By RYAN TAYLOR
Work has begun on trying to establish a new food and business park in Lerwick, it emerged this week.
Inverness-based chartered surveyor Graham and Sibbald has been asked by Highlands and Islands Enterprise to undertake a demand study to establish the park’s viability.
A letter sent by Graham and Sibbald to a number of organisations throughout Shetland is seeking feedback from individual companies.
It wants to establish:
• Where a preferred site for the park could be located.
• How large it needs to be.
• Whether a site or building should be bought or leased.
• What timescale there should be before the park reaches completion.
The study could see the park developed on land either leased or bought from a third party or, alternatively, in any ready-built workshop that may be available for lease.
HIE’s head of business growth, Rachel Hunter, said the idea was first mooted by businesses in the food industry keen to help their trade develop further.
“We’re really keen that businesses can come forward so we can get a full picture of the demand that is there.
“Even if it’s three or five years down the line we could think about providing serviced sites then, but at the moment – until we have an educated idea – we can’t bring it on any further.”
The scope of the business park is not limited to food and drink, although it is fair to say it is this aspect of the venture that has captured most peoples’ imagination.
Ms Hunter said there was also a potential to attract creative industries and organisations within the energy sector, as well as life sciences and tourism.
While its location will be determined by the study’s results, Ms Hunter said she was keen to see an area developed in Staneyhill, particularly as much of the rest of the town has already seen much development over the years.
Comments or expressions of interest have been invited by Graham and Sibbald’s Mark Wilson, who aims to submit a draft report to HIE by the end of next month.
“Graham and Sibbald have a contract with Highlands and Islands Enterprise for providing property advice and estate management,” he said.
“We’ve done studies in the past for HIE and Lerwick to identify ways Lerwick could develop.
“A lot of land is owned by the port authority and the Anderson brothers, and this study should establish if there is enough demand for a business and food park in the area.”
He added the enterprise agency was simply trying to get “value for money” by establishing a level of demand.
However the plans have been criticised by SLMG chairman Ronnie Eunson, who said the island’s food industry lacks the identity and infrastructure needed to propel it onto the world stage.
Mr Eunson has in the past suggested a similar idea to members of Shetland Development Trust.
He said a new business park would not be enough to give the industry the boost it needs.
“What I had suggested was that the notion of something called Shetland food or a food industry has never been got to grips with by the industry.
“There’s very nice, large salmon factories, fish factories and shellfish factories, but in terms of products that come off the land, or artisan products, it’s very different.
“The problem that needed addressed was the whole question of integrated delivery. We’ve big, huge lorries taking salmon and shellfish around the world, but we’ve nothing for all artisan products.”
He said the identity of Shetland’s produce was often lost when it left the islands, meaning many producers were simply at the mercy of “procurement managers simply dropping them in favour of a cheaper product of equal lack of identity”.
“I believe that for there to be a worthwhile food industry, the people who have the capacity to invest in the industry have to realise what the problems are, and simply creating space for producers to operate is not what I would say is the core issue.”
Instead, Mr Eunson suggested a concept where “key items of infrastructure” were already in place to help make the industry more efficient.
He highlighted Scalloway, which houses a fishmarket, ice plant, a large salmon factory as well as a number of smaller fish factories all within close proximity of each other as a positive step.
“If you look at products beyond fish there’s nothing because we’re still unable to agree the community requires a meat processing factory for produce from agriculture.”
He highlighted industrial estates built years ago all over Shetland, with no real idea of what should have gone in them.
“You don’t simply create industry by providing a site for a shed.”
Mr Eunson added: “If you look at Shetland’s economy, apart from oil, everything else is food, or food-orientated.”
Although it may seem a new concept for Shetland, food parks have taken off in other UK places.
In the east midlands, the Southglade Food Park is a flagship multi-million pound scheme offering food and drink firms “a unique setting in which to develop.”
Funded by east midlands development agency, the European Regional Development Fund and Nottingham City Council the park offers dedicated purpose-built units in different sizes, which provide a ladder of growth opportunities to businesses.
Anyone interested in taking part in the study should contact Mr Wilson by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.