Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 9 August 2006

Planning for the long-term future of Nairn

The local newspaper, The Nairnshire Telegraph (no website), has a front-page article in its 8th August edition about proposals for the medium/long-term development of the transport infrastructure of Nairn. The main thrust of the proposals is the creation of a by-pass to take heavy through-traffic on the A96 Inverness/Aberdeen trunk road away from the town and to create new zones for residential and commercial/industrial development around the town. Various options seem to have been proposed by Halcrow in a report it has prepared on the 'A96 corridor' on behalf of the Scottish Executive.

I can't find an on-line source for the images which the Nairnshire publishes of the various options, but all involve considerable development south of the town. The options focus, though, on where the by-pass would begin at the western side of the town, whether as far away as Gollanfield, or just west of Tradespark on the existing western edge of the town; one of the options involving beginning the by-pass at Gollanfield seems to be the preferred option, so far as Halcrow's report is concerned, although all the published options seem to agree that it should terminate east of Nairn at Auchnacloich (this is where the existing Auldearn by-pass passes the western entrance into Auldearn from the A96).

All of the options would involve a considerable expansion of Nairn's population from its current level of arouond 9,000, possibly as much as doubling the town's residents, along with projections for between 2,500 and 4,350 new jobs in the area. It is certainly an exciting and innovative prospect and, if locals have the wisdom to look at them positively could result in a very welcome strengthening of Nairn's position relative to Inverness (which has itself been growing rapidly in recent years) and protect Nairn against further marginalisation in the face of the development of new dormitory communities closer to Inverness on the A96 corridor, particularly those planned at Whiteness (site of the former Barmac fabrication yard) and Tornagrain (close to Inverness airport), also at Castle Stuart where the first stage of a golfing, hotel, leisure and residential development is already underway.

This is the context in which the Earl of Cawdor, whose extensive estates in the area will be impacted by the potential changes, has strongly urged that Nairn people, and other interested landowners like himself, seize the opportunities offered by the planners by revealing his concept called 'A New Future for Nairn', which he envisages would involve about 1,000 acres of Cawdor Estates land. He considers it would be too easy for Nairn to lose out on the possibility of regenerating Nairn as a shopping destination which can withstand the fierce competition of Inverness, to which much local trade has been lost in recent decades. Both the Halcrow report and the Earl's ideas seem to have receptive ears in Nairn's Provost, Sandy Park (my local butcher) and the local Councillor, John Matheson, whose Alltan Ward is where much of the proposed development would take place.

Naturally matters are not quite so straightforward as this in the tangled matter of local interests and rivalries (which have, in the view of this blogger - a relative newcomer to the immediate area - adversely affected the development of Nairn in recent times). For example the editorial in the Nairnshire Telegraph highlights what it sees as the fact that the Cawdor Estate proposals are not in fact amongst those most-favoured by the Halcrow plan and expresses its own view (which I tend to share) that siting the western end of the by-pass some way to the west of Nairn at Gollanfield is likely to leave the greatest flexibility for the future development of Nairn and is thus the preferred option. Other potential confusion may be added to the mix by the continuing rivalry between the Earl of Cawdor and his stepmother, the Dowager Countess of Cawdor, who has issued a rival plan for the area's regeneration, pointing out that the Cawdor Maintenance Trust, of which she is a trustee, owns much of the land involved in the Earl's proposals. The Trust has appointed Edinburgh-based planning consultant Farningham McCreadie to work on the proposals for land it owns at Carse of Delnies, and that it (the Trust) has been in discussion with Highland Council for some time. Let us hope that the Earl and the Dowager Countess can work positively on this issue and not let their previous severe disagreements cloud the issues and so delay these plans.

Quite apart from these potential areas of disagreement on how to proceed is the fact that Nairn residents have themselves, again in the view of this blogger, sometimes been their own worst enemies in the squabbling which has long-delayed the re-development of the central part of Nairn, a project which is only now beginning to get underway after many years of delay with the recent commencemt of a new Nairn Community Centre, on land ceded by Northern Constabulary, so in due course freeing up the land where the existing Community Centre is to allow for the rest of the town centre regeneration to take place.

Fingers crossed for Nairn! Please don't allow petty rivalries to risk screwing all this up!

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