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Reforms hope as Nairn community council campaign bears fruit

By Donald Wilson

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Councillors are to discuss ways that developer contributions for Nairn projects could be allocated differently.
Councillors are to discuss ways that developer contributions for Nairn projects could be allocated differently.

A Nairn community council believes its campaign for transparency and local public consultation over how developer contributions are used by Highland Council could lead to reforms.

Reporting to a recent meeting of Nairn West and Suburban Community Council (NWSCC) Dr Joan Noble, who has been at the forefront of the campaign, said a joint representation to the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan consultation from nine community councils in the Moray Firth area was submitted in response to lack of community involvement and lack of transparency in allocation of developer contributions for community facilities.

“This was instigated by Nairn West and Suburban Community Council,” said Dr Noble. “The current system allows Highland Council officials and High Life Highland, behind closed doors, to have the sole say in what the contributions are allocated to.

“There is no current avenue for communities to bid for local projects (as happens in Moray) and the money can be allocated anywhere in the secondary school catchment area, often meaning that the funding goes to a facility which is miles away from the community where the new development is, and where the need is.

“This has led not surprisingly to High Life Highland getting millions of pounds of these developer contributions for centralised projects which have undergone no independent needs assessment.”

She added: “Highland Council have now agreed that the system is very ‘opaque’ and a paper is to be taken to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee to suggest changes to the system to ensure that local councillors and communities will be involved in these discussions at an early stage, enabling more appropriate and democratic allocation of funding.

“This is a a good result for NWSCC," she said.

Alarm bells have been ringing in Nairn for some time at the spending of developer contributions which is a levy paid by housebuilders to provide facilities and services in communities they develop.

NWSCC raised concerns and alerted other community councils to the issue through their investigations.

They discovered that tens of thousands of pounds had been set aside from developer contributions at the controversial Lochloy development towards a dance studio at the Nairn Swimming Pool which is run by High Life Highland.

The community council argued that it was diverting money from a newly built community of 1000 homes which had been built with no facilities towards High Life Highland which runs the pool.

No consultation had taken place.

“We have received e-mails from other community councils thanking us for our initiative,” said Dr Noble.

“That’s a result and I’m pleased.”

Dr Noble has also been highly critical of the handling of Nairn Common Good Fund by Highland Council which has resulted in a commitment to set up a local advisory group so there is transparency about spending and local people are involved in the process.

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