Shopkeepers dismayed over Shetland Islands Council plans to cut cars from the street
Commercial Street risks becoming devoid of shoppers if better parking is not factored in to radical plans aimed at extending pedestrianisation.
Retailers have voiced their concerns following a Living Lerwick meeting on Tuesday night, where council roads officials outlined their proposals.
The department wants to introduce traffic calming and a 20mph zone to help reduce accidents.
A briefing note circulated to Living Lerwick ahead of the meeting identified a series of bullet-point issues which, roads officials say, need to be addressed.
They say too many vehicles make “unnecessary” movements through and around the Market Cross and on the stretch of the street leading out to Church Road.
Complaints are also made about cars moving illegally through the main part of Commercial Street.
Plans have been made to bar parking on the street from 8.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday.
Under the proposed scheme, marked bays at RBS would be for disabled badge holders and deliveries only – and would only be available for other drivers after 5pm.
But proposals to reduce parking have caused consternation among a number of shop-keepers.
Speaking after the meeting, partner in High Level Music, Fiona Adamson, warned the street would suffer.
“We really do feel you can’t have pedestrianisation unless you have somewhere for people to park. We feel very strongly that the street should be left as it is,” she said.
“We’ve noticed a definite drop in footfall and in people being able to use the premises … since the last work was done with bollards and pavements.
“We really want people on the street, and we don’t care how they come here. And if they can’t park their cars, they go to Tesco’s.”
She said “lots of kids” came in for music lessons held every week.
“I really think all this pedestrianisation would be lovely if we were in southern Italy, but in the winter time in Shetland… Almost everybody that comes into the shop complains to us about parking.”
She added the “swimming pool” car park, off Hill Lane, was not suitable for the elderly or people with mobility problems.
“We actually get cancellations of lessons when Living Lerwick put things on and block off the street because people can’t get near us to park.
“If somebody’s coming in for a keyboard, or an amp, you need the car near the door.”
Her partner Brian Nicholson said: “What we have seen is the more pedestrianisation you have, the less car parking you have, the less commercial activity you have on the street.
“That seems to be the pattern wherever you go.
“If there is no commercial activity, it will be a very safe place to come because nobody will come to it.”
Caroline Carroll, of Harry’s Department Store, said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the road calming measures put forward by roads officials.
“I think the presentation took a step in the right direction to allay some of our fears.
“However, in my opinion the greater threat to businesses is the lack of parking and pedestrianisation. These are the items, for one reason or another, we didn’t get to fully discuss.
“I think further discussion is needed on both these topics before any proposal can be put to the council.”
Sherl Maclennan, of Fine Peerie Cakes, agreed the traffic calming would help address concerns over boy racers and road safety.
“As far as pedestrianisation goes, I think that’s a hard one to get right for everybody,” she said.
“Different ends of the street have different views. I think there needs to be more views sought on it.”
She said the challenge was trying to create sufficient parking to suit everybody.
“It’s a really hard one given however many hundred years old Lerwick is with its current state. You can’t change buildings so you need to change what’s surrounding them.”
Owner of The Shetland Times Bookshop, Robert Wishart, insisted he was “one hundred per cent” against full pedestrianisation.
He said keeping out the cars risked driving out the customers.
“The street is just a shadow of what it used to be. The street used to be the commercial and social heart of, not only Lerwick, but the whole of Shetland.”
The street is just a shadow of what it used to be. The street used to be the commercial and social heart of, not only Lerwick, but the whole of Shetland – ROBERT WISHART
He said the street had always been available for both cars and pedestrians.
“In that document they talk about people using the street unnecessarily. But it is necessary. If you want to go to the bank, or take Granny to the chemist, or drop a bairn off at High Level Music with an accordion, why is it that somebody sits in a council office and decides it’s unnecessary? It’s very necessary.”
He said there was no conflict between pedestrians and motorists, and that the two made allowances for each other.
“I’m one hundred per cent against pedestrianising our end of the street.”
SIC traffic and road safety engineer Colin Gair said consultation was ongoing on possible variations to a short-stay parking zone and the parking times associated with it. He said talks were also being held about the pedestrianisation and how it may be configured, but additional parking did not form part of the consultation.
“At the meeting a number of retailers raised questions and highlighted issues with parking, but it related to parking that would not be covered by anything we are consulting on at the moment. That would be subject to further discussions.” He said the roads department were waiting to hear back from either retailers or Living Lerwick to see how they wanted to progress.