22nd July 2018
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Shetland Life: Editorial

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Simply the best?

It was gratifying to learn last month that here in Shetland we are officially residing in the best place to live in Scotland. It was somewhat less gratifying to know that there are 108 places in England and Wales that are better, but let’s stick with the good news for now.

It can be easy to forget sometimes just how many positive sides there are to living in Shetland, particularly at this time of year, when any place that can offer a bit of sunshine and warmth begins to seem appealing. But we really shouldn’t need a survey by the Bank of Scotland to remind us of what we’ve got.

The factors being considered in this particular study were mostly financial – higher-than-average income, low unemployment and lower-than-average house prices – though the study also noted the good health of islanders, strong education statistics and the very low crime rate. These are all things worth noting.

It was ironic then that the survey results were released in the same week that Shetland Islands Council announced that they were awarding a contract for £250,000 to fill Commercial Street and the Esplanade with CCTV cameras. Apparently, Lerwick will now have more cameras per head of population (one per 535) than anywhere else in the country – three times as many as Glasgow, in fact.

The reasons behind this hugely expensive venture are still more than a little unclear, and the council’s lead officer for community safety, Willie Shannon, did nothing to rectify this when he attempted to justify the expense. SIC are not denying that Lerwick is a safe place, apparently, but the cameras might make it even safer, and they might also help to attract new people to Shetland, who perhaps don’t believe the official crime statistics. Or something like that.

The fact that CCTV cameras have been repeatedly shown to reduce neither crime nor the fear of crime has been, disappointingly, ignored, and the council are pressing ahead with the project with the greatest of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I suspect that the only people who will see any benefit at all from the investment are Lerwick’s shopkeepers (which might explain the decision after all.) The rest of us will just have to put up with it, or turn to internet shopping in protest.

But the knowledge that one is being watched constantly hopefully won’t detract too much from the pleasures of living in Shetland. The council obviously believe it won’t. They have ambitious plans to reverse the current population decline in the islands, by attracting 3000 new people in the next 20 years, and will be rubbing their hands in glee at the positive press this Bank of Scotland survey has brought.

One immediate threat to these plans, though, is the rapidly declining fortunes of the council’s investments, as well as those of the Charitable Trust. These funds have been used to support the impressive infrastructure and amenities that Shetland has built up, and if they continue to disappear at the current rate, the council will be forced to cut back on its spending, to a very significant degree. This will certainly put at risk some of the projects that would help to make Shetland a more appealing place to live for potential residents.

One project that is likely to have entirely the opposite effect is the Viking Energy wind farm, which is gathering increasing opposition within Shetland. While I am quite prepared to accept that there will be many, here and elsewhere, who entirely support the proposals, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would ever choose to move to Shetland in order to be close to a wind farm, no matter how strongly they approved of its construction. I find it much easier to believe, however, that there will be some who will choose to leave the islands if the project does go ahead. After all, the landscape and natural environment is surely one of Shetland’s greatest and most valuable assets, and if we turn the central Mainland into an industrial area, we will have seriously damaged that asset. There will no doubt be those who decide that, if they must live in an ugly place, it might as well be an ugly place that has a Primark.

So go on, ignore the wind and rain, and remember that you’re living in the best place in the country. Have a good festive season!

Malachy Tallack