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: