NAIRN RIVER COMMUNITY COUNCIL
Comhairle Coimhearsnachd Abhainn Narann
LOCAL DECISIONS AND THE COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT ACT
JOINT LETTER FROM NAIRN COMMUNITY LED ORGANISATIONS
Highland Council officers and elected members.
Steve Barron, Chief Executive of Highland Council
Stuart Black Director of Development and Infrastructure Highland Council
Councillor Margaret Davidson – Leader of Highland Council
Councillor J Gray, Chair South Planning Applications Committee, Highland Council
Councillor A Henderson, Chair, Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee, Highland Council
Councillor A MacKinnon, Chair of Corporate Resources Committee, Highland Council
Chief Inspector Brian MacKay, Chair, Nairn and Nairnshire Community Planning Partnership
Nairn Ward Manager - Liz Cowie Liz.Cowie@highland.gov.uk
Nairn Councillor Tom Heggie Chair. Nairnshire Committee
Nairn Councillors Liz MacDonald, Peter Saggers, Laurie Fraser
cc to Scottish Government
Mr. John McNairney, Chief Planner, Planning and Architecture Division,Scottish Government
Kevin Stewart MSP Minister for Local Government and Housing
Fergus Ewing MSP for Inverness and Nairn
LOCAL DECISIONS AND THE COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT ACT
JOINT LETTER FROM NAIRN COMMUNITY LED ORGANISATIONS
- This letter has been agreed jointly by six local community and business led bodies in the Nairn and surrounding area. Prompted by a number of recent and current issues, it sets out our collective concerns about the Highland Council's approach to local planning and decision making in the light of the 2015 Community Empowerment Act (CEA).
- The stated purposes of the CEA are to “…… reflect the policy principles of subsidiarity, community empowerment and improving outcomes; to …… empower community bodies through…… strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them; and [to] ….. focus on achieving outcomes and improving the process of community planning.”.
- As representative and elected community bodies, we welcome this. We see it as providing the framework for greater local engagement in decision-making, and the opportunity to shape local plans to take account of local priorities. We are however reluctantly coming to the view that the Highland Council and its planning partners are failing to honour both the spirit and the letter of the legislation. We consider that the current and proposed “redesign” falls far short of the new approach which the Act intends, and that Nairn's interests are not being adequately taken into account.
- This letter sets out evidence in three specific areas which, we believe, backs up our views. We therefore seek support for arrangements to improve consultation and engagement in line with the objectives of the CEA.
Constraints on local engagement
- We have been frustrated and disappointed by the absence of – and restrictions on – community involvement in local decision-making. A few selected examples illustrate the problem:
- the deflection of a request by Nairn's Community Councils to participate in the recently-established Community Planning Partnership. CCs elsewhere in the country are enabled and supported as members of such partnerships, and are able to provide input on the delivery of local services and outcomes. The Highland Council however declined a request from Nairn CCs on the grounds that this was a matter for the already-appointed member organisations (public-sector agencies) of the CPP to consider. Thus, far, no local community body has been able to participate fully in the CPP;
- the summary rejection – by a junior Council official – of a formal written request from Nairn West & Suburban Community Council to participate in the decision-making on the proposed policy to introduce local parking charges;
- the decision by NHS Highland, announced without prior discussion or warning, to remove dental care provision at the recently-refurbished and expanded health centre from all but a very limited number of local residents – leaving a large number of people without suitable alternative options. This decision was taken without – so far as we are aware – any notification to the local Community Partnership whose primary purpose is to consider and coordinate local healthcare and social services. In the wake of the closure of hospital beds and the decision not to activate a new purpose-designed pharmacy at the Nairn health centre, this has reinforced the fear that Nairn is subject to a systematic process of attrition and the gradual reallocation of resources away from the local community.
Deficiencies in local planning
- There are long-standing issues (acknowledged by the government agencies responsible) over the capacity and adequacy of local infrastructure. Local groups have discussed with Transport Scotland the challenges of managing A96 traffic through the town. A working group with SEPA and Scottish Water has sought to address (so far with little success) recurrent issues of flooding and pollution resulting from capacity constraints in the drainage and sewage network.
- A recently proposed survey and reconfiguration of educational catchment areas has raised questions – so far unanswered – about the unexplained disposal in 2015 of a previously-allocated school site within the Lochloy residential development. With other local schools nearing capacity this may yet result in the bussing of pupils to other schools outside Nairn. It calls in question the effectiveness of the Council's planning. Meanwhile it leaves a quarter of Nairn's population living at Lochloy with no nearby school or health facility and reliant on a single access road to use the rest of the town’s amenities.
- Three recently-submitted development applications have now highlighted the reluctance of the local Council as planning authority – despite the new “Infrastructure First” guidance from the Scottish Government – to take full account of local concerns. [Details are set out in the attached Annex.] Local individuals and organisations have submitted comments in the usual way. All three applications are interlinked, yet we are not seeing any kind of joined-up approach demonstrated by planning officials. There is little evidence of effective negotiation with developers in the public interest, to ensure that additional pressures on local infrastructure such as schooling and the transport network are being addressed, and resourced through developer and other contributions, in a realistic, coordinated and consistent way. Concern is growing that developers and their consultants are being encouraged to revise and rewrite applications and supporting evidence in order to circumvent local objections. This has fostered a growing sense not only that the local development plan does not represent local priorities and identified housing needs (eg on number and type of residential developments), but that the planning process lacks integrity and rigour, and that the applications are driven primarily by developers' commercial interests.
- This situation has reinforced local pressure for a new local plan devised and led by the local community. A number of local groups have already sought to develop the framework for such a new plan. The concept of Nairn becoming a 'pilot' for a new locally-driven plan has been endorsed by the current Council leadership. But in practice there has been no sign that the Council is prepared to enable and support such an initiative.
Arbitrary decisions on local services and facilities
- The unexpected removal of dental-care provision has already been mentioned. But the most immediate and contentious issue is the proposal to impose parking charges at a number of locations in Nairn (and in two other towns in the region, Dingwall and Alness) and to close, or introduce fees for, public toilets. Both were put forward at short notice and without prior warning or consultation in the context of the 2018 Highland Council budget.
- There is a fundamental unfairness in the idea of looking to three local towns to generate additional funding to help cover the regional Council's deficit. But the greater concern is that these measures are counterproductive. Not only are there questions over how far the anticipated revenue will cover or exceed the cost of implementing such schemes. The measures directly threaten Nairn's prospects as a tourist destination, will deter the visitors and tourists on whom the local retail economy heavily depends, and will undermine the current initiative (which has Scottish Government backing) to launch a BID (Business Improvement District).
- Again, the issue is not just the damaging impact of recent parking charges proposed by Highland Council and community partners, but the fact that they have been recommended and decided with no local consultation and no local input. With most of the parking areas earmarked to generate revenue for Highland Council being on Common Good Land owned by the people of Nairn this situation is particularly ironic. To add insult to injury, a community request to participate in the decision-making on parking charges was – as noted above – summarily dismissed by a council official. In the wake of widespread public outrage, an assurance was reportedly given to local Councillors that there would be full local consultation before any measures were adopted. But this already appears to be worthless. Senior Council members have affirmed that the decisions have been made and are not open to discussion or challenge; the only consultation will be limited to the modalities of implementation.
- To add to local disquiet, we have recently learned that a forthcoming meeting in May of the Council's EDI committee is to consider an official report and recommendations on parking policy. For this to proceed, ahead of any consultation, simply reinforces the impression that the Council is not willing to take account of the views of the local communities who will be most directly affected. This is hardly best practice, fails to comply with the objectives of the CEA, and is quite simply unacceptable.
- There is a common thread in all these issues: that the input of local community groups is blocked, excluded, or ignored. We therefore seek a positive assurance that this will change, and that current and future decisions on the planning, development, provision of facilities and delivery of services will be led by the community's own priorities, and that local groups will be enabled and encouraged to participate fully in the decisions.
- This letter is copied to the Minister(s) responsible, to our local MSP, and to relevant public agencies. We would would welcome a response from all which provides that reassurance, and sets out in detail how our concerns will be addressed.
Nairn River Community Council
Chair Tommy Hogg firstname.lastname@example.org Secretary Mandy Lawson email@example.com
Nairn West and Suburban Community Council
Chair Dick Youngson Secretary Lorraine Mallinson firstname.lastname@example.org
Croy and Culloden Moor Community Council Chair Bruce Strachan email@example.com
Association of Nairn Businesses Chair Michael Boylan firstname.lastname@example.org
Nairn Residents Concern Group Chair Loreine Thomson Loreine@btinternet.com
Kingsteps Residents Group Chair Morton Gillespie email@example.com
Attached - ANNEX - Nairn’s infrastructure crisis - 3 pending Planning Applications
ANNEX - Nairn’s infrastructure crisis - 3 pending Planning Applications
Nairn’s regularly overflowing ‘combined’ sewers and now famous traffic jams, illustrate what happens when traffic management, paths and green spaces, and transport, drainage, sewerage, and education, health and community provision are allowed to fall behind intensive housing development. In Nairn, this has reached the point of endangering public health and safety and the natural environment, and undermining our tourist industry. In short Nairn's infrastructure is at crisis point.
At community level all proposals for further development (housing and commercial) in Nairn are interlinked because of the cumulative impact any new developments will have on our overstretched infrastructure. Thus all concurrent development applications should be considered jointly.
This is not the approach Highland Council has taken to date for Nairn development and must change. With 3 significant development applications in East Nairn listed below now pending, we are asking Highland Council officers and elected members to urgently adopt a coordinated approach to scrutiny before any plans go to the South Planning Application Committee for consideration,
Forres Road application - 17_0586_FUL
This application is for 31 homes on a site not on the current Highland wide Development Plan and so far has more than 220 documents posted since December 17 on the Planning Website with 58 replacement or amended drawings and supporting documents posted by the developer, since the official public consultation period in January 2018. Some developer drawings had reached version J by mid April, with recent changes failing to reflect many of the comments and objections from the public and statutory consultees such as Highland’s own Forestry Officer. There have been so many changes from the original application that we suggest it is now a materially different application which Planners should reject or require to be withdrawn and resubmitted as a new application for public scrutiny in line with ‘right first time’ principles .
Sainsbury's Balmakeith 18_00906_FUL
Application for a Home Bargains, and drive in McDonalds restaurant.
We are not clear why this application is still being considered since officers in Planning and Development have already objected on the grounds of it being contrary to IMFLDP HC Policy 1 Promoting and Protecting City and Town Centres.The application is also in breach of conditions attached to the original supermarket development, and there have been no revisions to the inner Moray Firth Development Plan to provide context for a material change of circumstances in this regard. The Council’s Flood Prevention team has also lodged objections to the application.
These proposals would extend the already huge Lochloy estate by another 115 homes and constitute overdevelopment in terms of the current Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan. They also contravene the intent in previous Nairnshire plans to preserve Kingsteps’ separate character as a hamlet. In terms of infrastructure, traffic from the 800 plus homes on Lochloy estate already contributes to severe road congestion at the Merryton junction with Lochloy Road which is the only access road linking the estate to the A96. More housing with no new distributor roads planned will make that worse. In addition inadequate drainage capacity on the site is well documented, and local school capacity is already compromised with Auldearn School full and Millbank soon to be, as they accommodate all the children from new homes in Lochloy.
To ensure that infrastructure comes first, proper dialogue is needed with communities at the initial Planning stage to assess local community needs, and to make sure that appropriate developer contributions are levied for schools, roads, drainage and other community infrastructure, before plans are approved, and that these amenities are in place before new housing and other facilities are completed and occupied.
Instead Nairn Community Councils and residents groups are perpetually fighting a rearguard action on infrastructure. At Lochloy estate, current residents await resolution of disputes between developers, Scottish Water and the Council to sort out SUDS drainage, emerging water pressure problems, and a promised footpath/cycleway across the railway and the A96 to Balmakeith which has failed to materialise. There is no school to serve 800 plus homes, as the earmarked site was inexplicably deemed ‘unnecessary’ by Highland Council in 2015 and sold to the developer for more houses.
As a comparison, in March 2018 the Planning Committee required an affordable housing developer at Slackbuie Inverness to contribute close to £9000 per new house towards cost of new school facilities. If this had been the case in Nairn, Lochloy could have had its own primary school by now. Instead a quarter of Nairn now lives at Lochloy with no school or health facility and relies on a single access road to use the rest of the town’s amenities, via a highly congested junction with the A96 trunk road.