We recently reported that we had just secured sufficient grant funding to proceed with the purchase of the Old Social Work Building (OSWB) within the deadline set by Highland Council. The building would provide new toilets, a visitor information centre, a Museum taster exhibition and a couple of offices for local charities. Key to proceeding was the need to have an anchor tenant – a local business that would rent the greater proportion of the building and provide a sustainable future for the property. However, just prior to putting in our offer to Highland Council at the agreed market value, and without prior warning, our “anchor” tenant pulled out.
We were duty bound to advise our principal funder. They are very sympathetic to our situation, and have confirmed they will welcome a further application from us when we have found a replacement “anchor” tenant. As we are now unable to meet the deadline set by Highland Council to make an offer, we have been invited to a meeting with Officials on 10th September to discuss an extension.
When we began this journey we had an agreement with Highland Council that we would work in partnership over the development of the OSWB. More than once we have had reason to wonder what was meant by “partnership”. In fact, during the past few months of “partnership working” we have become increasingly aware of a determined effort to frustrate any proposals brought forward by NICE. It has now transpired that a majority of our local councillors did not support our request for a time extension. We find this baffling. NICE is a community initiative, conceived with councillor support around the table in the Court House; our current aims are underpinned by our members; our aims and goals are largely validated by the NICE survey and the recent Town Centre Charrette. Local democracy or community empowerment is not working as it should under current legislation and we struggle to understand why it is so difficult to work in partnership towards what is clearly a common goal.
However, we have drawn up the following proposal, within the context of further “developing a partnership approach” to Nairn’s town centre redevelopment. We have for some time been aware that Highland Council has to review the lease for the current location of Nairn’s Public Library as the current lease expires at the end of 2015. We therefore suggest that the OSWB would be a suitable property and ideal location in which to house the Library, at least on a medium term temporary basis until the ideal of a brand new, and perhaps “multi-purpose” community building can be achieved.
The building plans we drew up for the previous anchor tenant should lend themselves with only slight modification to house the Library – extending to at least 230sq metres over two floors with lift access to the first floor. It should be possible to complete the necessary refurbishment of the building by the end of 2015.
Putting the main use of the building to Library use would tick sufficient boxes to facilitate NICE obtaining grants towards the capital costs, which overall should reduce the cost of the operation to Highland Council. This would be a constructive first step towards the regeneration of Nairn town centre as envisioned at the recent Charrette, and bring the building into use as a “Gateway” which will encourage more visitors to stop and shop in Nairn.
The building would include a visitor information centre, public toilets, and dependent on the exact space requirement for the Library, it might be possible to provide office space one or more local charities and space for a small retail outlet such as a craft or gift shop.
A further exciting possibility is that NICE, by virtue of its status as a “Community Body” able to exercise the “Right-to-Buy”, could make a potentially very significant contribution to the future of the town centre by exercising such right over the Library building (once empty) and the adjacent Car Parking area. Both of these properties were the subject of considerable interest at the Charrette, and NICE would be in a position, in partnership with Highland Council and with the support of the local community, to really make a difference.