Mareel gets green light – by a whisker

SHETLAND is to get a £9.2m cinema and music venue at the North Ness after councillors voted on Wednesday to renew the SIC’s commitment to the project.

It took the casting vote of convener Sandy Cluness finally to approve the council’s backing for Mareel following a 90-minute debate which left councillors split, with nine members in favour and nine against. That left Mr Cluness to give the venue – which will include a 750-capacity music venue, a 160-seater cinema, recording studios and rehearsal areas – his nod of approval.

The council is to contribute £5.2m to the project.

“You can go ahead and build Mareel,” the convener said with relish, to cheers of delight and lengthy applause from the 40 or so supporters of the project. They had gathered in the Town Hall to hear members debating a report on the business plan for the venue, requested by councillors led by Allison “Flea” Duncan six weeks ago.

Mr Cluness had earlier described opposition among his fellow members to the project as “profoundly depressing”, having listened as several said the report had confirmed their suspicions that some of the projections contained within business plan were far from robust.

After the meeting, a visibly drained and relieved Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons told The Shetland Times he was looking forward to seeing the venue being built. “It was nerve-racking, but a very fair and open debate,” he said. “It is hugely significant that the council has reaffirmed the commitment it has made.”

Mr Gibbons said the SIC’s backing would be a huge help in securing the remaining funding which would enable the diggers to move in at North Ness as early as October, with the hope that Mareel can open its doors sometime in the summer of 2010.

Shetland Arts has already secured a £2.1m grant from the lottery-funded Scottish Arts Council and the body is expecting to hear the result of further applications to bodies including HIE and the European Structural Fund by August.

The same month will see the council’s development committee take a decision on whether to put an additional £965,000 towards the project, which would take the SIC’s total contribution to £6.1m, though it is expected that Mr Duncan and others will attempt to strike one final blow against Mareel.

The roll call vote went as follows: For – Laura Baisley, Jim Budge, Sandy Cluness, Addie Doull, Florence Grains, Bill Manson, Caroline Miller, Rick Nickerson and Frank Robertson. Against – Gussie Angus, Allison ‘Flea’ Duncan, Betty Fullerton, Iris Hawkins, Robert Henderson, Gary Robinson, Josie Simpson, Jonathan Wills and Allan Wishart. Absent from the meeting were councillors Alastair Cooper, Jim Henry, Andrew Hughson and Cecil Smith.

For a full report, see Friday’s Shetland Times.


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