Reports of the demise of NICE have been greatly exaggerated, but understandable given that NICE has been unable to put much into the public domain. The key difficulty was that identifying the mechanisms for delivery and the fundamental need for collaborative working were not easy to achieve in the prevailing climate. Despite that, we have been exceptionally busy behind the scenes for the last 18 months, and can now report on two significant projects – seeking “BID” status for Nairnshire, and driving the Town Centre Plan forward.

We are delighted that a new Planning Consultation from Scottish Government recognises that “People rightly expect to have a stronger say in the decisions that affect them and their communities”.  Suggested changes to legislation will “Allow communities to prepare local place plans that set out where development requirements, as defined by the broader local development plan, can be met.” These ideas have always been central within the aims and objectives of NICE, whose principle purpose under its Constitution is to drive the regeneration of Nairn.

The Nairn Town Centre Charrette was facilitated by the Highland Council. With input from NICE’s community survey and the input of other business and voluntary groups, an agreed Town Centre Plan was developed and published in September 2015, but there was no strategy for delivering any of the agreed outcomes and for reasons not fully understood, it has received little public attention. Anecdotally there is little public awareness of its existence. For that reason NICE engaged the services of a highly respected consultant, funded by the Development Trust Association of Scotland, to look at the Charrette outcomes and identify options for taking them forward. Our consultant Marion Francis is now in a position to present the results of her work and consultation.

We are pleased to invite our members and the wider community to an Open Afternoon drop-in session on the 3rd March (2.00-5.00pm) at the Nairn Community & Arts Centre so that we can refresh awareness of the Town Centre plans that were proposed by the Charrette process. We have invited the Highland Council planning team who prepared the Charrette report to be present and to chat informally to visitors and take feedback. A more formal evening session (7.30pm) will be given over to Marion Francis’ presentation of the options for the next steps with a timeline and strategy for taking forward the Town Centre Plan – the core mission of NICE. As the commentary in the Town Centre Plan itself states, it is up to the community to work with the statutory authorities to drive the project forward.

One reason for the difficulty we faced was the fact that the strands connecting various community groups and initiatives were complex, and there are many community groups in Nairnshire. But we sensed that the climate had changed 18 months ago when the director of Scottish Government’s Business Improvement District (“BID”) department approached NICE with the proposition that Nairnshire should seek BID status. Alongside this, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (“HIE”) had also stated that “Nairn must speak with one voice”. We thought long and hard about ways to tackle the problems, and drew comfort from the fact that HIE are supportive of a BID for Nairnshire. The energy and commitment recently put into proposals for a new Lido/Thermal Spa, has resulted in HIE funding a feasibility study to determine if it might be a key driver for the local economy. There is good evidence that a well-researched idea with suitable financial support will succeed and give the wider community confidence in itself.  Indeed, the recently opened Sun Dancer Restaurant is very popular, and the coffee & wine bar on the Brae has a distinctive offering.

NICE invited Michael Boylan, Chair of the Association of Nairn Businesses, and Michael Green, Elected Highland Councillor, to join a Steering Group which has now secured funding of up to £50,000 to take the proposal to ballot using professional paid staff to do the work. A separate Press Release has just been issued about the BID, identifying the vital roles of The Highland Council and HIE in supporting the Government BID policy.

We believe the opportunity to acquire BID status for Nairnshire is a real game-changer for our community. The fact that funding for the preparatory work has been secured confirms the outside perception at Government level that Nairnshire is a “sleeping giant” – a seaside tourist destination with great unrealised potential and worth investment. NICE’s role on the BID Steering Group is to act as enabler, and by virtue of its charitable and corporate status to be the funding conduit for the work.  We believe that the BID project will underpin further work on the Town Centre Plan, and give potential funders the confidence that Nairn does on this occasion mean business.

The full Nairn Town Centre Plan report can be accessed from the Highland Council’s website and also here – Download the full document here.

Alastair Noble – Chair NICE
Mike Barnett – Secretary NICE


“BID” stands for Business Improvement District. It is a model operated worldwide, and the Scottish Government has been a particularly strong supporter with a department dedicated to the promotion and support of BIDs. The ultimate aim of a BID is to generate increased economic activity, which in a tourism area means increased visitor footfall and, with it, increased spending.

Alastair Noble and Michael Barnett of NICE, Michael Boylan (Chair of the  Association of Nairn Businesses (“ANB”) and Michael Green (Elected Highland Councillor) have been collaborating since November 2015 to investigate whether a “BID for Nairnshire” should be established.  “BID” stands for Business Improvement District. The work has been fully supported by The Highland Council, and has reached the conclusion that a BID for Nairnshire is highly desirable, if not essential.  Highlands and Islands Enterprise (“HIE”) have also given their full support. (See the full BID Press Release here)

An initial “Seedcorn” grant was secured from Scottish Government in May to fund the first phase of the project, and we have recently received “matching” funding commitments from The Highland Council and HIE.

A BID is a business-led initiative where businesses work together and invest collectively in local improvements to their business environment. It should be a partnership between public and private sectors. A BID is not a substitute for central or local government services, but it is a way in which additional funding can be raised, and has the attraction that the businesses decide how to use that funding.

Stripped to its essentials a BID is a five year agreed business plan that operates to a budget, and the payers of a rating levy determine how to spend the levy and any other funding that can be secured. From the research undertaken the typical annual budget for a town of Nairn’s size would be about £150,000, and the typical small business would pay an annual levy in the range £150 to £250. It is not difficult to work out how even quite a modest increase in local visitor footfall will amply repay the annual expense of £250 – perhaps 6 extra visitor nights for a small hotel, and for the area’s service providers (eg butchers and plumbers) a commensurate increase in sales to the hotel owners.  Big businesses (eg supermarkets) would pay an annual levy of the order of £5,000.


Although it has not received much publicity in the last year, there is a plan for the Town Centre, being the output of two public Charrettes hosted by The Highland Council. The “Nairn Town Centre Plan” report was published in October 2015, and records that NICE, the ANB and The Highland Council have committed to working together to deliver it. Through its membership of DTAS (the Development Trusts Association of Scotland), NICE secured a grant from Scottish Government to hire an adviser to take the project forward. The Highland Council and NICE organised events in April to share what was planned with local representative bodies, and NICE will be presenting the Charrette conclusions and the recommendations of its adviser for next steps to the community soon.

The point about the Town Centre Plan is that it is a vital element in the regeneration of Nairn. It is common ground that the town’s centre must act as a “magnet” for visitors, and as a link to the High Street and Nairn’s visitor attractions.


There are two phases. The first is the planning stage funded in part by the Scottish Government “Seedcorn” Grant.  This typically takes 15 months and involves preparing a business plan, consulting the business and wider community, and effectively selling the BID concept to the local business community who of course will be paying for it via the levy. At the conclusion of this phase there is a ballot of the business community and certain statutory  thresholds have to be exceeded in the vote. If the ballot fails then the BID is not established.

The second phase is after a successful ballot when the BID becomes a reality and the 5 year business plan has to be delivered.  By then the potential directors of the BID company will have been identified and the BID company will be established and tasked with delivering its 5 year business plan.


We have jointly taken the initiative to steer the project through the first phase.  NICE as a company, a Community Body and a registered charity has been able to secure the necessary funding, and has the capacity to enter into contracts. NICE’s role is agreed to be that of facilitator and enabler; the ANB’s Chairman Michael Boylan is the link with business; and Michael Green as a Highland Councillor provides the vital link to the Highland Council and other Elected Councillors.

At a point in time close to the ballot the steering group’s task will have been completed, and it is envisaged that will be when the directors of the new BID company are ready to take the project forward. It is envisaged that beyond that NICE’s role will be supportive in that as a Community Body it represents the community, and as a charity can access funding for community projects that the BID company as a commercial enterprise cannot. In other words, joint working for the benefit of the whole community will happen.

Alastair Noble – Chairman of NICE

Michael Barnett – Secretary of NICE

Michael Boylan – Chairman of the ANB

Michael Green – Highland Councillor