A TOURISM “BID” FOR NAIRNSHIRE 

“BID” stands for Business Improvement District. It is a model operated worldwide, and the Scottish Government has been a particularly strong supporter with a department dedicated to the promotion and support of BIDs. The ultimate aim of a BID is to generate increased economic activity, which in a tourism area means increased visitor footfall and, with it, increased spending.

Alastair Noble and Michael Barnett of NICE, Michael Boylan (Chair of the  Association of Nairn Businesses (“ANB”) and Michael Green (Elected Highland Councillor) have been collaborating since November 2015 to investigate whether a “BID for Nairnshire” should be established.  “BID” stands for Business Improvement District. The work has been fully supported by The Highland Council, and has reached the conclusion that a BID for Nairnshire is highly desirable, if not essential.  Highlands and Islands Enterprise (“HIE”) have also given their full support. (See the full BID Press Release here)

An initial “Seedcorn” grant was secured from Scottish Government in May to fund the first phase of the project, and we have recently received “matching” funding commitments from The Highland Council and HIE.

A BID is a business-led initiative where businesses work together and invest collectively in local improvements to their business environment. It should be a partnership between public and private sectors. A BID is not a substitute for central or local government services, but it is a way in which additional funding can be raised, and has the attraction that the businesses decide how to use that funding.

Stripped to its essentials a BID is a five year agreed business plan that operates to a budget, and the payers of a rating levy determine how to spend the levy and any other funding that can be secured. From the research undertaken the typical annual budget for a town of Nairn’s size would be about £150,000, and the typical small business would pay an annual levy in the range £150 to £250. It is not difficult to work out how even quite a modest increase in local visitor footfall will amply repay the annual expense of £250 – perhaps 6 extra visitor nights for a small hotel, and for the area’s service providers (eg butchers and plumbers) a commensurate increase in sales to the hotel owners.  Big businesses (eg supermarkets) would pay an annual levy of the order of £5,000.

WHAT ABOUT THE TOWN CENTRE?

Although it has not received much publicity in the last year, there is a plan for the Town Centre, being the output of two public Charrettes hosted by The Highland Council. The “Nairn Town Centre Plan” report was published in October 2015, and records that NICE, the ANB and The Highland Council have committed to working together to deliver it. Through its membership of DTAS (the Development Trusts Association of Scotland), NICE secured a grant from Scottish Government to hire an adviser to take the project forward. The Highland Council and NICE organised events in April to share what was planned with local representative bodies, and NICE will be presenting the Charrette conclusions and the recommendations of its adviser for next steps to the community soon.

The point about the Town Centre Plan is that it is a vital element in the regeneration of Nairn. It is common ground that the town’s centre must act as a “magnet” for visitors, and as a link to the High Street and Nairn’s visitor attractions.

HOW WILL THE BID PROJECT BE MANAGED?

There are two phases. The first is the planning stage funded in part by the Scottish Government “Seedcorn” Grant.  This typically takes 15 months and involves preparing a business plan, consulting the business and wider community, and effectively selling the BID concept to the local business community who of course will be paying for it via the levy. At the conclusion of this phase there is a ballot of the business community and certain statutory  thresholds have to be exceeded in the vote. If the ballot fails then the BID is not established.

The second phase is after a successful ballot when the BID becomes a reality and the 5 year business plan has to be delivered.  By then the potential directors of the BID company will have been identified and the BID company will be established and tasked with delivering its 5 year business plan.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE STEERING GROUP?

We have jointly taken the initiative to steer the project through the first phase.  NICE as a company, a Community Body and a registered charity has been able to secure the necessary funding, and has the capacity to enter into contracts. NICE’s role is agreed to be that of facilitator and enabler; the ANB’s Chairman Michael Boylan is the link with business; and Michael Green as a Highland Councillor provides the vital link to the Highland Council and other Elected Councillors.

At a point in time close to the ballot the steering group’s task will have been completed, and it is envisaged that will be when the directors of the new BID company are ready to take the project forward. It is envisaged that beyond that NICE’s role will be supportive in that as a Community Body it represents the community, and as a charity can access funding for community projects that the BID company as a commercial enterprise cannot. In other words, joint working for the benefit of the whole community will happen.

Alastair Noble – Chairman of NICE

Michael Barnett – Secretary of NICE

Michael Boylan – Chairman of the ANB

Michael Green – Highland Councillor

NICE Chairman’s & Directors’ Annual Report for AGM – January 2016.

We think this could be our most important and significant AGM ever. A whole series of national and local policy decisions, such as the rebirth of a Nairnshire Committee, community planning, community empowerment, town centre regeneration and new Community Councils with increasing roles, in conjunction with our own experiences and hard work, allow us to propose an exciting and deliverable way forward for Nairnshire to benefit from all the opportunities that are available.  NICE has already made a contribution in the following ways: Continue reading

Nairn Community Town Centre Plan approved

A shared community vision for Nairn town centre was given the go-ahead this week by Highland Council Members of the Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Area Committee.

Members agreed that a new ‘Nairn Community Town Centre Plan’ be adopted as non-statutory planning guidance to influence future planning applications for Nairn town centre and help community organisations to make bids for funding projects.

The final approved plan has been developed in collaboration between community groups, Highland Council and partners including responses received to a public consultation on the ‘Draft Nairn Town Centre Action Plan’. Public workshops were held in Nairn during April and May 2014 with assistance from the Scottish Government’s town centre regeneration fund.

The main aim of the plan is to identify projects that could be delivered should funding opportunities arise and to shape future planning applications.

Chair of the NB&S Area Committee Councillor Liz MacDonald said: “Hopefully this excellent piece of work will enable us to get some quick wins and projects progressed as soon as possible.

“There has been a tremendous amount of teamwork – which has gone into developing this Plan – from officers, councillors and key groups such as NICE  (Nairn Improvement Community Enterprise);  Nairn Economic Initiative; the Association of Nairn Businesses and members of the community.

“This plan highlights the shared vision, shared priorities and a desire and the agreement for a collaborative team based approach.”

Download the full document here

NICE Comment: We are delighted to have been one of the partners in the discussions that resulted in this Action Plan. There is now an agreed vision and shared priorities for the Town Centre. We look forward to participating in this new collaborative partnership approach and by virtue of our social enterprise status, assist as enablers, where possible, in the delivery of some the projects identified.

A Review and Update

Back in the Good Old Days, when life seemed less complicated, NICE emerged as a grass-roots community movement. We enthusiastically embraced the possibility of making a difference in Nairn, indeed, by working together we determined to “Improve Nairn”. We met in small groups and looked at several issues – the Bus Station, the Regal Bar, affordable housing, empty properties like Barron House, Open Spaces, Common Good, Arts, Culture and Tourism. We presented the “NICE Vision for Nairn” in October 2012. Continue reading

Charrette Action Plan and other Projects

Town Charrette : NICE was delighted to have been able to participate in the Nairn Town Charrette last year. The Action Plan is now available for public comment. It is encouraging that the Plan embodies many of the ideas brought forward by the various groups and individuals that participated. There is general agreement about what needs to be done to make Nairn a better place. We are pleased that Highland Council regard NICE as having a real role to play going forward and we will respond to the invitation to make written submissions by 15th May. This will take the form of a “manifesto” which will describe how NICE propose to take matters forward.  The emphasis will focus on a “vision” of how the town and town centre in particular might look eventually, and start planning around that to deliver projects as finances permit.  Other groups such as the Assoc of Nairn Businesses and the Nairn Economic Initiative will no doubt make their own submissions and we are more than willing to work with others to see the plan become reality.

Harbour Project: Following the encouraging meeting of interested parties in October 2013 around the Harbour, we have agreed follow-up on the Steering Group Brief that NICE prepared as facilitator.  See the Oct 2014 report further down this page.

The Wetlands Project is in the “ownership” of Dick Youngson and his team. NICE has agreed to be the charity “umbrella” and provide a suitable legal structure should this venture proceed.

Men’s Shed: A Men’s Shed is where members share the tools and resources they need to work on projects of their own choosing at their own pace and in a safe, friendly and inclusive environment. If you feel you would like to get involved in setting up a pilot Men’s Shed, or are simply intrigued to find out more, please go along to the open meeting on Wednesday 22 April at 2.00pm in Nairn Dunbar Golf Club Lounge.   Roy Anderson is organising the meeting and would appreciate having a rough idea of numbers attending.  Please phone him on 01667 455620 or email nairn@rcophighland.org if you would like to attend.  Download poster here.

Partnership Working Would Be Nice

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.

We were almost there…!

For almost a year now, we have been working up a business case for the use of the Old Social Work Building. It has long been suggested that the building would make an ideal Gateway for the town centre. In calling for businesses to participate in the project we were contacted by a playgroup facility that was keen to expand their operation. We worked for many hours on an exciting plan; hammered out a funding package; produced detailed plans and got as far as obtaining builders quotes for the renovation of the premises.

We were ready to place an offer on the premises for a sum agreed with Highland Council, but just three weeks before our deadline 1st Steps Nursery decided to establish their expanded business in Rosebank Church. You may have seen details in the local press. While we wish them every success for the future it brought our well-developed plans to a sudden halt. As a result we will have to start again on a new business case, with the support of our funders, and have asked Highland Council for an extension to their deadline for an offer on the building. We hope that our local elected representatives will support NICE and the community in this request and that Highland Council will grant an extension.

The Nairn Charrette – a NICE perspective

After two days of presentations, discussion, workshops and drawings with representatives from Highland Council, local business and residents, was it all worth it? There was an underlying feeling that, “we’ve been here before” – and it also became clear that some of the pre-charrette research by the team was inaccurate. But it has to be said that it was a very worthwhile exercise with lots of ideas coming forward, from a group of people still optimistic about the possibilities.

We were initially disappointed that the organisers of the Charrette made little note of the survey we recently undertook. But on reflection the NICE survey responses, if presented, might have coloured the thinking of those in attendance. What we see as being crucially significant is the fact that despite four different interest groups, including a group of our elected representatives, each working on their vision for the town centre, the general outcomes were remarkably similar. The Charrette conclusions fully underpin and validate what we in the community and in NICE have long believed to be true. We all agree in principle about what needs to be done!

Dealing with the state of the High St was top of the agenda. This chimes 100% with the statement recently issued by the newly formed New Nairn Initiative (NICE, VisitNairn, Assoc of Nairn Businesses, Nairn Access Panel) that stressed the need to address the state of our High St. Four individual, yet remarkably similar, plans were brought forward for the town centre around the Old Social Work Building (OSWB). All agreed on the need for a new town square; reconfigured parking; a civic hub; open space for events and markets, etc. It is re-assuring that these conclusions fit within what NICE outlined as a direction of travel some months ago. We can happily take on-board the many other ideas and they will fit easily within our broad vision and may enhance aspects of it.

The plans envisaged a day when the bypass was delivered (2025?) and all agreed that King St would be reconfigured as a tree-lined, shared-space to give Nairn a “green” feel much more in keeping with its reputed better climate.

There was an acceptance that the Council has to be more enabling, in fact, clear statements were made to that effect. They titled their vision “Shaped by the Community; Valued by all”. Isn’t this what we have all been arguing for? Sheena Baker of the ANB was quite vocal as she sought to gain assurances from Council officials. Lines of communication have, we believe, been opened for accessing the funding that is already there to enable some “quick fixes”.

Finally, the NICE survey gave local people a voice and following the Charrette few can disagree that, whether Highland Council, elected members, residents or businesses, we are all singing off the same hymn sheet. There may the odd discordant note but the direction of travel is most definitely agreed. Overall, NICE as a community group is on the right tracks. The Charrette proposals are very much in line with our current thinking and, largely, validate the ideas and concerns arising from the community. No one in authority countered the statement that NICE would pursue its proposals for the OSWB. Time now to work together and make it happen!
*We now await the final report and proposals from Halcrow (CH2MHill) for the community to consider. Meantime you can see the interim Action Plans for Nairn here.

**We had expected Ryden’s to make a presentation but some of their material was included in the overview presented by CH2MHill in their introduction. We have received a copy of that presentation which does include some of the NICE survey material, especially page 9 and you can see it here (Powerpoint file – 2.26Mb). Bear in mind that these are supporting visuals for a presentation that was never given.

Town Centre Survey

As you may already know, Highland Council is holding a mini-Charrette in Nairn on the 30th April-1st May. It will have a clear focus on identifying the mechanisms for delivering and funding projects that will best deliver town centre regeneration. The town centre regeneration project will focus on Nairn town centre but will extend to include consideration of its relationship to other important parts of the town including the harbour, The Links, former farmer’s show field and future development areas. It also needs to address wider transport connections and the accessibility of shops and community facilities and services. It will form a consolidated plan for embracing change, delivering town centre regeneration and improvement and the integration of growth areas in the town.

As one of the partners in this consultation NICE invited the community to participate and prepared a survey to ascertain local views. The response has been very encouraging with 216 online responses and 90 hard-copy forms. A range of questions covered additional facilities and services that may or may not be advantageous and respondents were asked to rate these on a scale of 1-5. Subjects covered included parking, buses, taxis, cycles, access and regeneration. Responses have been converted to average weighted and give a clear picture of public views in relation to each of these issues. Questionnaire results here (xls spreadsheet).

Respondents were also asked to contribute their ideas under three main headings:

1) What Shops and Services would you like to see in the Town Centre and High Street that are not already there?
Online Survey Results here (.doc) – PDF Version

2) What additional tourist attractions and/or facilities would enhance Nairn as a destination?
Online Survey Results here (.doc) – PDF Version

3) Any additional comments, ideas or suggestions you’d like to make?
Online Survey Results here (.doc) – PDF Version

4) Combined Paper Survey Responses here (.doc) – PDF Version

At this stage results are presented as given. Time will be spent identifying trends in order to present the issues that are most keenly expressed in this survey.

We are grateful to everyone who made time to complete the survey and look forward to representing to the Charrette organisers, as best we can, the views that have been expressed in all these responses.

Proposed Consultation About the Future of the Town Centre

NICE is delighted to have been nominated as a partner in Highland Council’s recent application for Scottish Government financial support towards the cost of a Charrette about the regeneration of Nairn Town Centre. Properly understood a charrette is an intensive planning session where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the designers. More importantly, it allows everyone who participates to be a mutual author of the plan.

NICE believes that the time has come to tackle head-on some of the big issues facing the town centre. We believe it is important to gather local views and consult with the community and business groups to identify their aspirations for the services and facilities that a regenerated Town Centre should deliver.  We will therefore be launching a public consultation early in the New Year. The consultation will be performed in two ways – over the internet using SurveyMonkey, and also with hard copy printed questionnaires.  NICE has a membership of over 1000, and we will be communicating with members directly.
We will also be out on the streets of Nairn with hard copy printed questionnaires. So whether or not you can attend the charrette, you can rest assured that you’ll have the chance to contribute to an issue that is fundamental to the future of Nairn.

With every good wish for the festive season – along with the hope for progress in 2014.

The Directors of NICE