By RYAN TAYLOR
Long-running plans will press ahead to build a new section of main road between Whiteness and Weisdale, despite an attempt by one councillor to have the whole project ditched in favour of a 50mph speed limit to help improve safety on the existing route.
Proposals to overhaul the A971 from Haggersta to Cova have been in the pipeline for well over 30 years.
The intention to develop the new three-quarters of a mile section has been dogged by lengthy delays despite fears the existing road, which is narrow and at one crucial point offers no crash barriers for protection, is increasingly dangerous.
A progress report on the £2.25 million project by SIC network and design manager David Mcnae came before members of the council’s infrastructure committee on Tuesday.
Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills said the new section of road would cost a large amount of money the council could “ill-afford” to spend.
At the risk of “stepping on the toes of West Side councillors,” Dr Wills said a 50mph speed limit should be put in place on the existing route instead.
“I move that the council spends no more money on this project and implements a 50mph order on this section of road,” he said. “I say that because it’s never too late to repent of our folly. We have to start cutting some of our expensive projects.”
Dr Wills’ calls failed to find a seconder from fellow councillors, however.
Shetland West member Gary Robinson said the project was steadily nearing its construction phase, and to walk away from it now would be folly for the many West Side commuters who have been crying out for it for years.
“There is no stronger a critic of money wasted on unfinished projects than Jonathan Wills, but he’d like to see this scrapped when it’s close to the finishing line,” Mr Robinson said.
In the past improvements were meant to be made to the road to allow pupils at the Whiteness school to walk or cycle to their lessons in more safety, but Mr Robinson said no parent would find a slightly lowered speed limit – which many motorists may fail to abide by – a reassurance.
“No parents I know would allow their children to walk to school, even with a 50mph speed limit,” he added.
Adding completion of the new section was “essential”, Mr Robinson moved the committee simply note the progress gradually being made to bring the road to fruition, and he was seconded by Gussie Angus.
Although he would not back him, Bill Manson admitted Dr Wills “has a point.” He said there were several sections of main road all over Shetland still to be completed, and added a review of main road policy might be useful, although that should avoid looking at just one road in isolation.
Chairman Alan Wishart said a report should be tabled to the committee in two cycles to do that very thing.
During the meeting questions were raised as to why a crash barrier could not be put up at one section where vehicles face a steep drop if they come off the road.
Mr Mcnae said a barrier could not be installed because the verges were too narrow to house the concrete posts required to hold them up, particularly as there were telephone cables underneath the ground as well.
He said guidelines stated barriers could only be used if an embankment was over a certain height, and the slope threatening West Side motorists was not steep enough under the criteria.
The road had been approved for construction in former capital programmes for years, but had always slipped due to various delays.
Key objectors to its development have been Haggersta couple Alan and Ruby Inkster, who believe their access to the new road will be dangerous because of speeding cars coming from the west.
As things stand, there is still no established start date for the work. The project can only begin in the summer of 2010 at the earliest, but Mr Mcnae said a more realistic start date may be a year later.