A NICE beginning


Community mobilises to consider alternative options

  • Local organisation formed:  all residents invited to participate
Nairn Development

The Buildings in Question

Following Highland Council’s publication of a draft Development Brief for that part of the town centre site for which the Council is responsible adjacent to the properties now owned by the Co-op, local Nairn residents have formed a group to look at options for the redevelopment of this King Street town centre site.  At a meeting on Thursday 28 October some thirty concerned residents of Nairn, including representatives of all three Community Councils, the Association of Nairn Businesses, Visit Nairn Tourism Association and a number of interested individuals, decided to establish a Company Limited by Guarantee entitled “Nairn Improvement Community Enterprise” (NICE).  Three volunteer founder-directors** have been appointed, and all residents of the town of Nairn are invited to join. 

  • Existing Council proposals “do not reflect local views”

The group came together after a public Ward Forum meeting at which the Council’s draft plan to have the site redeveloped for housing and car parking were robustly rejected as lacking in imagination and inappropriate for this key location.  The new organisation, which includes professional town planners and architects as well as members with legal and business experience, has already formed working groups to collate ideas and examine the feasibility of all suggestions. 

  • A proper town centre, not a housing estate:  public views invited
Regal Bar

Another contentious building

At their second working meeting on Thursday 4 November the group identified a number of key elements that might be incorporated in the planning, including retail provision, business facilities and “green space” as well as improved access from the A96 and to the adjacent High Street. There was a clear consensus that the site – which is the public face of the town – should offer a prospect which appeals to visitors and serves the needs of the community.  The new enterprise will be seeking views from the people of the town on how best to make this long-neglected area a more diverse and welcoming part of the Nairn town centre.  The group also hopes to make contact with the management of the Co-op and the owners of other adjacent sites in order to discuss and co-ordinate the planning.

  • After ten years of inaction, ten weeks for decision is “unacceptable”

Meanwhile in a letter to the Convener of Highland Council Sandy Park (who is also a Councillor for Nairn), the three volunteer founder-directors of the new organisation have called for the period of consultation on the development proposals to be extended by at least 3-4 months, in order to allow sufficient time for other options for the redevelopment of the site to be explored, and for the outcome of a design workshop which is to be held by the Council in late November to be properly assessed and evaluated.  In their letter to the Convener, the group seeks to co-operate closely with the Council planners, “to assist in bringing forward achievable options, phased or otherwise, which meet the aspirations of the people of Nairn.”

  • Concern about Council’s intentions:  there is “no pressure” for sale

Concerns remain about the tight timescale and restrictions which Council officials had sought to impose on public consultation.  This has given rise to suspicions that the Council is in a hurry to offer the site for sale.  The newly-formed group has reminded Convener Sandy Park of his public confirmation that there was “no pressure” to sell off the site.  NICE also points out that the value of the site is unlikely to be realised if offered for sale in current economic and property-market conditions.   The group strongly believes that the development of this town centre site needs to be integrated with the wider urban planning for Nairn’s future, which is to be considered during the coming months in the context of the Council’s own draft regional and urban development plans for the Inner Moray Firth.    

  • Constructive dialogue and partnership

In commenting on this initiative Mr Jimmy Ferguson, a Director and acting Chair of the group, said, “We share with the Highland Council the aim of ensuring that the future development of this crucial part of Nairn reflects the wishes of the local community and contributes to the revival and regeneration of the town.  We are therefore keen to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Highland Council and to work in partnership with them.  We hope for a positive response to our initiative”.

4 November 2010

1.  Directors of NICE are:      Mike Barnett (contact tel 01667 456657)

                                          Jimmy Ferguson (contact 01667 455875)

                                         Matthew Hilton (contact matthew.hilton@cmdesign.biz)

2.  The next step in the consideration of the future of the Nairn Town Centre site is to be a design workshop convened by Highland Council at the Courthouse in Nairn.  The provisional date – still to be confirmed – is 22 November.                                                                                                       

21 thoughts on “A NICE beginning

    1. Demolish old community centre.
    2. Demolish old petrol station and use for access to co-op car park.
    3. Concrete wall bounding co-op car park. Remove old paintings on boards. Renovate – stone cope and concrete wall wet dash with white finish.
    4. Demolish regal bar and renovate old cinema frontage.
    5. Renovate public toilets.
    6. Remaining two buildings could be brought back into use.- VAN, citizens advice, cafe, or retail.
    7. Area between co-op car park and library car park made into a walking area with benches/seats and raised flower beds. This would join High street with main road, bus station and community centre.

  2. 1, Give the old Regal to Tilda Swinton’s Film Foundation for a Cinema and HQ, build on what she has done for our town already and harness this goodwill before it up and leaves. (lots of ways to do this, and no demolition costs) What a great advert for our town.
    2. Use the space of the old petrol station for extra parking until we see what happens to the Co-op’s after Sainsburys open the doors.
    3.VAN (CVS) etc plus Tourist Info office for the old buildings that prove that they just don’t make them to last anymore.
    4. A proper “Highland” or even “Nairn Art Gallery/Centre” with public toilets, a Cafe etc for the Community Center. Did you know that 70% of the Visual Art that you own is in storage which is paid for again by you as a taxpayer?. Inverness have been trying to build an Art Gallery proper for the last 30 years and still nothing , there’s one in the eye for them, literally. Underpin the work done by all the volunteers in getting an Arts Festivals, Jazz festival, Film Festival etc going.

    I think establishments would benefit our Community and boost our industry “TOURISM”. We’ve not lost what we have, we have just never built on it. What do the Golf widows, weather weary visitors and aspiring locals want? – a bit of the City without having to leave this Wonderful place. Please! at least let the Town Centre be Nairn for Nairnites from all parts of Nairn past and present, a housing scheme is a housing scheme and they are built on the fringes of Commerce and Culture for a reason – shared access which leads to a sense of Community and hopefully restored civic pride.

  3. Some excellent suggestions already. Conversation overheard at bus stop indicated a number of ladies had a wish for a designated “coffee morning” venue which could be used by lots of different groups.
    The ever escalating costs of maintaining Viewfield House to a standard required to house the museum would indicate a need for a specific building. A small group of people saved the collection for Nairn in the early eighties and it should not be in danger of disappearing to Inverness again.

  4. I agree with much of what has already been written and would like the following points also to be considered:

    * Approach the co-op management at national level to gift the Regal complex to the town since they do not use it and it appears to be structurally separate from their newly refurbished store. I am sure that they would welcome the goodwill which this would generate for them. The town could then find suitable tenants who could maintain the exterior properly.

    * Acquire and demolish the library building to create access from the High Street onto a landscaped square incorporating the old school with its attractive palladian style frontage.

    * Relocate the library, possibly to a joint library/ art gallery as proposed by Shaun MacDonald.

    * Preserve the former social-work offices on King Street which are attractive and in keeping with a more traditional looking street. Locate a tourist information centre and perhaps small specialist retail outlets and meeting places there.

    * Reclaim and use the former petrol station site as part of the supermarket car-park but landscape it to create a more congenial aspect from the A96 as well as a better entrance to the supermarket.

    * Exploit the tourism (ghoulish) potential of the old police cells.

  5. Some very good suggestions. I would like to see existing Library demolished and site made a gateway to and from High Street. A real town square could be created in this area and Dr Grigor’s statue brought into the heart of it. Transfer all existing Council facilities to Viewfield House and let Museum use Town House which could also incorporate a proper Tourist Info facility in the centre of town. Demolish old Community Centre which is now in a dangerous structural state, I believe. Keep old Free Church School beside it at all costs. Under no circumstances build any further flatted accommodation.

    • Some really impressive suggestions there Alan. Changing the role of the old
      Courthouse, and bringing Viewfield House into play, gives an idea of what can be achieved with minimal costs. Also, the addition of a Market Place within that area, would be another option.

    • Well spoken and thought of Alan. A bit of common sense goes a long way it will be interesting to see if they take you up on what you said heres hoping Lord Ealan

  6. What a great initiative! I look forward to seeing the progress made. Some excellent suggestions so far.

    I would like to think that in a few years time people on holiday will be driving through Nairn and think, ‘This looks nice. Here’s a good place to stop’.
    I guess this presupposes: parking, a welcoming feel, obvious easy access to food, drink, groceries, toilets – and some sense of place (this is not just another town, but a tourist town with an interesting history and plenty things to do and see and buy).

  7. It’s so encouraging to see Nairnites take an interest in the future of their town centre. One of the reasons I moved here from Inverness a few years back!

    The town centre should be a real community asset and focal point. I like the idea of a town square – how about a statue of Charlie Chaplin? Green space is important too – perhaps invite volunteers to plant flowers, fruit trees or even vegetables for use by the community. We need a space where people want to linger. It could be used for a farmers’ market and how about a pipe band peformance on Saturdays in the summer and a brass band in the run up to Christmas?

    I doubt the Co-op would ‘gift’ anything but they should be put under pressure to offload any items they don’t use or at least encourage new tenants. The Regal is a gateway location.

    The old community centre is ugly and needs removed. And the roads off King Street giving access to the various car parks need simplified. At the moment there are three ways to exit onto King Street and two entrances. How about just one entrance and one exit clearly signposted as Town Centre parking – Short Walk to High St Shops? We should make crossing King Street easier and safer – at the moment it really feels like the town is torn in half by the A96.

    I like the idea of using the Courthouse to better effect. Could the council staff relocate to Barron House now the planning dept is centralised? A fundraising drive could help the museum relocate. We shouldn’t expect the public purse to pay for everything – with things like the museum we need to use it or lose it.

    And we must be realistic. For any developer to take an interest I suspect flats will have to feature somehow. But I’m sure they can fit in tastefully. More people in a town centre supports the economy and encourages people to look after their civic space, especially if the housing is geared towards families rather than continuing to develop huge housing estates out of town which simply encourages people to use their cars and use shops and facilities away from the town centre.

    Keep up the good ideas and let’s keep things moving rather than letting the council take the lead. This is our town centre after all.

  8. We need to tease the ideas out and think about what should be done rather than rushing into something headlong we will regret for the next few generations. Money will always be an issue but that alone should not prevent people from throwing their ideas into the pot. John Oliver has suggested for a long time a statue of Charlie Chaplin. Looking at the old Regal building is the gable end not typical of art deco architecture of cinemas – I’m no expert I hasten to add. My idea would be get rid of the bar. Tidy up the site with some nice paving, clean up the gable end of the Regal, finish off the site with a nice statue of Charlie, a few benches and flowers and bingo (pardon the pun) we have a lovely view for travellers coming through Nairn linking the town’s historical cinematic past with one of the icons of the silent movie world.

    • I agree with regenerating the old cinema frontage at the regal with statue of Charlie Chaplin. Not sure what the space is like inside but could it be developed as a venue for show casing acoustic music for new and established local musicians. It could also be used as a location to screen old movies.

  9. I wonder if the people suggesting using Viewfield House for council use actually walk up there very often. It is a lovely quiet corner used mainly by bowlers and museum users.
    There is very little parking so will the open park land round about be used as a car park.
    There was a great outcry when a supermarket was proposed in the vicinity and now someone has proposed a market place! The council is making cuts all over! They have no money! Get real and realise what Nairn needs is affordable housing and more parking. The saga of the town centre has gone on long enough. The whole thing was a dead loss from the start. Time to move on and forget the impossible dreams!

    • Hi Sheena,
      It is negative attitudes that have resulted in the town being as it is. Affordable housing my foot! More housing will be the nail in the coffin for Nairn as it will finally be simply a commuter town. Also the term affordable housing has been banded about time and time again and I am yet to see true examples of it.

  10. There are some great suggestions here already for the long term, but let’s face it, council budgets are tighter than ever and there simply isn’t the money available to take these plans forward at present. As a short term measure, how about simply demolishing the old Community Centre, Petrol Station, Toilets and the two other old buildings (former Tourist Info and Temporary Police Station). Build a big car park instead, plant a few trees around the perimeter. This would be a fairly cheap option and has the major advantage that it does not sterilise the land for future development – whether that’s an art centre, flats, retail space or whatever. We need to be careful that any solution we accept on the cheap at the moment may be developed piecemeal, and we will be stuck with it for a long time. If there is sufficient funding available, one option could be to relocate the library to the Regal and/or Cinema, demolishing the existing library and building a town square, which would form a connection through to the High St.

    • Hi Greg,
      I think demolishing the old buildings would be a tragedy, but also agree with what you have said about a town square. I have to say though I think to have such a large area as you have suggested as parking will make the town look like a glorified retail park and nothing else. On the other hand though you make a good point that it keeps the area free for any future developments that may arise when the financial crisis is over (if that ever is the case).

  11. Every time I pass the old filling station on King Street I think “if only someone would tear down that flipping canopy” because the wee building hidden by it is not that ugly by comparison to some other eyesores.

    As regards the bus garage I have a kind of wacky idea – park an old double decker bus in one of the end bays, use the top deck as a projection room and the lower deck as the ticket booth, etc for a community cinema. When not being used for screenings the place could make a spacious art gallery. The fabric of the building seems to be tatty rather than derelict and in these ‘strapped for cash” times we should make good what is still standing.

  12. A Weekly Market please
    Maybe even with a permanent cover but given the new paradigm of public penury perhaps that would be an extravagance. I know some shopkeepers might be scared by that and perhaps throw a wobbly or two when reading this but that ancient object outside the courthouse is a ‘mercat cross’ but please read on if you are a local trader, I think it would be good for you too. Nairn was given a right to a weekly market by the old kings of Scotland along with the Royal Burgh status.
    Let’s bring the market back with a new charter. Stalls only available to residents of Nairnshire. A farmers market? Not quite but farmers would be welcome as long as they were Nairnshire farmers, and 15-20 stances should do it. On special occasions we could up it even more by allowing outsiders in up to 20 stalls extra say using some of the other pavement areas that are available in the High Street.
    I know you might not like it if you are a shopkeeper but having a market day would mean more footfall for everyone all round. You could even nip out with a few goods yourself.
    Anyone else like to see that sort of Market ?

    • yes it would be good too have this again as they did a few years back it would bring some life into the town center which it does need.

  13. Why are Highland Council not using the powers they have to serve notice to remedy the problems and make safe, on the private owners of Petrol Station, Regal Bar, Bus Station, Rosebank Church which have such a detrimental effect and visual impact on Nairn.
    Section 179 of the 1997 Town and Country (Scotland) Act

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