New council HQ could reduce town’s critical homes shortage
GIANT headquarters could be built for SIC councillors and staff to cut bills and free up buildings for housing.
The concept is gaining a head of steam among elected members despite their already bulging wish-list of building projects, totalling at least £125 million and rising fast.
A single corporate campus of modern low-energy buildings could take the place of a hotchpotch of up to 20 old office buildings around town. The costs and benefits are being examined as part of a study into how the SIC can make more efficient use of its office buildings, as required by the government.
Council building services manager David Williamson reported on Tuesday that maintenance, energy and cleaning is more expensive per square metre for small buildings than large ones.
The idea of investing in an HQ to get shot of the old offices has impressed cost-cutting enthusiasts like councillor Allison Duncan, who has made his reputation by calling for school closures and death to the music venue and cinema.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the audit and scrutiny committee, he said it was vital the council found savings and that freeing up property in town would be a huge help for the 961 people on the waiting list for council housing.
“A headquarters to me is now essential,” he said.
Others have voiced their support in recent weeks, including infrastructure chairman Allan Wishart.
No site has been officially earmarked yet but the HQ has previously been seen as an extension of another plan to build offices for social care and housing staff at the North Ness on empty land behind the controversial Scottish Fuels oil base.
Under the council’s old corporate plan a single SIC campus is called for to “promote efficiency of council services and joined up thinking and working”.
The expectation is that the rest of the campus would go at the North Ness too, including on the site of the oil base if owners GB Oils eventually agree to move it out of town.
Other sites have been touted before, including the Gilbert Bain Hospital and Brevik House sites, if the NHS moved to a new complex, and on the site of Shetland College, as promoted by councillor Jonathan Wills this week if the college was to move into town from Gremista. Its bosses also have their eyes on a new home at the North Ness.
Emptying council office workers into one headquarters could free up at least 12 of the town’s largest buildings, including Hayfield House, Grantfield, Greenhead, Quendale House, Charlotte House, Fort Road, Garthspool, Market Street, Montfield and St Olaf Street. Councillors themselves have Lystina House and share the people of Lerwick’s Town Hall with the chief executive.
Dr Wills told the audit and scrutiny committee he understood there were 19 council properties which, if vacated, could be brought under one roof. He said that could free up as much as 4,500 square metres of buildings suitable for housing and a further 5,000 square metres of former commercial properties, some of which could also be converted for housing.
He said the study requested by the committee should “look at the cost of building very straightforward council offices”.
If the study demonstrates that there are efficiency savings to be made from one HQ, such a project might be “something we could defend to the public”, Dr Wills said.
But councillor Addie Doull said the college site might not be ideal because an HQ would need a car park covering about 20 acres.
Councillors and everyone else planning to build in Shetland may not have wished to be informed by Mr Williamson this week that construction inflation is running at about 24 per cent ahead of general inflation in Shetland.
He said it was partly due to pay rises which have pushed construction industry wages about 40 per cent above those paid to council tradesmen.