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Community councils hope to repair broke bridges with Highland Council

By Donald Wilson

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Nairn Harbour.Pictures: John Baikie 036685.
Nairn Harbour.Pictures: John Baikie 036685.

LOCAL community councils have sent an open letter to Nairn's newly elected Highland Councillors in the hope of building bridges after years of confrontation.

The move comes in a week when Nairn West & Suburban and Nairn River CCs met with Highland Council officials to discuss the proposed new Inner Moray Firth Development Plan and met the Scottish Transport Minister for updates on progress regarding the Nairn bypass.

They have challenged local Highland Council members on many issues accusing them of decision making in closed meetings, favouring certain client groups many years of abuse and mismanagement of the Nairn Common Good Fund.

They also have raised serious concerns about the lack of capacity of the proposed new Nairn Academy and the people of Nairn are not being consulted on matters of local importance.

Highland Council's Nairn Area Chairman Tom Heggie passed away in February and Cllrs Peter Saggers and former Provost Liz Macdonald also never sought re-election.

Cllr Laurie Fraser again stood successfully and is one of the local authority's longest serving members. He shares the views of the community councils that Highland Council is too big and not representative of areas it is meant to serve.

With three newly elected Highland Council members - Michael Green (Independent) Barbara Jarvie (Conservative) and Paul Oldham (SNP) the community groups are hoping they can make a fresh start.

Secretary of Nairn West & Suburban CC Brian Stewart in a letter to the councillors welcomed the new members and congratulated them on their election.

"Those who are already familiar with the activities of the Community Councils will be aware that our discussions reflect the concerns and views of local residents on a large number of local matters.

"The two CCs therefore thought it would be useful - at the start of this new Council session - to write formally, setting out a checklist of some of the priorities as we see them, and confirming our wish to work with you and support you. We share a common purpose: to protect and promote the interests of the local community and to improve Nairn for all who live in, work in, and visit the town."

The joint letter from the two Chairmen Dr Alastair Noble (NWSCC) and Hamish Bain,(NRCC), states the 'past five years have been marked by a lack of collaboration, an atmosphere of hostility, and a secretive approach to decision-making.'

"This has been unhelpful, and bad for the town. We believe that needs to change. Both the town’s CCs wish to see a more cooperative and inclusive attitude on the part of elected Councillors. Both CCs are committed to engaging constructively in local discussion.

"For too long local government in the Highlands has been characterised by a culture of secrecy and a reluctance to engage in genuine dialogue.

"Local discussion has largely taken place in closed Ward Business meetings. Policies and decisions have been imposed – often without public debate or community consent.

"Too often, questions have been regarded as criticism, comments have been treated as complaints, and requests for information have been ignored or dismissed. It should not be necessary to resort to FoI (Freedom of Information)requests to find out what the Council is doing in our area and how decisions are made. This takes up time and effort which could be better directed to other tasks.

"A fundamental change is needed: we will expect transparency, not secrecy. We will look for answers, not evasion. We will seek to be included in the decision-making process, not simply be informed after decisions have been made. We will look for cooperation and dialogue; we will not accept exclusion and dismissal."

Dr Noble told the Courier: "We are simply looking for a constructive way forward. It's no secret the relationship between our Highland Councillors and the community councils was damaging for Nairn and Nairn's future. We are in touch with community councils throughout the Highlands who share the same problems about lack of consultation and communication.

"I certainly would not want to go through more years of the confrontation which has been a waste of time and energy in recent years. I look forward to an atmosphere of constructive dialogue."

The full text of the Community Councils letter to the councillors can be seen at both River and West and Suburban CC websites

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