TOWN CENTRE IDEAS BEGIN TO TAKE SHAPE:
Design discussions, and longer-term thinking
It has been a busy week for those interested in the future of Nairn and the site in the centre of town.
- Nairn in 3D – the design workshop
A design workshop, organised by Highland Council in response to requests from local residents, took place at the Courthouse on Monday 22 November. William Gilfillan the Corporate Manager, who chaired the meeting, reminded those present that the exercise was to focus on the site owned by the Council and the adjacent Co-op property. The Council’s intention remained to prepare a revised development brief for submission to the PED Committee in February 2011. The workshop was introduced and organised by architects from the Inverness firm Thomas Munro. With the elected councillors for Nairn looking on, participants set out ideas and suggestions on working copies of the site-plans. These were then projected on to a 3-dimensional display screen. This prompted lively discussion about the size and location of new buildings, the extent of the public amenity space, how to take account of the vistas towards Viewfield and the Courthouse, and the possible uses of the Regal Bar site – either for a new landmark building or for a feature such as a statue. The outcome reflected many of the ideas set out in the initial plans drawn up by the NICE working group. The Council’s revised development brief will be presented to a Nairn Ward Forum on 26 January.
- The way forward – working together to get the plans right
At the Ward Forum, Highland Council officials reiterated that the extended timetable for consultation over the town centre site was “to enable NICE to identify alternative sources of funding”. This is certainly one of the group’s objectives; like the Council, however, NICE believes that expectations within the existing timeframe must be feasible and realistic, and NICE looks to the Highland Council for full and active support in such efforts. The working group meeting on Thursday evening 25 November consequently reviewed current tasks and activities. The initial impetus for the formation of NICE had been the widespread local desire to see a better alternative to the Council’s original plans to build housing on the site. The work on alternative design-plans remains the immediate priority. In particular, NICE continues to believe that the plans for the site must be integrated with the longer-term vision for the surrounding area including the bus station area, the King Street/A96 junction-plans, and the possible redevelopment of other adjacent sites, and will be offering further feedback accordingly to the Council planners.
- Reflecting local views
Official comments about NICE being an unrepresentative group of “the usual suspects” were however as surprising as they were inappropriate, given that the group already includes members from all the Community Councils, representatives of local businesses, professionally-qualified experts, and a diverse range of local people. NICE recognises the importance of mobilising and sustaining broad local support from all sectors of the Nairn community. All local residents are welcome to join NICE (no subscription fee!) and to submit comments either via the website or using the forms now available throughout the town (deadline for comments 6 December, and there will be an information stall in the High Street on 4 December).
- A more ambitious objective?
It is however becoming increasingly clear that many people would like to see the future of the town centre decided and perhaps managed by the local community, rather than leaving the responsibility entirely to the Highland Council. This would mean an expanded and longer term role for NICE. As well as making constructive input to the preparation of suitable and acceptable plans for the town centre, the group will be exploring options for a community-led initiative to take on the future development of the town centre. This would be linked with a re-assumption of local responsibility for the management and control of Nairn’s Common Good assets – drawing on the examples and precedents already shown to have been successful elsewhere. Such an approach would be in keeping with national government objectives of ensuring greater local engagement in local planning decisions and projects. It is also consistent with the Highland Council’s own emerging approach, in present circumstances, of devolving various aspects of its activities and its responsibilities for the delivery and operation of local amenities and services, to new organisations and to local communities.
- Some radical thinking
Some imaginative ideas are therefore now under discussion for a new approach to the funding of development in Nairn by making more effective use of Common Good assets. There is scope to raise revenue and to generate income for the community from schemes which make use of the government incentives to promote the “green agenda” and to meet targets for renewable energy. Examples of such community initiatives in Shetland and the West Highlands were mentioned. NICE will be examining the feasibility and financing of such an initiative, with a view to putting together more specific project-proposals.
- The next steps
Against this background the NICE meeting on Thursday (25th Nov) agreed to
– accelerate the procedures necessary to establish charitable status for NICE, which would then provide a basis for making contacts with potential partners and sources of advice and funding;
– pursue dialogue with the Highland Council and relevant local land owners, notably the Co-op, about the present plans, the funding options, and the feasibility of these longer-term ideas;
– collate and analyse the ideas and suggestions submitted by local people in response to the NICE public-awareness campaign;
– prepare for an open public meeting in mid-December to inform local people of the possible options for both the town centre site and for a wider programme of community engagement in shaping the future of the town.