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

Tuesday 7 August 2007

A welcome rebuttal of parochialism in the Highlands of Scotland

The Chairman of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Simon Cole-Hamilton, has a very welcome article in today's Inverness Courier in which he makes a strong case, both in terms of hard-headed business common sense and in terms of culture and aesthetics, for the wisdom, in the longer term, of investing significant resources in the redevelopment taking place at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. This is in sharp contrast to the 'spat' within Highland Council which resulted in the resignation from chairmanship of the education, culture and sport committee of Councillor Roddy Balfour, who is strongly opposed to the expenditure, describing it as a 'waste' of money.

Today I read in The Nairnshire Telegraph's latest edition (no online presence, I'm afraid) that in addition to the 'spat' I referred to above, some of the comments made by Highland Council convener, Councillor Sandy Park (former Provost of Nairn), have necessitated an apology from him to Councillor Balfour. The Nairnshire Telegraph reports that during the course of the dispute Councillor Park commented, in reference to Councillor Balfour:

"If somebody, especially a chair with a £300m budget, goes off the straight and narrow, then we have to - basically like I do at home with my dog - take him to heel."

Highly undiplomatic language! His later 'apology' also makes interesting reading:

"I made a flippant remark and I have apologised for it. But as far as resigning, it has never entered my head. I have had a vote of confidence from my colleagues and have 100 per cent support from my administration. It was a throw-away line and not meant to cause offence."

Well, I give Councillor Park the benefit of the doubt about not meaning to cause offence, but I think it high-lights the difference between being a provost of a small town, with its parish pump politics (see later in this article), and being convener of Highland Council - still not a huge job, but obviously a more high-profile one. Councillor Park needs to think a little more carefully in future how he expresses himself, even if I (on balance) agree with his underlying sentiments with regard to Councillor Balfour.

Naturally Nairn continues to live up to its well-deserved reputation of shooting itself in the foot. The Nairnshire Telegraph also report today, with a front-page 'splash', about objections being raised by our SNP Provost, Councillor Liz MacDonald, to the terms under which supermarket operator Somerfield is being permitted to acquire part of the additional land for its proposed town-centre redevelopment of its premises. She thinks that the supermarket operator is being given "too good a bargain" given the recent rise in local land values. She also professes disappointment with the scale of the proposed redevelopment:

"I am concerned that the Somerfield group has too good a deal. They are getting the community centre site, the King Street buildings; the only bit left is the school. The will have carte blanche on car parking. Why should we sell off such an asset at less than market value.

"It's a big downgrade from the former Safeway proposals."

Her last point is echoed by the main editorial in the newspaper and there is certainly truth in what she says. However, I have a few comments of my own:
- is the deal on the land agreed and signed? If yes, then it must stand or commercial contracts mean nothing in an SNP-dominated Scotland. If not, then undoubtedly there is scope to re-think the terms, but the potential downside must be recognised clearly - further delays or even a pull-out;
- the redevelopment of the centre of Nairn has been dragging on for a decade, at least, and has suffered various delays. Locals blame it on the changing ownership of Safeway (subsequently if briefly Morrisons, before the arrival of Somerfield) and no doubt this was a factor, but a far greater reason for the delay was the constant bickering within Nairn which led to an earlier proposed developement being scrapped after a public campaign against it, aided and abetted by local (parochial) business interests;
- there is a letter in today's newspaper from the Association of Nairn Businesses which continues the fine tradition of bickering and delaying tactics, disguised as helpful suggestions;
- it is remarkable that businesses with interests beyond the boundaries of Nairn have the stamina to continue with their business development efforts here in the light of the local climate of suspicion of outsiders and fundamental parochialism. Comments relative to the mooted retail park at Balmakeith (on the eastern outskirts of Nairn) within the letter illustrate this attitude perfectly.

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