By NEIL RIDDELL
Construction of Shetland’s £12.2 million cinema and music venue Mareel will finally get underway in “a matter of weeks” after the contract between Shetland Arts and DITT was signed on Tuesday.
The two parties have been in negotiations since last autumn and Shetland Arts said a range of minor land acquisition issues had now been concluded and it plans to hold a “small celebration” on the North Ness site in Lerwick in May to mark the beginning of the building phase.
A new project manager, Ewen Balfour of James Nisbet, has been appointed to see the development through its final stages. The other members of the construction team are the Peter Johnson Partnership, through their collaboration with architects Gareth Hoskins, and David Adamson and partners.
It is still hoped that the building will be ready to open in late 2010 or early 2011, but Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said an exact opening date would become much clearer around six months into the construction process.
He said: “I and the Mareel project board are delighted that building can now begin on Mareel. It has been a long journey with many twists, turns and hurdles. There will be more, but it feels like we are now very much on the home straight. I believe that our local team … are all ideally placed to ensure this next and final phase runs as smoothly as possible.”
DITT director Peter Tait said that because the contract has only been signed this week, the firm – which also built the nearby Shetland Museum – has yet to commit to an exact start date. There is still a lot of work to be done on nailing down timescales for the various construction phases and there will have to be more talks with the firm’s sub-contractors now that the contract is in place, but the first work to be done will be drilling and concrete piling. Mr Tait added: “We’re delighted to have got to this stage after a lot of effort we’ve put in to get to this stage and we’re keen to get started.”
Funding for Mareel is coming from a £6.2 million contribution by the SIC, £2.8 million from the European Regional Development Fund, a £2.1 million Scottish Arts Council grant, £965,000 from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and £50,000 from the Gannochy Trust.
The council settled on a Mareel-style project in the 1990s, but since its incarnation the cinema and music venue has been a hugely contentious political issue, particularly since the start of the current council almost two years ago.
There has been concerted opposition from several elected members who believe Mareel is an expensive luxury when the council is supposed to be trying to tighten its belt and deliver several other important capital projects. Last year the SIC’s 50 per cent funding support for it survived only by virtue of a casting vote from convener Sandy Cluness following a tense and dramatic debate.