20th February 2018
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Final contract for Mareel signed and sealed as the sniping goes on

, by , in Public Affairs

By NEIL RIDDELL

Shetland’s long-planned cinema and music venue Mareel will be constructed by local building firm DITT at a cost of just over £10 million, it has been confirmed, with work on the site likely to start before the summer.

The contract was given the thumbs up by trustees at a Shetland Arts board meeting on Monday night after director Gwilym Gibbons announced the agency was in a position to move ahead having spent the past couple of months working with the contractor to bring the building costs back under the budget available for the project.

The contract now agreed with the Lerwick-based firm, which also recently built the iconic museum nearby, comes to £10,022,019, a figure which includes a contingency budget of £300,000.

Shetland Islands Council is contributing around 50 per cent of the £12.1 million overall package – the bulk of the remaining £2.1 million being swallowed up by pur­chasing the site, obtaining planning permission, building design and specification costs – along with £2.8 million from the European Regional Development Fund, £2.1 million from the lottery fund and £965,000 from HIE.

Before building work can get underway, there are still some site-related issues to be resolved but Mr Gibbons said none of them was insurmountable. Negotiations are ongoing with Scottish Water over the relocation of pumping station switch gear within the new building and Shetland Arts is still awaiting written confirmation from the health and safety executive that it will remove the current planning restric­tions placed on a zone around the adjacent GB Oils tanks at North Ness.

The site is owned by the charitable trust’s property arm SLAP, which has indicated that it would prefer to lease the land to Shetland Arts rather than sell it as currently proposed. Mr Gibbons said that because the £300,000 contingency didn’t leave a great deal of room for manoeuvre, one possible option was that the land could be sold back to SLAP and leased from them at a cost of around £22,000 a year.

As the contractor, DITT will have to take responsibility for some possible eventualities – for instance, if the price of building materials go up it will have to absorb the extra cost, but if they go down it will benefit from any extra profit.

Mr Gibbons said there had been “no significant changes” to the design, sizes or number of spaces in the building and that the people of Shetland will still get the same quality of experience from Mareel. He said the main ways of cutting the cost had been through shifting from a timber to a steel frame to take advantage of changing commodity prices, different underlay and pipes. “It has led us to get significantly more value for money out of our investment,” he added.

In a letter printed in today’s Shetland Times, councillor Jonathan Wills queries what the latest detailed breakdown for the cost of the project actually is, asking whether the council – which has already spent around £1 million on preliminaries – will in fact be paying over £7 million rather than the agreed £6.1 million for the project. Mr Gibbons responded that the council’s contribution, in the form of two separate grants, had been capped at £6.1 million and would remain that way, adding that Shetland Arts had “consistently said we are not asking for more money from the SIC”.

In his letter, Dr Wills also requests information on the latest breakdown for the project costs, referring to a list of figures given to councillors last year showing that building works would cost £8.13 million, project management, consultancy and surveyors’ fees would total £1.39 million, furniture and special equipment would account for £1.1 million and the cost of purchasing the land would be £250,000, with a contingency budget of £1.18 million.

Mr Gibbons said the £10 million figure was purely for the building and its equipment and furniture, including the reduced £300,000 contingency budget, while the remaining £2.1 million would go on the design cost, land purchase and consultancy fees. He added that Dr Wills could get any information he wanted on the project from the council’s lead officials and the elected members who sit on the Mareel sounding board.

Shetland Arts chairman Donald Murray this week paid tribute to the design team and DITT, which he described as an “excellent” firm with a history of “high levels of craftsmanship” in some of the isles’ most prestigious building projects. “I would … like to thank all those in Shetland who have been eagerly awaiting news on the final costs of Mareel for their patience. I hope it has been appreciated that it was not wise for us [to] discuss openly the negotiations with DITT, sub-contractors and the design team through this period. It was important that Shetland Arts and DITT agreed on a final figure before going public in any way.”

DITT managing director Gibbie Irvine said the construction firm was “delighted” to have been appointed as contractor for such an “exciting” project. “A huge amount of time and effort was spent in preparing our tender submission and subsequent discussions with the project team, and it is therefore very satisfying to have that commitment rewarded,” he said. “As a major employer, the award of the contract will assist in securing the continued employment of our workforce and a continuation of our apprenticeship training programme.”

Shetland Arts hopes that the 700-capacity, 330-seat music audit­or­ium within Mareel will become a regular touring stop for big name acts, while there will also be a 159-seat cinema and potential educational benefits, as well as spaces for recording and rehearsal within the facility. The organisation also hopes to see the creation of around 16 full-time equivalent posts, though there are widespread fears that the business plan is overly ambitious and that running costs will have to be subsidised by the charitable trust – which has agreed to underwrite any deficit in the running costs during Mareel’s first year in operation.

The project has been hugely contentious both in and out of the council chamber, particularly since the start of the current SIC term, with concerted opposition from several elected members who believe Mareel to be an unnecessary luxury at a time when the council is trying to tighten its belt and deliver a number of other important capital projects.

? There have been some changes in the make-up of Shetland Arts’ board of trustees in recent months.

Three new board members – Sarah Molloy, local businessman John Goodlad and Bressay resident Robina Barton – have now been recruited to the 10-strong board after SIC assistant chief executive Willie Shannon stood down due to other commitments, while last year councillor Gussie Angus resigned in protest over Mareel.

Along with chairman Donald Murray, the other trustees are Johan Adamson, Joanne Jamieson, James Johnston, Alan Murdoch, James Sinclair and George Smith.

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