The Highland SNP Group Manifesto
What does it mean for Nairn & Cawdor
Yesterday I was at the launch, attended by our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, of the Highland SNP Group Manifesto which lays out in detail how we will want to run the council if we form part of the ruling administration after May’s election.
It’s a long document and it’s worth reading all the way through but let me flag up some issues which I think may be of particular interest to you if you live in Nairn and Cawdor ward.
I’m going to go through these in the order in which they appear in the manifesto.
GOVERNANCE AND REPRESENTATION IN THE HIGHLANDS
On page 4 in the yellow box it says:
In support of a review of local government we are committed to:
Making sure that your views are fundamental to the planning of your local services
Making sure that we review and strengthen the role of the committee in your area
Making sure that decisions made by Council give you a fairer, more equal and more prosperous local community
Making sure that decisions by the Council consider your representation and that of your local community and that these decisions are made as openly and transparently as possible
Making sure that the Council focuses on investment in core, statutory service provision
All of this is going to be very welcome in Nairnshire where there’s long been a view that we are being ignored in decision making in Inverness. The point about strengthening the role of our area committee is particularly welcome to me as a potential member of that committee.
And further down the page it goes on to say:
We want to ensure that Community Planning Partnerships are effective and efficient. We will work to empower them driving reform through citizens’ panels at open public meetings.
And that addition of citizen’s panels is a big change. How well this works is largely going to be in the detail as public meetings can have problems of their own but Nairn in particular has long suffered from different groups with different agendas spending a lot of time muttering to themselves about how dreadful other groups are rather than engaging in open discussion and this may help with that. It will also, potentially, give an opportunity for the ordinary residents who aren’t in these groups to pipe up and have their say.
HARBOURS AND PIERS
On page 14 it says:
We want the Council to work with local communities, user groups and the private sector to improve the sustainability of small piers and harbours. This will include working with partners to determine how these facilities can best serve their local area and economy.
We will support local communities that want to manage their own harbours and piers and will identify specific developments and areas for investment.
I’m sure the current users of the harbour will be interested in the potential of that, especially the sailing club who could take over management of the harbour pontoons if they wanted to ...
PROVIDING HOMES AND ACCOMMODATION IN HIGHLAND
There’s an ever pressing demand for housing for our young people and on page 18 it says:
We want to ensure that Council reviews its house building programme and provide as many new social houses as possible over the new term of Council with a minimum target of 2,000 to meet the growing needs and demand of our Highland communities.
And, further down on page 19, it says:
We will work with the Scottish Government, Housing Associations, and the private sector to help to deliver new homes to the Highlands. This will provide new affordable homes complimenting the Council’s social housing build programme. We support a balance of housing provision in the Highlands that reflects the needs of our communities including social housing, affordable housing, low cost home ownership and house build programmes for mid-market rent.
So that means stopping the likes of Springfield simply just building large estates of 4 and 5 bedroomed detached houses for the comfortably off but instead building more of the smaller low cost housing people need.
Finally, turning to the issue of the distortion of the market caused by short term lets i.e. holiday properties it says (again page 19):
We recognise the issue where, in many places in the Highlands, local community members simply cannot afford the house prices in their area or where properties are being bought for private let, effectively removing them from the available housing market. We will review options to tackle this including control measures for short term lets.
These control measures, agreed by our SNP led government, are already getting underway just south of us in Badenoch and Strathspey and, if they work as hoped, we should see these in other areas of Highland Council with similar problems like the west coast wards and around Nairn.
On page 22/23 it says:
We support you having access to library services in your area. We will review library provision and ensure that you get the best library service possible through direct provision or partnership working.
Moving Nairn library to the new academy is what they mean by “partnership working” so that’s something to be wary of but the key words here are “ensure that you get the best library service possible” and we all know that we will only get that by keeping it where it is accessible, and that’s not at the end of Duncan Drive … which neatly takes us back to “Making sure that your views are fundamental to the planning of your local services”.
On page 28 it says:
We will ensure that Highland Council is represented on and supports local transport forums where we will work with other transport providers to improve transport provision throughout the Highland Council area.
We have serious issues with public transport provision in the ward: in Nairn where you would only use the town bus if you have no other option; around Cawdor with dismally few services; and a complete lack of bus services along the A939 corridor so the only way from Grantown to Nairn is via Inverness.
If we are to wean people out of their cars then we need better public transport that people want to use and at the time they want to use it.
AMENITIES, AMENITY AREAS AND PLAY PARKS
On page 29 it says:
We will work with communities to identify areas where there may be an interest by community groups to have land or property transferred or leased from Highland Council in order that the community can design and deliver community aspirations.
We have all seen how Nairn Play struggled to get the play equipment in Riverside Park repaired and updated. Imagine how much easier this could be if they were the ones managing the park, not Highland Council.
I should end by saying that this is all aspirational. This is what the SNP group would like to do if they were running the council. The nature of the STV voting system that we use for local council elections in Scotland means that there are currently no councils where one party had an absolute majority so parties only rule in coalition.
That means making compromises and finding things to agree on but hopefully this document, combined with a good result for the SNP across the Highland Council area, will put us in a strong position to deliver on much of this manifesto and - with the help of your vote - I can be part of that work.