Nairn needs development

October 23, 2009 · Filed Under Development, Nairn 

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The community council and A96 presentation meeting was very interesting and very well attended – it brought together the existing planned developments by the Highland Council and criticisms from the floor. Graisg provides excellent detailed coverage here.

The blunt perception is that many people vocally oppose development because they refuse to accept change – it’s a dynamic I’ve commented on before, a struggle of interests between those who come to Nairn to retire and die, and those who come to Nairn to start their lives with young families.

And caught in the crossfire are the people who were born in Nairn and have lived here for decades, who tend to either resist change because it is change, or else are clear that change should be conditional on the grounds that any development work within the town’s existing character, not against it.

The latter is the better argument and one I think there is broadest agreement on.

The core problem is that no matter Inverness’s city status, no matter the tourist influx to the Highlands, the Highlands of Scotland are fighting population decline – young people leaving to go down south for to fulfil education and career needs, yet the region needs to support an increasing aged population (more than 40% of the people in Nairn are aged over 60!).

None of the developments shown in the A96 masterplan are anything new – expansion of East Inverness, business park at the airport, development at Whiteness, new town at Tornagrain, expansion of Cawdor…plus Delnies, Sandown, and south Nairn developments all on the table.

And there really is nothing shocking about developing these areas – the Highlands needs more amenities to retain and expand the population – and an expanding population brings more money to the table in terms of employment, expanded economy, and extra cash for Highland Council to keep and expand those very services the older folk need to keep running.

The big question is really about the character of these developments, and ensuring that infrastructure is in place to support inevitable expansion. (The issue of Nairn’s sewer treatment – and summer overspill – is a very salient point.)

Plus, of course, we want to avoid the sort of high-density housing that leads to cramped small homes and high rise flats – the latter especially as unwelcome in a tourism area.

Sandown, for all its flaws, offered a new leisure centre and a much needed business park. It was the developer’s insistence on fighting the original residential limits imposed by Highland Council – and supported by the community – that has seen that development rightly stalled.

The fact that most people in Nairn commute to Inverness has long been flagged as a problem, and something that was raised for addressing in the original Local Plan we’re currently working from – and yet there remains very limited opportunity to expand a business in Nairn, without being forced to Inverness for commercial space.

The shocker is that despite this need, the Highland Council are already thinking that if the Coop don’t expand in Nairn, the buildings that would otherwise formed a part of this plan would be turned into flats!

Those are prime business locations, in Nairn’s Central Business District (CBD), and the more focus is given over to turning central properties into residential property is just insane!

Instead of thinking about how to preserve the High Street and business along it, I think we should actually be thinking of *expanding* the High Street, and the business opportunities around it.

After all, compare to Inverness – the retail sector there is collapsing, not least because landlords are fighting to maintain over-priced lease terms – and yet in this economic downturn, this financial crisis, there is only one shop on the High Street that remains empty – and that’s because it’s not advertised on the open market!

There is a real demand for more retail and office space in Nairn’s centre, and a whole string of derelict buildings that could easily be used for commercial purposes – increasing employment within Nairn and bringing extra strength to its economy – but so far the HC’s fawning to the Coop based on an outdated local plan is proving a complete albatross around the neck of Nairn.

It’s understandable but genuinely sad to see objections to development on the grounds that it is change – we should be more focused on embracing development under our own conditions – in other words, ensure the character and desirability of the town is expanded upon, and developer push for profit is not left unchecked.

It is said that Nairn is the second largest town in the Highlands, yet we are dependent on the largest still for much of our retail, business, employment, and leisure needs.

Nairn does not become a stronger place resisting inevitable change – that’s why we should seek to harness change for our own betterment, as a town and people, instead of letting ourselves be led by the opposing forces of fear and greed who would otherwise see the town decline.

Nairn needs development – but we can still ensure it is on our terms.


10 Responses to “Nairn needs development”

  1. jayteescot1 on October 23rd, 2009 7:23 pm

    Brian you make some very good points on the outcome of last nights meeting.
    It is undoubtedly better that any changes to Nairn are vetted and approved by the people of Nairn. A bypass and infrastructure to cope with any expansion is a MUST. Coastal towns will always be in demand and Developers will always seek to maximise their profits from such locations. This is why the community councils should hold regular joint meetings to scrutinise and make suggestions that will keep a finger on the pulse of what is planned for Nairn.

  2. nairnbairn on October 24th, 2009 11:02 pm

    Some thoughtful arguments here in favour of development – provided it is the right kind!

    It is always going to be difficult to get a consensus around what the town needs. At present there isn’t even unanimous support for a bypass! But although your sociological analysis is interesting – young families versus the elderly, long-residents resistant to change, etc – I think it is flawed, and the distinctions you draw are artificial.

    In fact there is more common ground than conflicting visions. Both the older generation (who in this healthier era are looking for active retirement, rather than “to die”) and those with young families, seek the same facilities and quality of life: space to stroll and play in, fresh air to breathe, clean beaches, streets where they can walk safely and not have to dodge traffic, and facilities within reach for shopping, recreation and education. So it should not be hard for all categories of residents in Nairn whether growing up, looking for work, or pursuing retirement interests, to come out in favour of developments which deliver such things.

    The problem is that too often this is not what past development policies, and current proposals, have offered. Too often – as Iain Fairweather put it some time ago – local people have felt disenfranchised. Decisions have been made which have either changed the quality of life in Nairn for the worse, or have paralysed sensible change. The list is long and shameful. Just to quote some of the worst examples:

    – the redevelopment of the harbour area to deliver high-density housing and little else (as already discussed in earlier MyNairn blogs);

    – the sale of Rosebank Church for pennies, leaving it to slide into ruin;

    – the creeping encroachment on to the green space of Viewfield (the bowling club and sports centre are at least recreational: now beside the community centre we have a massive new police building);

    – the peculiar decisions which have led to the dismal neglect of the old bus station site;

    – the apparent kneejerk policy of both planners and developers – you use the word “insane” – to convert any available town centre site (Ashers old premises, the former Macrae and Dick garage, the Royal and Station Hotels, and many more) into blocks of flats;

    – the disastrous failure, which you mention, of the Council’s misguided strategy over the Regal/old community centre/filling station site. How long has that been a blight on Nairn’s landscape, and how much longer will it be an albatross round Nairn’s, and the Council’s, neck?

    – the appalling ‘Berlin Wall’ of new high-rise affordable housing at the Maggot that now looms over one of Nairn’s main assets – the riverside – and greets those heading for the caravan site and beach.

    It’s not just that people are worried by the impact on already-crowded roads and overloaded infrastructure of yet more housing estates (and this was the core issue over Sandown). Those who argue for more development in Nairn have a mountain of mistrust to climb, because people’s views have been shaped by the planning misjudgements of the past and the cynicism, greed, or inertia of those developers who have been able to exploit them.

    So yes, there is a need for new, creative and imaginative thinking about how to develop Nairn. Some ideas have been floating around. But we can’t rely on developers, whose main interest is naturally to maximise profit (and Deveron’s plan for Sandown was an ominous, rather than an encouraging, prospect). The Highland Council’s approach needs to shift. Their latest draft plan offers little beyond a scenario of several more large new housing developments, with a bit of space for playgrounds and a business park – and this when business premises lie unoccupied at Balmakeith, good buildings in town are boarded up, and seagulls nest on the roof of the derelict bus station.

    It’s going to be tough to climb that mountain. Let us hope that the efforts to coordinate community councils, and the continuing efforts of bloggers and others, will get the folk of Nairn – and those who represent us – all pulling in the same direction.

  3. Brian Turner on October 25th, 2009 1:44 pm

    Good comments, nairnbairn, and the point about previously panning failures (not least the harbour) are especially salient.

    The concern I have is that when I went to the Community Councils/A96 Plan meeting, I knew there would be a lot of resistance – but many of the arguments being made from the floor is that development was unwelcome, full stop.

    You’re absolutely right – we need to address existing outstanding issues, rather than push right past them, and we especially need to ensure that the Highland Council stops seeing residential development as a solution to everything – it’s choking the town centre, to the point where new developments would be needed just to provide additional commercial and amenity expansions, which is a silly policy entirely.

    The argument that development itself is inherently wrong is something I wanted to try and address – not because I’m pro-development for the sake of it, nor because I think new developments will be driven by good decision-making – but because Nairn does need new facilities and opportunities, and the issue of Sandown showed that the people of Nairn can stop development when it moves beyond clear bounds of common sense.

    I’m hoping that the common ground is suitably wide, which will accept development, on condition that it does improve Nairn, as a town, a place to live, and for residents.

    I suspect, though, that we will see a lot more heated discussions and polarised arguments come up – though if nothing else, this will be because the people of Nairn care enough about what is happening to try and ensure their voice is heard.


  4. Cathy on October 26th, 2009 3:39 pm

    Hi Brian

    Were we at the same meeting? I know we were, but the notes that I took at the meeting would not allow for the conclusion that there was a particularly anti-development focus. From what I could hear those present were drawing attention to the kinds of issues that generally allow for assessment of the planning merits of any proposals.

    I know that several members of the audience mentioned the use of agricultural land, but since we are talking of land use planning in an area with a large number of farms then this is hardly surprising.

  5. Brian Turner on October 26th, 2009 3:53 pm

    I don’t seem to recall any pro-development voices from the floor, nor of any local presentations supporting the idea of development. :)

    Obviously, I’m not trying to have a dig at anyone who was there – but a lot of people turned up to express concern at the prospect of development.

    That was to be expected – my concern is that rather than looking to turn development to our advantage, there was a general resistance – as nairnbairn covered above.

    The surprising thing is that there were no surprises – only three major developments are set for the Nairn in the next 30 years – Sandown, Delnies, and the southern Nairn development under Barrats, Robertsons, and another national builder.

    Sandown has already been thrown out due to far too high housing density, far above what HC allowed for in planning permission, so it looks quite possible that we can indeed ensure that development can only proceed as originally envisaged;

    Cawdor Estates generally seems more interested in taking on board public concerns, and I’ve seen no direct objections to any of their plans to date;

    The only really big unknown is development to the south of the town – I raised doubts about the existing transport system being able to support it, to which the reply was that it would be entirely dependent on new road planning coming into effect, either via the near mythical Nairn ByPass, or else via completely new relief roads – which all sounds like a huge undertaking in itself.

    Aside from these three big projects, though, nothing else is planned on the large scale for the next 30 years for the town.

    It seems perhaps it’s the smaller projects we actually need to especially keep an eye out for, ie, the new flats the Maggot, and the attempted building of town houses behind Woolworths. These are perhaps the developments most likely to slowly disintegrate the town’s character.

    2c. :)

  6. nairnbairn on October 26th, 2009 5:44 pm

    Brian – I think we need to get away from the idea that people are automatically “pro” or “anti” development. They are not. Attitudes are shaped by two crucial questions: (a) what kind of development is being planned? And (b) what are the planners’, or the Council’s, priorities?

    For example, almost everyone in Nairn is “pro” the (re)development of the derelict areas of the town centre, for obvious and common-sense reasons. Equally, there is a groundswell of “anti” , or at least very suspicious, feeling about the kind of large-scale proposals envisaged for Sandown and South Nairn, because these are overwhelmingly for housing (much of it high-density housing of a kind that is out of keeping with this town’s character), and based on population growth projections that are, quite frankly, unrealistic and unjustified.

    It’s not therefore surprising – and it is healthy and necessary – that people are asking searching and critical questions about such housing-based planning, especially when it is accompanied by a laissez-faire or fatalistic approach to the provision of the infrastructure improvements (bypass, drains, etc) which people can see are already needed. That doesn’t make people anti-development: it just reveals that – perhaps belatedly – they are realising how important it is to get the planning framework right before inviting the builders in!

    The plain fact is that the Council planners are impaled on a hook of their own making. They are relying on planning gain (the “developers’ contribution”) from house-building to fund much of the infrastructure. It is right that developers should contribute. But the problem is that the planning process has become skewed as a result. Attention is focused on delivering housing, on the assumption that other improvements will follow. But as recent examples (eg Lochloy) have shown, even that can’t be relied on…

  7. Cathy on October 26th, 2009 10:57 pm

    I do understand the need to explore the development needs of the area Brian but it is easier to put forward ideas if you are the landowner. I often explore the planning system by envisaging my own ‘fantasy’ developments; what I would build, where and why. So far I have thought about a new community facility in our village; a small scale eco homes settlement and considered approaches that could be taken to provide rented housing. But I always come back to the same premise, would whatever I would propose be the right development in the right area for the right reason? That seems to be the crux of it and that should be the reason why all authorities have to generate the amount of data that they do; to test and evaluate the proposals that are put forward. We do not have the luxury of blank pages just a collection of developers and landowners hoping to convince all the stakeholders that what they would like to do is the right thing for the area and complies with all policies.

  8. anon on October 27th, 2009 10:35 am

    Is the editorial in this week’s Nairnshire Telegraph too scathing or in line with what Nairnites and others in the Highlands think?

    …’On the other hand the area is so large one wonders if there is any point in such a plan. If we were to gloss what we heard last Thursday we might describe the structure plan as set out as: all power to the A96 corridor; God save the impoverished North, god help the fragile (mendicant) West, preserve some industry in Easter Ross and to hell with Fort William!’

  9. Brian Turner on October 27th, 2009 11:37 am

    “On the other hand the area is so large one wonders if there is any point in such a plan. If we were to gloss what we heard last Thursday we might describe the structure plan as set out as: all power to the A96 corridor; God save the impoverished North, god help the fragile (mendicant) West, preserve some industry in Easter Ross and to hell with Fort William!”

    Unless I completely misunderstand something the A96 plan is not a grand vision for the A96 corridor that seeks to create completely new planning opportunities, but instead:

    – brings existing developments already under planning into a single plan, instead of piecemeal
    – so that development planning can run alongside transport and infrastructure planning
    – and update the Local Plan for Nairn and Inverness areas to account for these developments in planning, and infrastructure in planning

    In that regard, I can’t see how on earth it can be claimed that having a Local Plan for the Moray Firth area in some way invalidates further development in Fort William, Wick, or Skye – all of which have their own Local Plans.

    The surprise, really, is why on earth the HC showcased the A96 plan around the Highlands, when it is firmly rooted in being a Local Plan? We wouldn’t expect to have a direct say in what sort of development occurs in Fort William, Wick, or Skye?

    In which case, what on earth is Iain Bain talking about?

  10. nairnbairn on October 27th, 2009 12:24 pm

    I think this is a tad unfair to Iain Bain, whose editorial makes some valid points.

    For better or for worse, the Highland Council has to take a strategic view of the planning priorities for the whole of the region. We do need to worry about what is planned elsewhere in the Highlands, as this determines the allocation of resources and investment. The Main Issues Report is a decent attempt to set out the main arena for debate. It won’t be possible – to quote Abraham Lincoln – to please all of the people all of the time.

    So part of the current debate is whether the Council has got their strategic priorities right. And as both Iain Bain and a recent post on the APT blog suggest, quite a lot of people think the planners have got the balance wrong, with too much emphasis on the A96 corridor.

    There will in due course (2010) be a new/updated Inner Moray Firth Local Plan. This will indeed seek to bring together the housing, transport, and infrastructure requirements. With luck, it may overtake and improve on the existing A96 Corridor Plan drawn up by Halcrows, which was drafted in different circumstances and based on some questionable assumptions. The new Inner Moray Firth Local Plan will however be shaped by the broad strategy set out in the proposed “Highland-wide” plan. Which is why it is so important for there to be joined-up thinking and discussion across the region, to get the overall strategic balance right.