“AC-CEN-TU-ATE THE POSITIVE…. E-LIM-IN-ATE THE NEGATIVE”
(The words of a popular song recorded by Bing Crosby among others)
Following NICE’s efforts to collect local views about the future development of the town centre, and the various recent local meetings to discuss the plans – what has been achieved so far? It is perhaps time to take stock.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
To quote the late Ian Dury in another song, there are some Reasons To Be Cheerful:
- The Highland Council planners have shown an encouraging willingness to listen to ideas put forward by NICE and the local community;
- The discussions have resulted in some changes to the draft development plans compared to the options proposed initially;
- In particular, it has been accepted that the town centre site should be developed for mixed use including retail, business and services, rather than housing as originally suggested;
- The Co-op has indicated that it is prepared to take account of local interests and concerns in shaping policy for that part of the town centre site which it owns;
- The Council has agreed that the planning for the town centre site should be integrated with the forthcoming new Local Plan for the whole of the town of Nairn and surrounding area;
- The Council has offered to arrange a meeting with Transport Scotland, NICE and other local representatives to consider current issues and future plans for the A96/King Street.
These are positive signs. But they have yet to be translated into real outcomes. The jury is still out on whether the considerable time and effort devoted to this issue will deliver acceptable results.
Win, Lose or Draw?
Some progress has been made. But many doubts remain:
- The Highland Council listened to local views. But did they hear? Their revised plans for the site reflect very few of the specific proposals put forward by NICE or others during the consultation;
- The argument that the brief for the development of the town centre site should be linked with, and should include clear guidance on, the future development and use of the adjacent sites (the Library site and car park, and the Bus Station site) has been ignored;
- Despite acceptance of the principle of integration with the new Local Plan, the interim development brief now planned appears to contain no conditions or provisions which require prospective developers to ensure that proposals for this site comply with the forthcoming new Local Plan;
- In particular, the absence of any guidance within this interim brief and plan on the reconfiguration of the A96 junctions and intersections carries the risk that future traffic improvements will be made more difficult, if not impossible, by development that has been permitted in the interim;
- Similarly the interim development brief appears to take no account of the plans – already under discussion – for changes to the A96 as part of the Sainsburys’ development plan;
- There has been no discussion of possible ways to ensure that any development of the town centre site, once approved, be progressed and completed within a clearly defined timescale (to avert a repetition of the previous problems of deferral, indecision and delay which have blighted the area for so many years);
- The Highland Council has so far been unwilling to discuss or consult locally about the possible future use and occupancy of the properties it owns within the town centre area as part of a strategy for reviving the town and enhancing its appeal to visitors.
Highland Council officials intend to present a revised draft development brief for the town centre site to elected Councillors for approval at the Planning Environment and Development (PED) Committee in March 2011. It will then be used as the basis for any proposed sale of the land, and for development bids or plans by the Council itself, the Co-op, or any developer interested in purchasing the site.
So only a short time remains for any further suggestions to be put forward or changes to be requested in the Council’s draft development brief and plan for the town centre. If anyone wishes to suggest other points for inclusion, please post them as comments on this website or send them by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking ahead – more challenges
The possible redevelopment of the town centre is only the most urgent of several major planning proposals currently on the table. The Sainsburys development will also include significant changes to the A96 through the town. The developers interested in building new housing in Nairn South (opposite Firhall) intend to submit applications soon. The new Local Plan is being drafted by Council officials. Anyone who cares about the impact of these or other possible changes on the town of Nairn is invited to come along to a meeting of NICE. The next one will be at 5 pm on Friday 25 February in the Community Centre.
24 Feb 2011