Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Nairn Common Good Chronicles, Part 2: Sandown is not the only asset that could be “disposed” of soon?

The Sandown Common Good lands are certainly headline news these days. The consultation about selling off the Sandown land, launched before Christmas, has  been extended.  Nairn West & Suburban CC have put out a useful guide giving an explanation of exactly why Common Good matters to the town. The recent comments of Provost Laurie Fraser, echoing considerable concern in the town, also bring the whole subject into greater focus.

Just before Christmas the Gurn research team revealed evidence that local Councillors, urged on by Highland Council officials, had been considering and planning the sale for over a year.  

But it emerges that Sandown is not the only asset whose disposal our Councillors are contemplating.  The records of Ward Business Meetings during 2019 and 2020 reveals that list of sites in the frame is rather longer – see attached copies of extracts from those records, now publicly available.

Among the other assets potentially up for grabs is the Viewfield Stables building.  Back in December 2019 Ward Councillors decided that in the light of enquiries from “a community group lingering in the background” officials should look into the practicalities of marketing the property for lease or sale.  Official advice was that “…[As] the property is seriously dilapidated, an outright disposal would seem appropriate”.  Since the building is a Common Good asset, consultation for change of use or disposal would be required.

Viewfield Stables have of course been useful for local community activity.  Part of the building has been used to store equipment. Green Hive have had a small tool store there for some time. More recently the enthusiasts of the Coastal Rowing Club spent many months using the Stables as a workshop where they could construct their skiff.  This observer was however under the impression that the stables were part of the curtilage of Viewfield House and so a Category B listed building.   

As one Councillor observed, there is however no strategy for the management of Viewfield.  While the Sports Club and the St Ninian Bowling Club have lease agreement for their sites on Viewfield, and pay rent into the CG Fund, Green Hive created a  community orchard where Councillors feel there is no need for a lease or a rent agreement*.  It is hard to imagine that the Common Good trustees would agree a similar rent-free arrangement for the entirety of the Stables for any interested group or individual.

Other assets which our Councillors seem set on getting rid of include the property and yard in Grant Street in Fishertown, which Green Hive was  looking to take over.  In March 2019 the previous Ward manager was to pursue discussions on this, and in April the plan was apparently to arrange a ‘Licence to Occupy’ pending a possible Asset Transfer request. It is not clear what has happened since.

Also on the list is The Maggot.  This substantial area of Common Good land beside the river is used for recreation, and there is also a car park there.  The WBM meetings reveal that at their February 2020 meeting Councillors decided to dispose of land at the Maggot by a 25-year lease to the Athletics Club.  Any lease over 10 years is regarded as a disposal and so requires public consultation.  The Maggot has of course long been used as an area for sports training.  The records do not reveal what the likely terms of any lease might be, nor what rent arrangements are proposed.  The question also arises as to whether the lease would give the Athletics Club exclusive use and thus preclude wider public access.

This observer feels that Nairn is very lucky to have such extensive and potentially valuable Common Good land and property.  It is a pity that almost all the discussion so far about possible use and disposal of the Common Good has taken place in unreported Ward Business Meetings.  The people of the burgh ought perhaps to know, and have a say, in what happens to the assets from which they are supposed to benefit.

 Update 27th February 2021 - additional information from a Green Hive direction:

It says in paragraph 6 “Green Hive has occupancy of their community orchard site rent-free and lease-free”. The factual description of the position is this: The community orchard is open to all members of our community (the Common Good if you like). Green Hive, with support from a number of local groups and individuals, including your Orchard Group, Annie Stewart’s KNC and Michael Barnett’s Mens’ Shed, negotiated the conversion of the space with Highland Council, sought out funding from the Pebble Trust, commissioned a local business to erect the rabbit fence, commissioned Mens’ Shed to install wheelchair friendly picnic benches and organised volunteers to do the planting. As the sign at the unlocked gate to the orchard says, the orchard is for everyone to enjoy. Many members of the local community have enjoyed the space, attending events, volunteering to maintain it and picnicking during their lunch hour. The orchard is not occupied by Green Hive but belongs to the community . Self evidently Green Hive has enhanced a small part of the Nairn's common good.

One update to the position regarding the Grant Street Yard. Green Hive has no interest in taking on this yard which has been disused for many years. We conducted an appraisal of its potential in 2019 and concluded at the time that it would not enable us affordably to deliver the benefits to the community that our constitution requires.




Anonymous said...

In the words of Lewis Carroll :

“Curiouser and curiouser!”

Who can we trust? Answers on a postcard please to ………….who would you suggest?

Anonymous said...

Never trust a politician they are all two faced snakes.

Graisg said...

Here at the Gurn we believe life is often a little more nuanced and custom and practice can lead to mistakes. Mistrust arises quite often when too little information finds its way into the public domain.

Anonymous said...

If you are a "Trustee", then it makes sense to "trust" your professional advisors who are experienced, qualified and knowledgeable. How much you trust them will depend on how long you've known them and on their track record.
Or you could "trust" folk who stepped off the Clapham omnibus.
From time to time the omnibus folk will be correct.

Anonymous said...

To be quite honest, I am dismayed reading about what has been going on here at these meetings behind closed doors. If Green Hive gets the Viewfield Stables, Grant Street yard or any other Common Good asset free non gratis, as is the current situation with the orchard, then you will have to hold me back.

Anonymous said...

Why should any group etc get use of the common good land for nothing? Does that mean that i can "lease" an area of the beach for exclusive use?

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, Drew Hendry heaps lavish praise on Fergus Ewing for his support of the Nairn Bypass. Come on Fergus, get stuck in to protect the Common Good Assets for the people of Nairn....

Andrew said...

Like Anon @ 6:23 PM I am disgusted by these revelations.

These meetings are a clear abuse of the public's trust, and the decisions being made go against the spirit of the Common Good.

Anonymous said...

Depressing to discover that Nairn's 4 Highland Councillors -the 'trustees' for Nairn's Common Good have been discussing disposal of these Assets in private for years without consulting with the people of Nairn, who are supposed to have a say in how these assets are used. Well done to whoever brought these minutes to light to expose such a lack of transparency

Graisg said...

@Anon 8.16 Tom Heggie stated at a meeting of Nairn West and Suburban Community Council last night that consultation would follow automatically should any disposal reach the point where it would have to go through the Sheriff Court.

Graisg said...

Re community councils and conflict of interest. No idea anon, why not write to them and ask them what procedures and safeguards are?

common gone said...

Have to pick up on the comment of Anon 8.16 AM, and Graisg's reply.

Tom Heggie's statement gives no reassurance or comfort. It is a legal requirement that disposal of any "inalienable" Common Good asset has to be subject to a consultation and then go to a court for authority.

But that's not the point. The issue bothering people is that there is no proper, informed and open public discussion of options and possibilities for use or disposal of Common Good land BEFORE any specific proposal is drawn up and gets anywhere near the Sheriff Court. At present any proposal is considered in secret, and a single option is then put forward for consultation. That denies the local community the opportunity to explore and debate alternative options.

Anonymous said...

Tricky area is "conflict of interest".
Best practice would be to declare any interest at the beginning of any discussion, then contribute to any discussion, and finally leave the room whilst all those left with "nothing to declare" move on to make any decision.
Perhaps the Gurn will know if best practice is adhered to?