Angry Nairn residents have won an assurance from Highland Council that their claims of secrecy surrounding the handling of proposals for a controversial ‘town centre hub’ will be looked into by the council’s governance boss Kate Lackie.
Nairn Residents Concern Group (NRCG) has lodged a series of detailed complaints with the council, claiming its plans for a CAB office with flats above in historic King Street were drawn up behind closed doors and never taken to a public forum.
The assurances come after the council’s chief executive Donna Manson told the group the council did not uphold its complaints and suggested they take their concerns to the ombudsman.
A block of flats in the middle of Nairn’s Victorian town centre will do nothing for the local economy or footfall, they say, adding that the CAB office could be located elsewhere and town centre flats bought for far less than the £250,000 each suggested in the £3m development.
Through Freedom of Information requests, the group obtained minutes from ward meetings, where they claim “locality business is being considered and decisions taken involving millions of pounds of taxpayers money, Scottish Government funding, Common Good matters, ward discretionary and other grant funding, and a whole range of other local business matters.
“None of these matters were dealt with by the council’s Nairnshire area committee.”
The minutes show agreement that the money allocated to Nairn from the town centre regeneration fund, around £200,000, should go towards creating a ‘town centre hub’, including the CAB/flats block and possibly a library.
In its town centre fund information sheet, the council states that area committees are to be involved in identifying and recommending which projects are awarded the funding.
A council spokeswoman said: “Area committee members determined their preferred approach.
“In some areas members were happy for the matter to be dealt with at ward business meetings or a private members briefing, whilst in other areas like Inverness and Lochaber the matter was taken to committee.”
In a letter last week to council leader Margaret Davidson, Loreine Thomson, spokeswoman for NRCG wrote: “Openness, transparency, and the public’s right to freely access information (with exemptions) is enshrined in law and goes to the heart of open government and democracy.
“The community of Nairn has been denied these rights as a direct result of the council allowing secret Nairn ward business meetings to assume the mantle and decision-making powers delegated from the council to the Nairnshire area committee.”
The group welcomed the assurances from council governance boss Kate Lackie that she will look into the issues they have raised, and said they are ready to assist in the review and scrutiny.
The council’s south planning committee will determine the King Street application today.
Planners have recommended permission be granted, and the council has already published more than 160 tender documents for the development on the Scottish Public Procurement portal.