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

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