Why Nairn’s supermarket plan needs revising

October 10, 2008 · Filed Under Nairn 

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Nairn councillors seem intent on pushing for the original supermarket plan in the centre of Nairn – a plan that was implemented in a rush, never properly developed, and remains an orphaned policy with limited merit.

Here are some reasons why Nairn’s representative should stop looking backwards and start looking forwards:

Somerfield expansion = bad

Too much hope is being put on Somerfield expanding the town centre presence. After all:

1. Somerfield is in the process of being bought out by the Co-op. That means any application for planning consent is being done entirely through pressure from councillors, not because of any will by Somerfield to actually develop anything – they are absolutely not in a position to agree to any new project.

2. The purchase of Somerfield by Co-op will take a couple of years to complete. During this time, the Co-op will implement an overall review of their position in the UK, and likely shed branches and jobs. Expansion at this point is a no-go.

3. Co-op already has a supermarket in the centre of Nairn – they are either going to have to look at selling one off – or even closing one down. Instead of having two small supermarkets in Nairn, chances are we’d end up having just the one.

4. There’s a credit crunch on. It’s so serious, the banks can’t even lend to each other and the government has been forced to part-nationalise Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, and Halifax Bank of Scotland. Somehow against this background Nairn councillors think that the Co-op – having spent billions on acquiring Somerfield – are then going to rush out and get millions more to expand small town Highland supermarkets.

The bottom line is that hopes being pinned on a Somerfield expansion are so out of touch with business reality. Councillors push for Somerfield to make applications for planning, which I’m sure they are happy to do so as to keep Co-op happy – but Somerfield are not going to invoke a range of financial liabilities on the Co-op.

Additionally, even if the Co-op really really wanted to expand the existing Somerfield, financial conditions means that it would be risky to seek additional financing so soon after the big purchase agreement of Somerfield.

Even if they did want to take that risk, they wouldn’t be able to for years – and it would require the High Street Co-op being shut down or sold.

What no one seems to be asking is what’s in it for Co-op to follow Nairn’s plans? There are no coherent business or financial arguments for the Co-op to deliver what is essential a pipe dream of some old Nairnites who rushed into a plan to keep Asda out – and ten years later are finding it utterly dysfunctional.

I also seem to have overlooked how an expanded town centre supermarket is going to accommodate the extra parking – the current one can barely cope as it is – or are we talking about demolishing surrounding buildings for that? Doesn’t that sound like the sort of hassle that would make building an out of town supermarket make more sense?

Sainsburys = good

Most towns I’ve visited have both out of town shopping developments and a thriving high street that is focused on shoppers through pedestrianisation.

Nairn doesn’t have either – yet some vocal people seem to want to keep it that way – just because they have a dysfunctional plan set up a rush 10 years ago, the result of which is a string of disused and derelict building by the A96 in the town – left the rot in case the “plan” finally materialises.

Firstly, Nairn is a gem – the star of the North – the jewel in the Highland crown. That means it should have a considered, forward thinking and explorative vision of the future.

So why should an out of town supermarket be seen as a threat to Nairn?

Simply put, it isn’t – everyone from Nairn who needs more than extremely basic (and pricey) groceries must leave Nairn and drive 15+ miles to Inverness or Forres for shopping.

Here’s a radical idea – why not have a shopping development on the outskirts of Nairn that not only helps serve many of the basic needs of the local population – but also brings in people from the surrounding area, because we have something they have not?

Those who claim the centre of Nairn will suffer are talking rubbish – if shops close it is because they cannot compete – but as evolutionary principles are a central tenet of business (adapt or die) then we have to ensure Nairn adapts with it.

At present, Nairn High Street suffers from shops which:

1. Often look grubby
2. Some don’t even take plastic
3. Often closed on a Wednesday
4. Have no pedestrian focus

The last point especially needs sounding out – the pathways are like goat runs, and terrified us when taking our wee kids along it the first time. Even though we’ve gotten used to them, we still see – or are part of – various “near misses”. Children are so at risk on those pavements. So how will that encourage people to bring their kids into Nairn for shopping?

Additionally, the lack of pedestrianisation is a problem begging to be rectified, for safety, business, cultural, and developmental reasons.

I had to go to London on Wednesday to make a presentation to a multinational client – I already cover their personal financial services division, and now they want marketing for their commercial and offshore subsidiaries. On the plane on the way back, I spoke to someone from Drumnadrochit, who was surprised that Nairn was not filled with cafes sprawling across wide pavements.

I can only agree – let’s get some culture and more of a focus on serving tourists in the town centre!!

I know some existing businesses are worried about change – but tough, in business as in life, adapt or change. And I’ve already posted that I’d love to get some frontage on the high street.

Soon I’ll need offices, and I’d be happy to buy into commercial property on Nairn High Street.

Additionally, I would love to set up an organic/vegetarian cafe – real food with real taste, and a vegetarian* slant (*many Scottish food outlets will need to look that word up in a dictionary – all the more reason to set one up). I couldn’t run it myself because of existing business commitments, but I would be happy to set up a funding stake in one.

So already, if the opportunity arose, I could be looking at needing two commercial properties in Nairn. With the current dependence on the out-dated anti-Asda plan, those opportunities cannot yet be realised.

Also, I’m not sure if Nairnites have realised it, but the small business park is increasingly developing on the outskirts, and some companies are trying to bring in heavy industry.

Personally speaking, I’d much rather see a supermarket that we need, than a cement factory we don’t, built on the edge of Nairn.

Nairn has a potentially great future, but is being held back by lack of vision, and desperate attempt to force out-dated aspirations onto a business reality that will not accept them.

I want to see a Nairn moving forward – keeping pace – realising itself and its potential.

Sainsburys is the start.

After all, what Sainsburys represents is not simply a supermarket – but a whole new change in attitude.

As the tagline says, “Try something new today”. How apt.


28 Responses to “Why Nairn’s supermarket plan needs revising”

  1. David Burton on October 25th, 2008 2:44 pm

    Well said, something needs to be done sooner rather than later, before some of our present high st buildings will be too far gone to restore to their former glory.
    Many people have said to me that Nairn is a lovely town but….
    they always mention the derelect buildings seen all over the town centre

  2. admin on October 25th, 2008 2:59 pm

    Good point, David, and I’m sure you’re not the only person to hear that about Nairn!

  3. Des on December 27th, 2008 10:24 am

    Someone mentioned to me this morning that they thought that Nairn High Street started to die when MacRae and Dick’s garage (it was behind the former Royal Hotel Brian) was demolished. The Royal Walk flats were built on the site. Anyway, my friend contends that this was a mistake that the town will never recover from – that was where a supermarket should have gone! And now there just simply enough room,parking etc for what is required of a decent sized outlet for the new millenium. I have to say it is a very convincing theory.

  4. Brian Turner on December 27th, 2008 1:56 pm

    I’m not sure about the specific situation, but I think it does highlight an important point – that of the need for an overall vision for Nairn’s development which can designate or prioritise certain development types over others in specific areas.

    For example, while I’m a fan of pedestrianisation of the high street, there are clear practical issues, such as parking – I cannot see the existing Somerfield car parking area being sufficient, and there’s limited development of parking elsewhere.

    One option could be to expand car parking around the bus station area. Another option could be to set up public parking by the maggot. In fact, on the latter, this would be threatened by the fact that we now have new flats going up.

    However, if it’s possible to set up parking behind this new development, then this would allow for accessibility not simply for the high street, but also the harbour front – which additionally suffers from being used for residential rather than retail purposes.

    When I think of seaside towns, I think of arcades, cafes and takeaways along the sea front. I look at Nairn and don’t see this – but I don’t see an overall plan either, which means ad hoc development could end up strangling Nairn’s ability to expand and focus on any retail developments within the town.


  5. Spurtle on December 27th, 2008 2:30 pm

    The harbour development, in it’s original guise, that passed planning, would have been a much better blend of retail and residential.

    Unfortunately though, a canny developer realised that there is more than one way to skin the proverbial, and , having gained permission for the development that people thought they were going to get, he gradual changed it, by degrees.

    The greater part of the ground floor was to have been retail units. Hardly had the building started though, and applications to change units designated as retail to residential started to be lodged with the Council.

    The end result was a reduction in the number of retail premises , to the point where they didn’t have enough critical mass to attract people.

    In addition, through some loophole which seems to appear in every large development in Nairn , the conditions of the original planning permission ie car parking, street furniture etc.. were never enforced by the Council. So we ended up with a half finished, poorly specified complex, which ignores every part of what could be described as vernacular Fishertown architecture.

    As Brian says, there is no ‘bigger picture’ for Nairn. When the new local plan starts its consultation phase this next year people must get involved , and make their feelings known. It ‘s not likely that everyone will see eye to eye – but a basically sound plan, with some parts you don’t totally agree with has got to be better than the lack of vision we are being governed by at the moment.

    Nairn is a small town but I think we hit quite a bit above our weight . We just need to make sure that those charged with representing us are fighting our corner, and I have doubts about some of them :)

  6. Brian Turner on December 27th, 2008 3:41 pm

    “Hardly had the building started though, and applications to change units designated as retail to residential started to be lodged with the Council.”

    “In addition, through some loophole which seems to appear in every large development in Nairn , the conditions of the original planning permission ie car parking, street furniture etc.. were never enforced by the Council.”

    This sounds at best like incompetence – sounds like the planning department needs a serious political kicking to ensure they do their job, within the remit of the conditions of original planning made.

    In terms of a plan – certainly I think there are a lot of options, but I think the key ingredient is to allow any such plan to remain flexible to change with ongoing conditions – but such changes made according to the spirit of any original mandate and made with clear general approval rather than be left to whimsical clerks to make such decisions.

  7. nairnbairn on January 5th, 2009 1:17 am

    I happened to visit both Burghead and Lossiemouth last week, and looked around their harbour areas. Both are modest coastal towns on the Moray Firth. In their different ways, both have retained and used open spaces and existing buildings to create integrated, attractive, and visitor/resident friendly areas that makes the best of their respective harbourside locations. The houses (in Burghead) and shops (in Lossie) look to the waterfront. Even the newer buildings are sympathetic in style and decent to look at.

    The contrast with Nairn’s harbour and riverside frontage couldn’t be more painful. Both places underlined what a massive pig’s ear was made of the (re)development of the Nairn harbour area. The bleak and anonymous apartment blocks around the port… and the back gardens, bins and washing lines of pebbledashed ‘housing units’ built in recent years in along the Fishertown side of the river.

    I revisited this thread because I was reminded of Spurtle’s 27 Dec description (above) of the unscrupulous and devious evolution of the local developer’s plans, and worse, the failure of the planning authorities to prevent this.

    What happened to Nairn harbour back then sadly can’t now be undone. But I get a sense of deja vu when I read of the weaselling of the Sandown developers over the number and density of houses planned there, and despondency when I look at the current Bridgemill building site, where the plan for blocks of “affordable” (ie small, cheap and low-spec) housing seems to have been bounced through without serious consultation.

    What was that quote about “Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them”. I fear that there are few signs so far that Nairn’s planning authorities have learned anything. Or an even more appalling thought: that they don’t even realise their mistakes…

  8. Brian Turner on January 5th, 2009 9:52 pm

    Absolutely right – I went to the harbour front to take a look this morning, and was impressed at how big an opportunity was missed there.

  9. porridgeagain on January 6th, 2009 5:19 pm

    What everyone seems to have forgotten is that the
    Fishertown and Harbour, are part of a Conservation Area which restricts certain types of construction and useage,but those restrictions are gradually being eroded.

  10. nairnbairn on January 6th, 2009 8:10 pm

    Quite so, porridgeagain – that is precisely the point.

    The official guidance on Conservation Areas (full details at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/03/29141519/15200) says among other things, “…Designation as a conservation area does not place a ban upon all new development within its boundaries. However, new development will normally only be granted planning permission if it can be demonstrated that it will not harm the character or appearance of the area.”

    I’d like to know who decided that the grim modern apartment blocks and infill housing around Nairn’s harbour and riverside (when exactly were they built?) met this criterion. And whether the planning authorities have done an assessment of the visual impact on the Fishertown area’s character and appearance of the proposed new Bridgemill apartment blocks.

  11. Brian Turner on January 6th, 2009 10:15 pm

    Agreed – it would also be interesting to know how the harbour development worked within the boundaries of either the Nairn Local Plan or the Highland Structure Plan, which sets out specific aims for development in Nairn:

    – reduce unemployment and diversify the economic base for the area
    – promote and enhance tourist opportunities based on marine activities and historical heritage

    I don;t see it doing either – the only potential exception is in the local plan itself:


    Environment 4: The Council will not approve development unless there is an over-riding social, economic, public health or safety reason

    In which case, which nutter puts social housing in a prime tourism and retail site, at the expense of the latter?

  12. Brian Turner on January 6th, 2009 10:23 pm

    Quick question – when was the harbour development built in terms of approx starting date?

  13. porridgeagain on January 7th, 2009 6:58 pm

    Its not really “which nutter”,but how many,and why.

  14. porridgeagain on January 7th, 2009 7:06 pm

    Surely if you were a true “nairnbairn”you would know when the development was constructed.

  15. Brian Turner on January 7th, 2009 7:18 pm

    Afraid I’ve only been up here a few years – perhaps that means I’m an imposter, but I’m a well-meaning one. :)

    What I’m trying to figure out is where the date for the harbour development falls in terms of the Local Plan.

  16. anon on January 7th, 2009 9:20 pm

    Methinks you are getting Brian and Nairnbairn mixed up Porridge?

  17. Brian Turner on January 7th, 2009 9:23 pm

    Ah, yes – that as well. :)

  18. Spurtle on January 8th, 2009 3:20 pm

    The harbour development commenced sometime in 1990 I think and ran through 1991, possibly into 1992.

    I’m not sure if we had ‘Local Plans ‘ then but I suspect if anyone were to investigate the boundaries of the conservation zone, they might well find it traces the outline of the harbour development quite closely, without ever crossing it.

    Prior to the harbour development , the area never looked ‘pretty’ . There was an old Cash and Carry, which I was once told had been an abbatoir, the Sailing Club and its yard ( the Sailing Club aqquired its pitched roof and the ‘ new’ boatyard as part of the re-development), the Peerie ( chip shop & smoked salmon) , various garages/sheds, and the Sea Scout hut.

    All that happened is all that happens with most developments .The developer promised the earth, those in positions of authority, who really should know better, dance about like excited puppies, peeing themselves. Then the developer fails to deliver and the town is left with a piss-poor development which has more in common with some iron curtain country than evoking even the tiniest sentiment of anything resembling Scottish architecture.

    “Put up a pile of ugly boxes, and Jesus, people bought ‘em” ( Henley,Frey 1976)

    And, of course, just like the lack of facilities built on the Lochloy Development, or the problems with the playpark built at the new houses in Auldearn, there seems to be a total lack of accountability. I suspect that most developers , and quite a few officers of the Council , should be called Teflon , as nothing ever seems to stick to them.

  19. Brian Turner on January 8th, 2009 3:36 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, Spurtle – much appreciated. :)

  20. nairnbairn on January 8th, 2009 10:24 pm

    Ahh Spurtle – from Nairn harbour to the songs of the Eagles. Now that’s class!

    Don Henley gets it right a lot of the time:

    “While you were sleeping
    They came and took it all away
    The lanes and meadows
    The places where you used to play

    It was an inside job
    By the well-connected
    Your little protest
    Summarily rejected…”

  21. Spurtle on January 10th, 2009 12:57 pm

    ‘Inside Job’, indeed. Sums up quite a few developments over the years :)

    ‘Insect politics
    Indifferent universe
    Bang your head against the wall
    But apathy is worse’

    from later in the same song, is a rather splendid combination of words that just about sums up modern life, for those of us that give a toss.

  22. Jon Lane on February 24th, 2009 8:48 pm

    Evan a coat of bright paint would help make the harbour properties look less like an East European industrial city!! This is where councils need to flex muscle and force change. Make shops clean their frontage, repaint their buildings and open all week, would be a start. Instead they close buildings down, hope for some outside develpment miracle to land in their lap and jump at the first chance of it.Look at the mistakes others have made, learn from them and do not repeat.

    “Grotty and Grim” was a note in a visitors book at a holiday cottage in Cawdor with reference to Nairn! Nice, that’ll bring em in!!

  23. Calum on April 11th, 2009 9:26 pm

    Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong and did I mention WRONG!! Somerfield = good Sainsbury’s = bad

    Somerfield have served you well for four years after acquiring the Safeway ‘compact’ store in Nairn. Somerfield is now however owned by the co-operative group and the store disposal list in published and The Nairn Somerfield is not on it. I hope Sainsbury’s gets turned down and the Coop the green light for the store demolition (as I will admit it is a dump) and rebuild.

  24. Brian Turner on April 13th, 2009 9:14 am

    Somerfield haven’t really done anything since they acquired the store, caused by the sale of the Safeway group to Morrisons a few years back.

    They been handed all the surrounding land for free, on a plate, and given every chance to develop.

    They haven’t done a thing.

    Sainsburys is the only supermarket that has come up with any kind of plan for development in Nairn, and that’s the only positive information we have.

    Seems worth focusing on that, rather than invent hopes that have been relied on, and remain empty, after 10 years.

  25. Calum on April 13th, 2009 2:04 pm

    Maybe so, however Somerfield and Highland council have agreed on plans for a new bigger and better Somerfield store. Whether the Co-Operative will go ahead with the plans is yet to be seen.

    As response to your comment of Somerfield not doing much in Nairn, at least they kept the store (closed down in my town) giving you at least some value for money over the Co-Op. I read an article on supermarket prices and when comparing individual prices, yes Somerfield is quite a bit more expensive than say ASDA or Tesco however when it compared the overall shopping trip with all the offers etc. Somerfield was above all the other supermarket but still behind Aldi and Lidl (in order from most expensive to least, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Co-Operative Food, Tesco, Morrisons, ASDA, Somerfield, Aldi, Lidl). I would suggest doing your weekly shop in Somerfield then checking the receipt on ASDA.com or such like.

  26. Brian Turner on April 13th, 2009 4:48 pm

    “Somerfield and Highland council have agreed on plans for a new bigger and better Somerfield store”

    Not really – the council has bent over backwards for years to give Somerfield all the green lights it needed to expand the store – and nothing happened.

    The events earlier this year with extended planning permission were just farcical – Somerfield has never given any suggestion of trying to expand the store.

    Co-op isn’t likely to push on any development any time soon – they have the ehadache of integrate Somerfield to deal with first, and secondly, with the credit crunch in play, it’s hard to imagine them pushing aggressively on store expansion.

    Even if they did finally turn to the store in the centre of Nairn, it could only be by closing the high street outlet down.

    Somerfield keeping the store in Nairn is hardly an achievement. :)

    In the meantime, as Sainsburys is the only supermarket looking to develop a 21st century supermarket for Nairn, and to try and hold that back in order to push on a 10 year old pipe dream that came to nothing, would perhaps not be wise.

    Morrisons is also far cheaper than the Nairn Somerfield for us, but it’s worth noting that supermarkets often adjust overall pricing according to the size of the outlet, with smaller ones sometimes charging more on certain ranges and items than others.


  27. Jon Lane on April 14th, 2009 7:19 am

    The local council, like any other anwhere in the U.K would sell the site to the Devil if he would say he was going to develop it. Council’s all like to be offered the opportunaty to wash their hands of areas in need of development and therfore investment. If it works they are hailed as heros, if it doesn’t they can blame the developers. Win, win….Except we, Nairn looses! I feel Brian is correct. The CoOp is in no position to merge stores nevermind develope the Somerfield site. Sadly I feel the developer might board off the site, demolish the buildings and then sit on it in the hopes that the finacial world lifts and it can afford to do somthing with it. Seen it happen before. It works for the developer, but not for Nairn.Use the old buildings, force Somerfield/CoOp to tidy up or demolish the old filling station and build on what we have already got, a highstreet in need of a direction.

  28. David Burton on November 28th, 2009 9:47 pm

    just found this again after so long
    i’m in favour of Sainsburys, we are now a “co-op town” & the only choice we have is which one of the five do we go to?
    inverness is a “tesco town”, i’ve heard tesco look after the council pension pot but that’s another story
    Nairn needs investment & it needs more people to care what happens to it, will we ever be able to drive across the Bailley Bridge again? there’s a topic that has disappeared over the years.
    there was a suggestion that the bus garage should have been demolished & the police station & ambulance station gone in there, keep the emergency services together but that would just be too simple
    the council should stop trying to appease non existent insults (wintersong anybody?) & actually start representing us in these matters