Discover more from Paul Oldham’s Newsletter
Year 2, Week 16
A96, Lethen wind farm, station bridges, public toilets, and other news ...
This is still ongoing as I type but we drove through the diversion route early on Saturday to check it out and I was pleased to see that Amey had listened to the concerns I’ve raised on your behalf and put in place speed limits and other measures to mitigate at least some of the impacts of the scheme but if you have any issues then do contact the Amey control room directly, which you can do via this form which is monitored 24x7.
Lethen wind farm
Proposals for a new wind farm in the ward came to the South Planning Applications Committee (SPAC) this week. The proposed location of this farm is to the west of the B9007 Ferness to Carrbridge road close to Lochindorb and I was appalled by the plans.
I led the debate on them and I said:
Wind turbines are a regrettable necessity as we move towards Net Zero and I have been pleased when I've seen other applications that generally the applicants have been trying to hide the turbines and put them in locations where they are not so visible, certainly from the public highway. But it's very obvious when you look at the visualisations [for this scheme] that the effect that this is going to have, especially on the B9007 and around Lochindorb but also as far as the A939. [...] It is not well positioned. It's going to have bad visual impact everywhere, made even worse by the fact that they are over 150m so will have to be illuminated at night. So I would strongly like to agree with the officers and propose that we do raise an objection.
I also spoke on this scheme in an interview on BBC Alba which you may have seen broadcast where I made clear that this is not a good scheme, for the reasons I stated above, and should not go forward.
Sadly however this is not Highland Council’s decision, this is the decision of the Scottish Government, but as we have raised an objection it will now go to public enquiry. Let’s hope that common sense prevails on this scheme.
Nairn station bridges
The listed building consent for the proposed new footbridge at Nairn railway station also came to SPAC this week.
I also led the debate on this application and although welcoming the proposed new station bridge which will give much better disabled access to the south platform I pointed out that many people in Nairn, including myself and both town community councils, are keen that Network Rail retain the existing cast iron bridge which forms an integral part of the setting of the historic grade B listed station.
Network Rail claim that they need to remove the existing bridge to make way for electrification of the line and while accepting that this may be true the real issue is that there is little sign that the Inverness to Aberdeen line will be electrified any time soon. It seems far more likely that we will get hydrogen or ammonia powered locomotives, or perhaps hybrid, than full electrification.
With that in mind officers recommended we include conditions that only let Network Rail remove the bridge once contracts are in place to electrify the line. This seemed sensible and should protect the bridge for quite some time.
I also proposed, and councillors accepted, that we add an additional condition that Network Rail should keep the existing bridge open for use by the public so they couldn't just mothball it in place.
As a result of my proposal we agreed to similar conditions at Kingussie, another grade B listed station which is also getting a new, disabled friendly bridge.
It's also worth noting that during the debate councillors commented that Network Rail seemed to have neglected maintenance on Nairn's and Kingussie's bridges, both of which are looking very rusty, and we hoped that they would remember their obligations to keep these listed structures in good condition.
There were some debate on Facebook this week about the state of the Links toilets on Games Day and some fairly robust language was being used with suggestions that your councillors Should Do Something … so let me update you on where we are and what we have been, and are, doing.
Firstly let’s talk briefly about Games Day. As well as the Links toilets the Games committee had installed about half a dozen temporary toilets at the back of the piping tent. There were also a similar number installed by the beer tent as part of their rental agreement for the day, so both the Games Committee and the Council had provided additional toilets. If you didn’t find this to be enough then contact one or both and suggest more be provided next year.
On the more general issue of toilets in the town we currently have three public toilet blocks: at the Links, in the town centre car park, and behind East Beach at the east end of the holiday park. The first two are kept clean and usable by Highland Council, the latter by Parkdean.
There used to be more, in particular at the harbour, but before I was elected Highland Council decided to reduce the number of public toilets and that was one of the ones which was lost.
Public toilets are an ongoing headache made worse by the fact that Scottish councils are under no statutory duty to provide any, but they do still provide some and it’s a continual battle to keep them open and in good condition as they’re subject to repeated vandalism and abuse. This includes the ones in Nairn.
You will hear all sorts of suggestions to fix this, including installing CCTV. Highland Council did try CCTV at one toilet, where it observed children drag a small tree into the facility and set fire to it. The children were identified but, due to their age, the police only gave “words of advice” to their parents and nothing more was done. This sort of incident continues to frustrate council officers.
So where does that leave us in Nairn? Well, we are working on a proposal to get the harbour toilets re-opened in a form that is sustainable i.e. so that they can be kept usable at reasonable cost. A proposal is being worked up now, which I’ve talked about here before, which will probably include access via contactless payment, so you’ll swipe your credit/debit card, phone, or smart watch and be charged a fee to access the toilet. This will ensure both an income and also that all users can, potentially, be identified in case of vandalism. If it works we could roll this out in other public toilets.
This will all take some time so in the shorter term I suggested last November that officers investigate a “comfort scheme” for Nairn. This is where premises which already have toilets for customers or staff are invited to let the public use their toilets in return for a payment. These sort of schemes are already in use elsewhere in the Highlands but sadly, as I reported here in May, no businesses in Nairn wanted to take part.
It’s been a busy week so some other points briefly:
The ballot for Nairn Business Improvement District (Nairn BID) concluded this week and local businesses agreed that it continue for a second term and a further five-year period.
The Scottish Government’s 4G Infill (S4GI) programme activated a 4G mast at Cawdor in June providing 4G services to this community for the first time via the mobile network operator EE so hopefully people in the area on EE are now getting a better signal and the mast has also enabled 999 calls to be made in those areas where connectivity was previously lacking.