By NEIL RIDDELL
An outspoken councillor and a few local residents have submitted objections to the SIC’s application to build the new Anderson High School at the top of Knab Road, which is expected to go before the planning board in a month’s time.
Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills has followed the town’s community council in objecting to the project, which envisages a £49 million new school on the existing site, chiefly because of the SIC’s failure to fully examine the pros and cons of other prospective sites.
The majority of councillors have rallied behind the idea of pressing ahead with the latest design since a major rethink took place this time last year. But there are still many – including backers of the project – who harbour serious reservations about the suitability of the site, not least because it creates a traffic bottleneck at the roundabout between Church Road and Knab Road every morning and afternoon.
Dr Wills has consistently opposed the school in its latest incarnation for a variety of reasons, the most important being his view that the council’s own site appraisal demonstrates the Lower Staney Hill site adjacent to Clickimin to be more suitable. It was previously looked into and for a time it became settled council policy to build there – the land is still marked down for educational use by planners.
Dr Wills told The Shetland Times: “The main reason the council is persisting with the proposed disruption and disturbance at Knab Road is that £4.5m has been spent on preliminary works . . . and it would be too embarrassing politically to stop it now and revert to the more sensible option.”
Among his other concerns is that there will be unacceptable traffic congestion and noise, that the development is inconsistent with the council’s local plan and it will cause a loss of amenity and daylight for those living nearby. He casts doubt on a traffic impact study carried out by the contractor, which “may be unreliable” because it has not been independently verified.
Dr Wills also contends that the council’s recent decision to spend £540,000 on further preliminary works “may have prejudiced” planning consideration and, rather than going before the planning board here, it ought to be called in by the Scottish Government instead.
The 20-year gestation period is a source of huge embarrassment to a succession of councils, which have seen elected members dotting from one proposal to the next without ever getting close to actually building a school. That has led many to repeat the rather hackneyed mantra that “we are where we are” and the clear will of many councillors is now that the dilapidated state of the existing buildings means no more time can be wasted.
There has also been pressure from businesses in the centre of town for the school to remain where it is, with shopkeepers fearing the potentially devastating consequences of losing around 1,000 would-be customers at lunchtimes and in the late afternoon.
But there are others who share Dr Wills’ fears about the wisdom of locating the school, designed to educate the bulk of Shetland’s secondary pupils for the next half century or more, in an area which will congest the centre of Lerwick and encourage more parents to drive their children to and from school.
Lerwick Community Council chairman Jim Anderson argues that the development is wrong because it does not meet Scottish planning policy, is at odds with the council’s own structural plan for Shetland and does not constitute a sustainable site in terms of transport access. He argues that if the school was built at Lower Staney Hill, for instance, nearly every Lerwick pupil would be within the 1,600 metre threshold for walking.
Dr Wills also sees the current proposal as going against the SIC’s supposed commitment to pursue “sustainable” transport policies. “The peripheral location on the southern peninsula . . . maximises traffic congestion and minimises the number of pupils and staff who are likely to walk or cycle to school because there is no room for cycle paths,” he writes, whereas the Lower Staney Hill site has “space for new cycle paths and is nearer the vast majority of homes in Lerwick”.
A special meeting of the planning board is due to take place on 15th June to decide whether what is the SIC’s fifth attempt at designing a new AHS meets planning guidelines. After 71 nearby residential properties were contacted by the council’s planners over the development, so far a trio of objections have been forthcoming.
Knab Road resident Neil Robertson is objecting because he feels the council is “ignoring or discounting” its own development plan, particularly due to a raft of potential transport problems with the site and the council’s failure to carry out a proper feasibility study on other sites.
William and Merryn Henderson of Twageos Road are also against the development because it will cause “unnecessary disruption to the tenure of life in the Twageos area” with increased traffic and the arrival of large HGV lorries in the area. = For Knab Road residents Jean Fullerton and Colin Black, meanwhile, a principal concern is the structure and design of the buildings proposed, which they wrote is “significantly larger and higher than existing buildings”, with the new games hall twice the height of the existing one, and would have an adverse impact on the local building environment. They also pointed to potential parking problems during and after the construction phase and said that the carrying out of a detailed cost/benefit analysis of other available sites “could result in significantly less capital and revenue costs”.
SIC head of roads David Macrae has also been in communication with the planners to raise a host of possible drainage problems with the Knab site. “Clearly a lot of design work and calculations still need to be done,” he wrote in a letter dated 15th April. “Enough information to show the feasibility of the design approach should be provided now.”
John Holden of the planning department said they were still collating information ahead of the June hearing but it had been decided that there was no need for an environmental impact assessment to be carried out, meaning that – for planning reasons at least – the applicant did not have to demonstrate that alternative sites had been fully considered.He added: “We will, in our report, consider the transport impacts and whether as a whole it represents a sustainable development [and] there will be some assessment as to whether it complies with development plan policy.”