NAIRN RIVER COMMUNITY COUNCIL

Comhairle Coimhearsnachd Abhainn Narann

                                                                                     chair@nairnrivercc.org   Tommy Hogg

                                                                              secretary@nairnrivercc.org Mandy Lawson

To  

Highland Councillors for Nairn   Laurie Fraser, Tom Heggie,Liz MacDonald,  Peter Saggers

Highland Council Ward Manager for Nairn - Liz Cowie

Copy to Editor Nairnshire Telegraph

 DEVELOPMENT OF THE LINKS  (NAIRN)

We have been following with close interest the process being organised by Highland Council to consult local residents and “stakeholders” about the future of the Links and the amenities located on Nairn's Common Good land.

We welcome this consultation process, because (as all have recognised) the Links area is “…. an important feature of Nairn's attraction as a tourist destination  …. [and] a ‘cherished’ green space with leisure facilities….”  and it is good to see different methods of engagement with the public being used.

We recognise the pressures to tackle some of the more urgent practical challenges – notably the question of what to do about the paddling pool, the maintenance of the crazy golf/putting green, the provision of appropriate facilities such as toilets, and issues around access to the beaches.

We are also aware, as no doubt is the Council, of the strong feelings and reaction within the community when previous changes were made (for example the removal of the 'big slide') without public consultation.

We were therefore surprised, to learn that that a consultant had been commissioned – and indeed has already  delivered a report to Highland Council– on the future of the Links without any prior discussion with local community representatives or groups.  His terms of reference were not subject to any local public discussion, and are still not published.

This was the more surprising given that a number of local groups had already devoted considerable time, effort and attention to devising and discussing ideas, suggestions and proposals for the improvement of the Links, seafront and harbour areas;  and indeed also the regeneration of the town centre which – as a Council-sponsored charrette confirmed – ought to be examined and promoted in tandem with any enhancement of the Links area.  The issues around revival, maintenance and improvement of the town's amenities have also been a recurrent theme on the agendas of both Community Councils.  Some of the ideas explored by others have now reappeared, or been incorporated by the consultant into his report.

Team Hamish is the latest – and arguably the most high profile – of these local groups.  But it is not the only one.  NICE (a formally constituted local development trust), the Harbour Working Group, the Association of Nairn Businesses(through the Nairn Economic Initiative), Visit Nairn, the LIDO working group, and River Enterprise, Green Hive, Nairn Play and others have all done considerable work as well.  The just-established BID, once operational, will obviously also be a key player.  

This highlights the key reason for writing in advance of the event proposed for 1 September.

It is, in our view, essential that consultation about the current uses and future development of the Links and associated facilities, and the subsequent discussion and decision-making should be transparent, collaborative and inclusive, in line with Scottish Government’s  best practice Standards for  Community Engagement.

If the exercise is managed, controlled and taken forward only by Council officials and the elected members whom they serve and the consultants whom they hire, it is vulnerable to the same criticism that has been levelled at previous similar activity:  that the local community has neither real involvement nor effective 'ownership' of the process and its outcomes.

There is a reference in the latest press announcement to “the planning group [...and Nairn members]”.  But there is no indication of who the members of this planning group might be.

For the process to be credible, and to attract the engagement and support which such an important exercise deserves, it should be driven and managed by a steering group which reflects the local community and includes representatives from local groups or organisations – notably those listed above – who can offer useful input and support in shaping whatever plans may eventually be drawn up.  

We would therefore formally urge and request that at the event on 1 September, and in the further work and studies that will doubtless arise from it, representatives of these existing and established local community groups be invited to participate in the planning/steering group, and in that role to be able to review and analyse the public consultation responses and to contribute to the development of proposals for action.

We hope that you will recognise and agree that only by having such a inclusive, diverse and representative steering group actively engaged in the management of the development planning will the proposals that emerge have a reasonable chance of attracting the support and endorsement of the town as a whole.

We look forward to joining you to begin this collaboration process for Nairn  on 1st September

Yours sincerely  ( co-signatories)

Tommy Hogg Chair Nairn River Community Council

Dick Youngson Chair West and Suburban Community Council