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Springfield Properties boss Innes Smith speaks of 'frustration' at Nairn housing plans

By Donald Wilson

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Protesters ouside the Courthouse in Nain. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Protesters ouside the Courthouse in Nain. Picture: Callum Mackay..

The developer behind plans to build hundreds of new homes on the eastern outskirts of Nairn has bemoaned obstacles being put in the way by Nairn’s Highland councillors.

The CEO of Springfield Properties, Innes Smith, was responding to the decision by the Nairnshire Committee last week to agree amendments to the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan (IMFLDP) which will effectively place a moratorium on housing on the site until, if and when, a Nairn bypass is built.

The latest twist in the controversy comes amid growing fears that the Green Party’s influence on the SNP government and the current economic crisis could see the much-needed relief road being blocked entirely despite promises that it is still on track.

East Nairn proposed housing site. Picture: Callum Mackay..
East Nairn proposed housing site. Picture: Callum Mackay..

The four Nairn Highland councillors came under mounting pressure from community councils and residents to throw out the IMFLDP, which identifies Nairn East for the town’s future expansion, and start again from scratch.

Before meeting to consider the amended IMFLDP, they were greeted by protesters demanding they scrap the plan.

The council’s development planning manager Scott Dalgarno told members by approving the amendments to the IMFLDP they would be giving the council “robust” protection that development cannot proceed before the bypass. Also included in the amended plan are assurances that there would be growth for development of existing businesses at the Grigorhill Industrial Estate.

Business owners fear for their operations if they are encircled by residential development.

Committee chairman Michael Green, who was supported by Councillor Paul Oldham and Provost Laurie Fraser in backing the amendments, said: “We approved the recommendation of officers because it will considerably strengthen the council’s hand to prevent development before a bypass.”

Cllr Oldham said: “This has been an interesting process but I think, given the limitations in which we’ve had to work, we’ve now got the best plan for the most people in Nairn.

“We couldn’t refuse it and stick with the old plan because that would leave a planning vacuum. Developing at Nairn East is a far better option than Nairn South or Delnies.”

Councillor Babs Jarvie wanted the IMFLDP for Nairn axed.

Grigorihill Industrial Estate. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Grigorihill Industrial Estate. Picture: Callum Mackay..

She said in the coming year it would be up to the people of Nairn to decide on their vision for the town by agreeing a Local Place Plan.

“Local Place Plans reflect the views and needs of local communities and we will have a lot more information available next year,” she said. “Sadly, I don’t think any bridges were built today, far less a bypass.”

Following the meeting Mr Smith defended his company’s record for delivering high-quality developments.

“It is a great shame that the outcome of the committee hearing has put obstacles in the way of this vision, and it is entirely disappointing when the benefit housebuilding brings to local economies and local people is overlooked,” he said.

Mr Smith added: “We have been working hard on a proposed masterplan for Nairn East, with the firm belief that the area needs high-quality, energy-efficient new homes, across multiple tenures, so we are deeply disappointed and frustrated with the decision to make delivery wholly dependent on the A96 Nairn Bypass.

“The local community would benefit from the significant investment and jobs that would be created throughout construction and perhaps most crucially of all, families and local people would complement the existing community in which to live, grow and call their own. Ultimately, Nairn and the people that live there will lose out by the decision as people will need to seek housing away from their hometown.

“Springfield is a proactive and well-respected developer in the Highlands, and we pride ourselves on our approach to community-focused developments that meet the needs of local people. Our proposals were carefully designed to include a range of facilities including opportunities for small-scale retail and businesses as well as space for sports pitches, allotments and community tree growing.”

Meanwhile, Nairn River Community Council chairman Hamish Bain insisted the council should have went further and rejected the IMFLDP completely so a Local Place Plan can be agreed.

Mr Bain thanked Cllr Jarvie for her support that the Local Place Plan must come first.

Fellow community councillor Lorraine Thomson said: “I’m not saying we don’t want development. I’m saying we want development in the right place at the right time and we don’t want a developer-led town.”

Adrian Johnstone, managing director of GF Job – a major employer in the town based at Grigorhill – said he was concerned about the lack of specifics concerning protection and future development of the industrial estate.

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