The future of the Farmers’ Showfield is certainly a matter which has over the years prompted considerable discussion – and strong feelings – around the town. We are grateful for the comments posted in an earlier thread and feel that this subject requires it’s own post. As you know, whether the town centre or Co-op site, NICE seeks to reflect the various views and ideas put forward by members and local residents. We are therefore pleased to publish the following helpful article.
The Nairn(shire) Local Plan published in 2000 and still valid if a bit outdated, allocated part of the Showfield for housing. Para 10.(f) says, “0.6 ha at the Showfield – 8-10 houses, 2 storey, design and form should be compatible with the proposed Conservation Area; access from Lodgehill Road including to the Showfield for maintenance and pedestrians; and adequate distance from trees and the sub-station. The Council will seek Section 75 agreement with the landowner to secure the remainder of the Showfield as public open space.”
That Plan also says [para 31] “The Council will safeguard the following additional structural open spaces which are integral to the town and its amenity: the Showfield (see para 10(f)); the Links/Parkie…..etc …..Improvement or upgrading of facilities or enhancement of these areas as community parks is encouraged.”
In plain English, that first quote means the Council was envisaging a deal whereby in return for consent to develop 0.6 ha. of the Showfield for housing, the developer would be expected to hand over the rest of the Showfield (under a “Section 75” planning-gain agreement) as a public park. (The reference to housing compatible with a Conservation Area is there because the 2000 Local Plan also refers to designating the High St/Town Centre as such).
The new draft Inner Moray Firth Plan will no doubt include some reference to the Showfield site. That land is now too small or unsuitable for the annual Farmers’ Show – which is the reason for relocating the event to a field near Auldearn made available by a local farmer. This leaves the Farmers’ Society as the landowners with a delicate decision. They have a Showfield which is now of limited use to them. It is unrealistic to expect the Society simply to give it away or donate it to the town. They may think it desirable to realise its value – not least in order to fund the acquisition of a new and more suitable site. But a proposal to sell the Showfield for development would almost certainly provoke local reaction.
There may be other options. But exploring these would require Council goodwill, a readiness to think imaginatively, and considerable negotiation. One possible way forward would be for the Council, as custodians of the Common Good, to do a deal whereby they accepted the Showfield into the Common Good in exchange for a suitably-sized part of the Sandown Common Good land, given to the farmers (perhaps with some associated financial arrangement) and designated specifically for use as a new Show venue.
Such a deal would be a win-win for all concerned:
- the people of Nairn would win, as the original Showfield would become Common Good land and would thus be safeguarded as green space for the town;
- the Farmers’ Society would win, as they would get a (larger) piece of land at Sandown, on the edge of town so well-located and suitable as a new Showground and – in the long term – just as valuable an asset on their books as the original Showfield;
- the local neighbours would win, since dedicating the relevant part of the Sandown land as a ‘new’ Showfield would not only guarantee that it would not have a housing estate built on it, but would also mean that for 363 days of the year it would be calm, green, open space and only “occupied” for the period of the annual Farmers’ Show. Indeed it could be farmed or grazed the rest of the time.
- and more generally such an arrangement, if cleverly planned and designed, would be better in general for the town: less of a problem of commuter traffic and congestion than would arise with a large housing estate; preservation of open space and vistas of the Firth; and it could actually become an appropriate “gateway” for the town, reaffirming its agricultural character and hinterland. Such a new Showfield could perhaps also be the location for the kind of nature-features and/or visitor centre of the kind favoured by the Wetlands group.
- The Council would secure their stated objective of retaining most or all of the original Showfield as ‘public space’. They – or rather the Common Good – would have a smaller site at Sandown to offer for sale and development, so less cash. But the Common Good would have gained a capital asset in the form of the Showfield, so in overall terms even the Council does not “lose”, except in the sense that there will be a more modest short-term capital receipt from Sandown. That seems a small price to pay for the longer term benefit of the town and community (of which, let us not forget, the farmers are an important part….)
No doubt there are other alternative possibilities. NICE welcomes comments on this or indeed any other aspect of the future development of the town. Members of the Farming Society are most welcome to comment.