The following is, in effect, the conclusion of a longer document that charts the twists and turns that have brought us to this point. See the complete paper for full details and background. We welcome your response to these proposals.
THE IDEAL OPERATING MODEL
We believe that the optimum solution for the Community of Nairn is to put the building to a combination of uses which together meet the following criteria:
The building meets the immediate needs of visitors and acts as a “Gateway”;
There is a large Social Enterprise component;
The building costs are under-pinned by a commercial tenant whose business contributes to the Community;
The proposed use of the building optimises the prospects of obtaining grant funding for the development costs.
Whilst commercial use of the whole of the western half of the building is attractive from the financial perspective and would enhance the attractiveness of the building to visitors, we believe that it would make sourcing grant funding challenging. Informal reaction from the Big Lottery, for example, to our Feasibility Study Report which referred to café/bistro/retail use, suggests this might be the case.
We believe instead that the better way forward is to explore with the entrepeneur and two charities mentioned whether we can in collaboration find a solution that suits us all. We have in mind in particular that the building could be configured in the following way:
The Eastern Half of the Building at Ground Floor Level
Retain the Old Police Cells as a visitor attraction – a “mini” museum.
Demolish the existing toilet block and provide high quality public toilets which are supervised during the building’s opening hours.
Provide a fully staffed visitor reception desk to (a) deal with the simplest queries; (b) direct tourist visitors to a high tech visitor orientation facility adjacent to the reception area; (c) direct visitors requiring specialist help to such facilities (located on the first floor of the western half).
Ideally the reception area could be expanded into the western half of the building to enable space for a small internet café selling teas & coffees.
The Eastern Half of the Building at First Floor Level
Office space for at least one local voluntary organisation including NICE itself
The Western Half of the Building at Ground Floor Level including the Rear Courtyard Area
A long lease for the provision of a high quality wrap-around child care facility by a local entrepeneur. Depending on the mutual requirements the sharing of the total (east and west) ground floor space might have to be negotiated. If, as suggested in our Feasibility Report, the rear extension is best demolished and replaced, then the facility could enjoy a state-of-the art designed extension that would make the space really exciting.
The lease would include the existing courtyard as the basis for a secure outdoor play area, with the option of extending this on to the footprint of the demolished toilet block.
The Western Half of the Building at First Floor Level
Specialist facilities provided by the other local voluntary organisation. We deliberately avoid going into detail because this would risk their identity being discerned.
HOW IT WOULD WORK
Each occupier would bear their share of direct costs (eg heat, light, I.T. & telephones).
One or both of the local voluntary organisations would undertake supervision of the building for at least 6 days a week – responsibility for opening and closing and dealing with day-to-day running issues. In return they would pay below market rate rent.
The childcare facility would pay a full market rent, which would underpin the overall budget model enabling NICE to fund its own costs and building maintenance. These costs would include staff costs for “out-of-hours” opening – a “must” particularly in the main tourist season.
NICE would seek to generate as many small income streams as possible – eg from local businesses, B&Bs and hotels for the visitor information service; the profits from selling teas & coffees and other visitor requisites (eg maps); running a Nairn visitor website.
NICE met with Chief Executive and other executives of Highland Council on 4 November to discuss “partnership working” and the immediate way forward in the light of the proposals described in this Report.
The Highland Council executives confirmed that subject to formal Council approval they supported the “Gateway” concept of use for the building, and that they would recommend to the Council that NICE could buy the building from Highland Council if NICE paid the agreed open market value for the property. If NICE wants to buy the property at a discount to that value, then the Asset Management Project Board has to confirm the requirements of the relevant statute are met, and it would be for that committee to make a recommendation or otherwise to the Council.
It was agreed that NICE and Highland Council would jointly instruct the District Valuer with the aim of achieving an agreed market value, and NICE would then consider its position as regards purchase of the building. The meeting was constructive, and in particular the property will not be put back on the market while NICE progresses the valuation discussions.
Having put this supplemental report in the public domain, NICE invites the Community through its elected representatives to approve the basic approach. NICE will progress the District Valuer valuation and negotiations with Highland Council and will also begin discussions with the parties identified with a view to working up detailed proposals for use of the building. NICE confirms it is committed to further public consultation before any final decisions are made.
12 November 2013