation within our Community Council which has severely undermined our ability to function properly"

The Gurn has received a copy of the  report that was presented to the online AGM on Wednesday evening 13th of January. Gurnites may have already seen a little information about that meeting in an earlier post this week and some comments too on social media. Not many of you would have been at the meeting though, so here's what the chair's report had to say:

NRCC Chairman’s Report Summary of 2020 for AGM January 13th 2021


Before I start I would just like to Thank Mandy for all her work over the last twelve or so months, a very gruelling and upsetting time, spending many hours each week working on behalf of the CC and the Community. It is a shame to see her standing down without seeking re-election to the post but perfectly understandable – It will be difficult to replace her and a harder working Secretary will be hard to find. Thanks to Veronica for her time as the Treasurer and to Tommy for being there when we have needed him and hope he will be back to full fitness as soon as possible, and to Ron for agreeing to Chair the election of the new Chair part of these proceedings. I would like to Thank Willie Munro and David Haas for the support they have shown to the current OB over the recent time.


2020 has been a year of great adversity for Nairn River CC and our Community.
It has been blighted not just by the restrictions of the pandemic which have made our normal public engagement activity impossible, but also by internal division and a lack of cooperation within our Community Council which has severely undermined our ability to function properly.


2020 has also been characterised by continued resistance to open communication and collaboration with community groups by Nairn’s elected Councillors and Highland Officers despite repeated efforts by Nairn CC’s, BID and NICE to seek joint dialogue to build economic resilience in Nairn in the face of the pandemic


12 new Community Councillors were elected in January. The same four Office Bearers were re elected from the previous term (unopposed apart from the Chair). Since then the simplest collective decisions has been fraught with argument and obstruction, often generating dozens of emails wasting time and energy. Some members have consistently shunned the democratic process by not engaging fully in that process. This has undermined and disrupted the CC’s capacity to carry out collective work. The public reputation of the CC as a community body and the reputation of all of its members, has been tarnished including on social media and in the press. This has been demoralising, exhausting and often embarrassing for those CC members who have worked hard, despite this, to support their peers and pull together to defend Nairn River community interests.


With high levels of public controversy over some key development proposals for our town during 2020 it has been an uphill struggle to provide an effective voice for our community. After a training session held towards the end of the year, it was hoped that the CC could join together to follow the Code of Conduct but this has proved groundless. It appears some members believe that NRCC should have overcome the difficulties presented by the Covid19 emergency that caused mayhem at the highest levels of Government and Business instantly with business running as normal in a totally abnormal atmosphere. The CC guidance provided by THC does not make allowances for meetings or voting held on-line and some members still resist all efforts to mitigate this.


I hope that the next few months will see this internal strife resolved and collaboration restored so that all Community Councillors can focus on doing the job they were elected for.


2020 – Month by month


January – a delayed election due to a re-run. Reasons for the re-run have still not been fully explained,


The year began with an invitation for Community Councils to participate in ‘pre consultation’ for introduction of parking charges in several Nairn car parks. This proposition was previously rejected unanimously in 2018 by local Community and Business groups, but is now back ‘on the table’. Charging schemes can work in Scottish cities but evidence from other schemes around Scotland show that charging in small towns for parking is seldom an income generator once running costs are factored in and can seriously damage local High Streets by driving locals and visitors away to city shopping malls and online.


February – Good news for Nairn Post Office Bad news for RS McColl


In January we heard that RS McColls on our High Street was to be closed down by the parent company, but that as a result our current Post Office (with Royal Mail next door) would stay where it is instead of relocating in January 2020 to the McColls building as was proposed in the 2019 Post Office consultation. A narrow escape and we are glad that in 2019, despite NRCC being in abeyance, we took the time to raise questions about suitability of this new site for the Post Office. More importantly we still have a town centre Post Office in 2021. The impending closure of Lloyds TSB will leave Bank of Scotland and the Post Office as the only banking facilities in town


March Police Buildings Saved, AGM and lockdown


Local Community Councils saved the Old Police Station to be repurposed as a community resource


NRCC discovered in early 2020 that during our long ‘abeyance’ demolition of this building had been approved, in private, by Nairn’s four THC Councillors in January as part of a revised application for a new CAB with flats above.


The original proposal to renovate the Old Police Station/Social Work building, which would also put the (Common Good) public toilets at risk, had been shelved sometime in 2019 without any public discussion. A completely new design and location proposed by The Highland Council, again without community consultation, comprising of a newbuild on the site of the former Community Centre using Town Centre funds that were originally allocated to the  repurposing of an existing building. The two Nairn CC’s complained to Highland Council senior officers about this lack of transparency and the loss of a heritage building without public consultation. The Old Social Work building was happily reprieved and is now the subject of a million pound funding bid by NICE to the Scottish Government Regeneration Fund to convert it into a community and business hub and tourism welcome facility.


NRCC held a belated AGM in March to approve the 2018/19 accounts and release the THC grant.


NRCC formed new subgroups to tackle the growing workload and identified four volunteers to work jointly with NWSCC and THC to improve local oversight of Common Good Assets.


The COVID lockdown kicked in on March 19th, stopping all face to face public meetings. CC business was then restricted to email and online for the rest of the year, with Office Bearers carrying almost all of the workload. NRCC wrote jointly to the Highland Council with our sister CC NWSCC, in March, to ask them to defer all pending consultations on planning and policy matters including CAB flats, and on parking charges and this was agreed. NRCC contributed a donation to buy ID Cards for Nairn Task Force - a network of local volunteers set up to help isolated residents during lockdown


April Webex on-line meetings technical problems


CC members and Office Bearers got to grips with Webex and prepared for a first public meeting online. Some members had technical issues or hardware access issues. 


A second objection was lodged to the revised FIT homes planned near the Hospital due to the inadequacy of sound mitigation from the neighbouring Gordon’s Sawmill. NRCC noted that this was not the right location for social or convalescing housing, especially if it could put a major local employer at risk at a time of great economic uncertainty. The plan was rejected by Highland Council. Developer Albyn Housing then proceeded to pursue an appeal with Scottish Government.


Members also provided advice to a number of residents concerned that neighbours were breaching planning rules during lockdown – in one case by extending their back garden onto common land, letters were sent to Highland Council with photographic evidence so that action could be taken by Enforcement Officers.
 

May Technical Problems


Our first public meeting was curtailed by technical problems and unruly behaviour from some members. All Subgroups were suspended and Communication continued by email only. From that time forward all decisions were made openly and democratically, Google voting was trialled, but some members were still struggling to get up to speed with, or access to technology.


June


During lockdown the Sundancer Restaurant near the Harbour put forward a proposal to THC to use adjacent Common Good land for socially distanced outside catering from July. The two Nairn CC’s were consulted by the Ward Manager and Local Councillors as Common Good Trustees. Both of Nairns’ CCs submitted proposals for conditions and restrictions for short term use of this CG Asset, in line with local Bye-Law restrictions. In the event Sundancer chose not to extend service outside. This exercise underlined an urgent need for an agreed set of guidelines to be developed by THC along with the local community to aid local governance and decision making on use of Nairn CG Assets.


NRCC identified, in March, 4 members ready to work with NWSCC members and THC on this but no action taken by THC in 2020 to progress this, despite launching two CG consultations by December


July


A new alliance comprising the two Nairn CCs, Nairn BID and NICE (Nairn’s community development trust) was formed to seek collaboration with THC. NRCC was represented by OBs at online meetings. Against a backdrop of fears for Nairn’s economy and hospitality industry this community and business led ‘Group of Groups’ invited Highland Councillors and key Officers to joint talks to explore how we could work together to build economic resilience for Nairn post COVID. Two preliminary discussions took place, one at Nairn Golf Club, and the second online later in the summer hosted by Kate Lackie the new ECO for Nairnshire.


These meetings focussed on ways to improve visitor facilities for 2021 including for Camper Vans and Public Toilets. Highland Councillors and Officers suggested funding this by introducing Parking Charges on car parks on Common Good land in the Links/Seafront area. NRCC were promised detailed proposals and a business case by the Council for potential charging schemes and more information on other funding streams for visitor resources. These have not yet been provided.
Nairn River CC submitted an Objection to the latest revision by THC of the relocated CAB/flats plans for King Street
Two Walkabouts


1. Community reps of the two CCs and Nairn BID joined the Ward Manager and a Highland Engineer to review proposed COVID social distancing measures for Nairn. Proposals for the town centre included parking restrictions for the High Street area. It was agreed on inspection that parking on the High Street could stay, with work promised on pedestrian safety /distancing under Cawdor Road rail bridge, funds redirected from parking restrictions, and coordinated with BID support, to create cycle route/active travel signposting. Despite the constructive dialogue THC has yet to ‘deliver’ on this.


2. NRCC organised a further High Street walkabout for CC members to inspect the state of buildings and shop-fronts and welcomed Lucy Harding the new BID officer to join us


August – holiday let application


A Planning Application in Balmakeith Park proposed a garage conversion to be used as a holiday let. NRCC took the opportunity to flag up with THC the growing need for a short term let policy for Nairn due to the impact of the AirBnB boom on residential areas and on reducing affordable rented housing supply for locals. AirBnBs take accommodation out of availability for locals to rent and is a serious contributor to the lack of social housing in the Town.
New Scot Government Short Term Lets legislation is expected April 2021 for local authorities to implement to meet local needs and it is hoped Nairn communities will have a say in developing appropriate licensing arrangements for our locality.


September Meetings with THC


After a follow up meeting hosted by ECO Kate Lackie with local Highland Councillors and Officers the Group of Groups, the two Nairn CCs consulted members and locals on proposals for Camper Vans, Seafront Parking Charges, and toilets with Nairn River inviting comments on the CC website. Initial feedback from locals welcomed improved toilets and visitor facilities but told us that introducing parking charges around the Fishertown where parking for residents is already in short supply, remains controversial. Many locals indicated that camper van facilities would be better located out of town eg at Sandown, rather than allowing them to park overnight on seafront viewpoints. Since then community efforts to progress further dialogue on collaboration with Councillors or with Kate Lackie have been unsuccessful


Plans for the CAB flats proposed by The Highland Council were approved by The Highland Council.


NICE Funding application for Old Police Station/Regeneration Hub progressed to Stage 2 shortlist and NRCC members invited to contribute to a public survey on how the building might be used


October 

The Links Work, delayed from March, was completed on Phase One of the Links Development - the replacement of Paddling Pool with Splash Pad funded by ‘Team Hamish’ and Common Good Fund.


The Cawdor House Lavender Café retrospective change of use application proved controversial. The outdoor café and takeaway was opened by the guest house when COVID restrictions were imposed, following UK and Scottish Government guidance. Some neighbours were strongly opposed while cafe customers were strongly in favour


NRCC members voted by majority to submit a comment. After visiting the area, listening to the applicant and to the neighbours, OB’s proposed a neutral submission, presenting issues from both sides and suggesting some mitigations which might help reduce neighbour concerns. This was approved by all the CC members that voted (5 abstained with one conflict of interest).


Local objectors then complained to NRCC and THC resulting in the NRCC submission being taken down from the planning portal, checked and subsequently restored as no valid cause for complaint was found. Both the NRCC and Nairn Access Panel (NAC) who made a supportive submission, received similar hostile communications from local residents. Disability Equality Scotland (DES), on behalf of NAP, complained to THC Planning that community organisations were receiving public abuse for participating in the Planning process. The DES Officer in Edinburgh also complemented NRCC on the quality of our Planning submission

.
November 


Dog Waste Collection at Lochloy – queries were received by both CCs from Meadowlea residents who received letters from their factor (Screen Autumn) noting new charges for dog waste collection as THC was to stop providing the service. After negotiation and further public complaints, THC agreed to continue the service, providing new larger bins as part of existing Lochloy wide waste collection at no extra charge.


December


Revised Application for a scaled down and mostly indoor Lavender Café at Cawdor House
The 6 NRCC members who voted on this, unanimously backed a supportive comment as the new application addresses most of the previous neighbour objections to outdoor café service have been addressed. We also noted that stringent requirements from THC Transport to identify parking for customers and carry out a parking survey seemed unfair unless other neighbouring businesses are also subject to these requirements


In summary, in a year of enormous adversity, both internal and external, our newly elected Community Council hit the ground running and handled a greater public consultation workload in 2020 than in most previous 'normal' years. There were 34 Planning Applications submitted in 2020. 21 permitted, 9 are still under consideration, 3 Withdrawn, 3 Refused and 1 Unknown. That is 37 processed during the year. One application was for a change in design on 22 house types. If all these were applied for separately with the resultant charges THC would have realised more money from the developer helping to defray costs to the planning department.


Despite the pandemic and a year-long campaign of non-cooperation and abusive emails from a dissenting faction of our own members, NRCC Office Bearers have still made sure that the local community had a say on a number of significant local development and policy proposals, some highly controversial and NRCC has helped save one heritage building for future Community use.


NRCC have also seen the Highland Council initiate at the end of 2020, in the midst of continued restrictions on public meetings, two significant Common Good consultation processes with the people of Nairn for ‘disposal’ of Nairn Common Good Assets the Links Tearoom and Store and for Sandown Lands


NRCC continues to await the closer community collaboration with THC promised since 2018 by Donna Manson particulary with regard to improving community oversight of Nairn’s Common Good Assets and developing local agreement on consistent guidelines for any future changes of use or disposals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting, Nairn River CC have certainly covered a lot of ground in the last year despite so called 'internal friction'.