THE funding package for Shetland’s controversial cinema and music venue Mareel is finally in place after European investment of £2.8m was confirmed.
A much-delayed announcement confirming the grant, from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), takes the total amount of funding in place for the project to around £12.1m, though the delays mean the projected opening date for the venue has now been knocked back from spring to autumn 2010.
Project leader Shetland Arts hopes the 700-capacity music venue will become a regular stop on the touring schedules of some of the biggest names in the music industry, while there will also be a 159-seat cinema and the development agency points to potential educational benefits.
But the project – to be built largely by local contractor DITT – has polarised opinion in the isles, with many people of the view that it is an expensive luxury at a time when the SIC needs to tighten its belt financially. Councillors only reaffirmed their long-standing commitment to the project by virtue of a casting vote from convener Sandy Cluness earlier this year.
There has also been speculation in recent weeks that the ever-darkening financial picture will lead to a further move to reconsider the SIC’s involvement. It has pledged £6.1m in grants towards Mareel, along with grants of £2.1m from the lottery fund, £965,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and £50,000 from the Gannochy Trust.
It is expected that building work at the North Ness, Lerwick will begin early in the new year.