NAIRN could be about to make a big splash with ambitious proposals for an open-air swimming pool, replacement paddling pool, possibility of a miniature railway and dolphin emblem all in the pipeline.
Councillors will consider a blueprint for a radical facelift for the town’s links when they meet today.
The four-member Nairnshire Committee will discuss a detailed scoping report and be asked to approve a public consultation on the ideas.
The links area is owned by the Nairn Common Good Fund and managed by Highland Council.
A debate began in earnest two years ago when the council’s leisure division High Life Highland, which manages the paddling pool, pinpointed a need for significant repairs.
Councillors approved repairs but noted the paddling pool was approaching an end to its operational life.
Public consultation last year found that revitalising the wider area was equally important.
A human touch is guaranteed. Funds raised in memory of local schoolboy Hamish Hey (8) will contribute to the process of shaping the links.
The Team Hamish charity, established in memory of the young cancer victim, has raised more than £50,000. Relatives want residents to share their thoughts at the charity’s own consultation event next Wednesday (7.30-9pm) in the town’s community and arts centre.
It is working with the council and the Nairn Improvement Community Enterprise to create a disabled-friendly links recreation area.
The council wants to promote use of the links to "build on the special nature of the area and add to the historic value of the links as a visitor destination".
Consultation already carried out showed strong support for replacing the paddling pool with "an alternative form of water play". People want it open more often and to accommodate all age groups. It could be based on water fountains/jets, as in an installation in Southend which includes colour changing lighting.
Another option is to create a three-storey adjacent lido with open-air pool on the top floor and spa facilities on the first floor.
A further option is to take over the nearby council-owned Nairn Leisure Centre pool, give it a glass roof and create a training and competition facility to complement a lido.
The lido proposal was inspired by Bath’s dramatic Thermae Spa.
Lessees of the neighbouring links tearoom and James’ Café have put forward proposals to improve their facilities.
Community leaders are excited but have urged sensitive handling of the initiative.
Nairn River Community Council chairman Tommy Hogg said: "That area is part of Nairn’s heritage so they’ve got to do it sympathetically or it’ll cause massive problems."
A council consultation keen to include input from local schools and youth groups is expected to follow in August.
Planning officers say "the time is ripe for a development plan".
Their report suggests building on a trail around Nairn from the Links through Viewfield and along the riverside featuring various attractions for "people to linger, to learn about Nairn, to take part in an activity and to enjoy their surroundings".
Each point would incorporate a theme and a dolphin-inspired artwork has been mooted.
A draft plan is currently evolving for Nairn’s 77-pontoon harbour and waterfront to improve the harbour basin, surrounding buildings and maximise its potential to boost Nairn’s economy.
Planned projects include expansion of the pontoon system, increasing capacity to 97 boats and to develop a watersports centre.
Other than driving to the links, people generally walk there as there is no public transport to the beach area.
The planners say "there may be an opportunity to operate a land train type tourist train in the summer months, taking people round the links, the harbour, Viewfield and Fishertown.
"Alternatively, there may be potential to develop a miniature railway, of the type used at Whin Park in Inverness."