Nairnshire Telegraph panders to developers

May 19, 2009 · Filed Under Development, Nairn 

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The over-riding message from objections to the Sandown development was that Nairn was not against development – simply that the proposed Deveron development was far too large.

The Nairnshire Telegraph does (within the internal coverage) point out that Deveron were repeatedly asked to reduce the number of homes, and repeatedly ignored this request.

And yet, the Nairnshire Telegraph grants the full front page to allowing Deveron and Invicta to lay their case, criticisms, and grievances – with almost zero comment from the people of Nairn itself.

And in the editorial, Iain Bain bemoans the fact that Nairn needs development and that we’ll never get an A96 bypass unless we get development.

Newsflash Iain – there has been a bypass promised for decades and it has never arrived. We already have grid-lock in Nairn (early Friday evenings are a great example) so it’s already clear the need is there now. And all we have to show for that fact is a vague promise from the Scottish Government to maybe get one started within the next 20 years.

Adding a new settlement the size of Kingussie to the east of Nairn is not going to speed up the arrival of a bypass if past performance is anything to go on.

And the Sandown site is still set for development – and there’s no big uproar about that.

Development is a necessary part of growth – it draws in services and amenities that can work in everyone’s interests – but what we’ve seen raised time and time again over the past few months is that unbridled development works in developer interests, but against the town’s.

In the case of Sandown, let’s underline that Deveron were repeatedly told that 550 homes was too many, but they figured on trying to steamroll over such objections regardless.

Now Deveron has a chance to submit a revised plan that indeed may make less profit per square metre – but is far less likely to rouse the same level of objection.

However, a comment I believed attributed to Mark Cummings, the spokesperson for Invicta, suggests Deveron may have options that can leave dormant for years. Not least for when the current Local Plan (certainly out of date) is replaced with a new regional plan that may be more sympathetic to the development criteria, and thus reduce technical objections to a repeat submission of the same.

Hopefully Deveron have learned that they need to suggest in a real degree of compromise – but it remains to be seen how they look to proceed.

In the meantime, I wonder if the whole Sandown issue is going to turn into another farce along the lines of giving away land free to Somerfield. After all, Deveron seem to still have a hold on the land, and because they did not pay money up front for the land, the people of Nairn still have nothing to show for this whole process.


4 Responses to “Nairnshire Telegraph panders to developers”

  1. nairnbairn on May 19th, 2009 9:41 pm

    The headlines from Westminster these days are all about transparency. We could perhaps do with a little more transparency around Nairn too.

    There are aspects of the Nairn land-for-development deals negotiated by Highland Council which are both opaque and disquieting.

    Some time ago, when the Somerfield/Co-op transition seemed to be paralysing progress on the town-centre site in Nairn, questions were asked in the local Ward Forum about whether the agreement negotiated by the Council with Somerfield had a timescale and some form of ‘reversion’ clause (use it or lose it). The rather elliptical official answer was in effect, “No”. An admission that the Council had relinquished any sort of leverage or control over the future of that site.

    Today’s Nairnshire Telegraph quotes Cummings of Invicta/Deveron as saying that “…the project could be delayed for some time because of the options Deveron has on the Common Good land at Sandown…. the company still has years to decide what to do”.

    More rigorous journalism (eg the Nairnshire’s Daily namesake?) would have pounced on this, and probed exactly what Cummings was referring to.

    Are there signs of a pattern here? Has Highland Council once again signed away rights, or agreed to conditions, which mean that Sandown, another significant area of Nairn, is now going to be blighted? Will we now again have to watch an impotent Council trying to engage with a would-be developer whom the Council itself has put into a position to obstruct alternative options or drag out any future discussion or planning?

    I think we should be told. Transparency, anyone?

  2. Gurnmeister on May 20th, 2009 8:35 pm

    In regard to the deal between Deveron and the Highland Council.

    1)What exactly was the deal?
    2)Who signed it on the behalf of the Council?

  3. Samantha Bacon on May 20th, 2009 11:28 pm

    Since the Sandown Development OPA and the Planning Committee decision to refuse the application, little has been heard from anyone on the way forward. I do not hold out any hope for Sandown until we have Ward Members who represent the views of the people who elected them, a Planning Committee who knows how to read and understand the implications of a planning report and ask relevant questions, and a Planning Department who are not seduced by Developer led proposals which go against the wishes of the area involved, the obvious identity of that area, and the implications of their proposal on the landscape, environment, and quality of life of that area and its people. Despite this application being unanimously refused by the Planning Committee, very few relevant questions were asked of either the developer or the objectors, leading one to suppose that either the Committee were, sheep-like. happy to accept the recommendation of the Planners without questioning the very parts of the Proposal which they later cited as reasons for refusal, OR, they did not have a comprehensive understanding of the implications of the Report and therefore did not know what questions to ask. I leave you to decide which reason may have prevailed. It concerns me that a group of Councillors with, seemingly little understanding of the Planning Process, are at liberty to pronounce on how our lives, our environment and our enjoyment of our town is progressed through Planning. Nor am I impressed with the Developer – led approach by our Planners and Councillors which seems to dictate how our towns and countryside are planned without taking into prior account factors such as, the Highland identity, schools, health and infrastructure requirements particularly when all of these services and facilities are already overburdened. Developer contributions in this area, (over £9000 per house erected) which accompany new developments over a certain size could be the main reason for Planners and Local Councillors supporting these proposals but is not sufficient reason for allowing unbridled development at the loss of local identity, overdevelopment, producing a burden on existing services, roads and facilities and last but not least, complete loss of trust in the ability of our elected councillors and the Planning Department to follow the rules regarding Planning Procedure.

    We do need Transparency in the Planning process and we certainly need our Ward Members and the H.C. Planning Department to answer some very pertinent questions regarding the handling of the Sandown Lands. Nairn already has to pay the tenant farmer of Sandown the sum of £385,000 compensation because our Councillors did not know enough about tenancy agreements, and add to that the legals costs involved, together with the £100,000 plus owed to H.C. to help build the Community Centre and you start to get a picture of how inept the whole procedure has been. If, we now find that Deveron have been allowed to build into the missives, conditions which allow them to control Sandown Land, then someone has to give the people of Nairn some clarity and an explanation. Sandown, after all, belongs to us.

  4. John Hart on May 22nd, 2009 11:31 pm

    There is no reason why, there might not be 140 or more houses built on Sandown Common Good Lands, so that the Common Good Fund can benefit from and supplement the charitable work that it carries out. However, Nairn citizens must all ensure that they are consulted by the Trustees of the Common Good Fund BEFORE any disposal and/or over-development of Common Good Lands is made. Be warned that Deveron or someone like them will be back, aided and abetted by Highland Council. However, do not be lulled into a false sense of security that it was just our Nairn Councillors, who were instrumental in rejecting this application.

    The application totally failed because Highland Council were disingenuous in how they dealt with Deveron and the Nairn public. They failed to follow regulations by not acknowledging the primacy of the Nairnshire Local Plan for 140 houses on Sandown; then, not following procedures necessary to have it amended, having applied for planning consent for an increase to 230 houses; and then, not translating the housing limits within that original approved Local Plan (140 or revised 230) into the DRAFT Development Plan, details of which, by law, all potential Developers were obliged to follow. Furthermore, as the Draft Development Plan was never brought to committee for approval it also never had legal status, as an authorised Development Plan.

    We are most grateful to a couple of Planning Committee Councillors from outside Nairn, who spoke up at the planning hearing. One asked what sort of planner thought that a town the size Kingussie, plugged onto the side of Nairn, was a good idea!! Another opined that it was a disgrace that such a planning application had got as far as being put before the Planning Committee.

    The Nairn Residents Concern Group has a copy of an email between Highland Council planning officials wheeler-dealing over numbers of houses with a new number of 330, but agreeing to the extra 220 in order for Deveron to pay approximately another £10k per unit into the A96 Protocol Fund. The email also admits that the Draft Development Brief was never put before Committee for approval. This is tantamount to theft from the Common Good Fund. Are you aware that Highland Council intended to pay for their mistake over the lapsing of annual grazing rights, which by default became a full agricultural lease from the Sandown sale proceeds. This mistake required negotiation of a £385k settlement to achieve eviction prior to sale, plus costs, making a total of some £1M to be taken from the Common Good Fund. Both actions are considered illegal and effectively would have robbed the Common Good Fund.

    The Inverness Courier leader said that, “On a local level, this debacle could cost Nairn millions because the site is unlikely to attract such a high price if it goes back on the market”, please read the above paragraphs carefully. They actually prove that the value of over £14M for the site was obtained by negotiating a level of housing, under the table, so as to achieve a “done deal” which satiated greed, and which would have resulted in a site that would have been a planning blight. Furthermore, the money from the sale of the land would have gone to the Common Good Fund NOT to Nairn as such. That fund does not exist for bailing out a bankrupt Council and the fund can only be used for projects supported by the local community. The Common Good Fund per se does not need to be greedy. Any additional money in its bank account is more than it would have had and consequently Trustees responsibilities to the Fund are to marry the wishes of the people as “owners” versus the maximisation of income and assets for the “owners”. Trustees have no legal right to invest in wild dreams.

    The IC went on to say, “More broadly, it sends a damaging signal that the Highlands is a difficult place to do business”. I would refute that. The signal sent out is that if you consult properly as per the guidance in the Scottish Panning Act 2006, follow the Act’s planning regulations, and consider carefully what buildings may be complementary to a particular town, then any developer will be welcome. Others may be content to associate themselves with the similar standards being set by our current dishonest politicians and public servants, but we are sure that the majority of ethical businesses and the citizens of Nairn are not.

    Highland Council does not seem to want to learn from its mistakes. It continues to apply spurious planning concepts to the A96 Development Plan (which again has no legal status) with bogus population growth figures such as “30,000 along the Elgin/Inverness Murray corridor”. This figure is a HC “aspirational” target population growth number for the “whole of the Highlands”, an area the size of Belgium – not just a 30 mile portion of the Highlands along the southern edge of Murray Firth. Highland Council needs to consider carefully that it exists to service the whole of the Highlands and not be just Inverness-centric – the rural communities need as much if not more support. For how long has Scotland complained about London-centric government, which has now been swapped for an Edinburgh one. By default that centric mentality has arrived in Inverness in spades and the Highlands continue to be “cleared” by short term silo thinking. The mantra should be “act locally – think Highlands”.

    Nairn citizens should understand that the Common Good Fund is theirs and theirs alone. They should require that Highland Council make the Nairn Community Councillors Trustees as well as maybe the 4 Nairn Councillors. Thus, they should also insist that the other Highland Councillors should NOT be Trustees of the Nairn Common Good Fund. No offence to them but they should NOT be Trustees because they do NOT live in Nairn, a fundamental criteria of Common Good Fund administration. Thus, Councillors in other areas of the Highlands should be demanding adherence to such rules, in their own areas, where a Common Good Fund exists. This then achieves a separation of responsibility for the Common Good Fund between Highland Council/Councillors on the Planning Committee and Local Community Councillors, thus, at stroke removing the allegations of “conflict of interest”, which as a statement does not just mean “financial”.

    Nairn residents are now increasingly aware that Sandown Lands, as an asset belonging to the Common Good Fund, is now and always has been totally theirs. There is no farmer with either grazing rights or agricultural lease using it. While Highland Council hold the Deeds, they do so on behalf of Nairn residents. Therefore, Nairn residents should use the area to walk their dogs, ride their horses, cycle over it, picnic on it, kick a football around it, fly a kite from it and not just the wetlands area – all of it. They should make sure that they take photographs to prove such usage of the area so that their claim to free usage is perpetuated. This counts for a lot at the next round of any future planning application.

    Thank you

    John Hart