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To be sold off? Row erupts over common good land earmarked for development in Nairn

By Donald Wilson

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Sandown Lands next to Sandown Road, Nairn. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Sandown Lands next to Sandown Road, Nairn. Picture: Gary Anthony.

COMMON Good land on the edge of Nairn at the centre of a row between Highland Council and a local community council has now been identified as the preferred site for major expansion in the town in a new report.

Just as the Nairn West and Suburban Community Council lodged their objections to the proposed marketing of the 23-hectare Sandown Lands, the publication of the proposed new Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan (IMFLDP) adds fuel to an already heated debate.

Sandown is the planners preferred option in the IMFLDP and public responses are being sought.

Transport issues including a traffic bottleneck at the railway bridge in Nairn and the operations of a nearby sawmill which is a major employer potentially rules out another major development site south of Nairn.

Whilst acknowledging Nairn south is positioned close to many key facilities the IMFLDP states there remains developer interest in the area but a number of issues have yet to be resolved.

Nairn West Chair Sheena Baker said the latest report confirms what many people in Nairn believe that cash-strapped Highland Council is focussing all its resources on grabbing Sandown for housing and effectively robbing Nairn of its family silver to subsidise its social housing programme.

"It's as if Sandown is the only show in town when we know there is another major potential housing site at Househill.

"In 2008 Highland Council had struck a deal with a developer for £22 million for Sandown but that fell through. Now the land is only valued at £7 million. How can that be good value for the people of Nairn.

"We recognise that Sandown has to be developed at some time in the future but favour a mix of leisure, recreation and a limited amount of housing."

The council has set a closing date next week (February 26) for representations about the proposed marketing of Sandown to establish what developer interest there may be in the site.

In their submissions the community council describe the consultation as a 'box-ticking' exercise and fear that it's already a 'done deal' to sell off the Sandown Lands.

Highland Council has 450 applications for social housing in Nairn.

The community council say the consultation should not be taking place at this time because of Covid and are keen to explore proposals which could generate ongoing income streams for the Common Good Fund.

They cite minutes of a ward meeting of Nairn's four local Highland Council members in December 2019 when an official told the councillors : ‘Time is critical now. There have been several enquiries from developers about the land and now is the right time to market.’

Nairn Provost Laurie Fraser has announced he will oppose the move to market the land at this time.

Nairn Area Council leader Tom Heggie said the council has 'no developer waiting in the wings' and insists the council is only seeking consent to market the land when conditions were right.

Mrs Baker, in her foreword to their response states: "My personal and my Community Council's original point still stands, that this is not the right time to be conducting such an important process when public meetings and such like are illegal under Covid regulations. We believe the consultation should be shelved until a more normal life resumes and we can legally hold public meetings and have full transparency with the residents of Nairn."

The community council states in their submission: "Housing is a statutory duty of the Local Authority. It is most certainly not a function of the Common Good Fund which is to benefit the general population of the former burgh, not individuals.

"Any attempt by Highland councillors who are Common Good trustees to provide housing subsidised by the CG in the form of cheap or free land would be financially improper and their conflict of interest is plain."

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