By NEIL RIDDELL
A Lerwick councillor who believes the community’s rulers are attempting to “railroad” through the project to build the £50 million new Anderson High School has written to Scottish planning minister Stewart Stevenson calling for the plans to be postponed.
A specially-convened meeting of the SIC’s planning board will hear the application on 15th June, but Jonathan Wills said this week that the interests of objectors are “clearly now being trampled on by what can only be described as a political stampede” to get the project through as soon as possible.
Construction firm O’Hare and McGovern were in Shetland this week to meet potential subcontractors and said they hoped to be able to source workers locally wherever possible to form part of the 150-strong building team, though some of the work will have to be carried out outside of Shetland. It is anticipated that preliminary work could start on the existing Knab site as early as July if the planning hearing goes through without difficulties.
The project has been around in various different incarnations for two decades and in the past year a clear political will has emerged to get the school built as quickly as possible on what is essentially the existing site, with an increasing number of problems cropping up with the current school as a result of the dilapidated state of some of the buildings.
But Dr Wills’ assertion that the timetable is being rushed appears to have some support from within the council, with the SIC’s roads department informing planners last week that a detailed assessment of the submission would not be possible in advance of the hearing.
Head of roads Ian Halcrow said in a written submission to the planners that the timeframe “leaves the project team at risk of not being able to act effectively on my comments prior to any decision being made” and, as a result, “the full impact of the new school and its construction phase will not necessarily be obvious to either the public, residents or members”.
Mr Halcrow said he was not aware of anything to prevent the project from going ahead but flagged up “a number of outstanding issues” which his department felt ought to be addressed, including an insufficient provision of 127 parking spaces (less than the existing 150) when a provision of between 145 and 168 spaces would be more appropriate.
He also said the ability to properly accommodate future school transport requirements in the event of an increase in pupil numbers had not been properly worked through: “The information was requested some time ago but to date we have had no response. With a family population shift out of central Lerwick already evident it is possible that the bus facility is undersized for future requirements.”
Further potential issues include the location of the new school, which Mr Halcrow wrote “effectively precludes any significant changes in personal transport choices” and reduces scope for moving travel away from the car towards more sustainable modes of transport.
Head of planning Iain McDiarmid said the final committee report was still being compiled but his department is still aiming for the application to be heard on 15th June because officials believe they have all the necessary information.
But Dr Wills, who was told by infrastructure director Gordon Greenhill this week that there would be no postponement of the hearing a week on Monday, said he believed the planning application was being “railroaded through by local political, financial and timetabling pressures rather than receiving a proper consideration solely in terms of planning law”.
His letter to Mr Stevenson states that the late arrival of amendments and supplementary information meant it was not possible for objectors to give the “voluminous” new information proper scrutiny in time for a deadline (3rd June) which has now passed.
“The fact that we have a contractor impatient to get on site is no reason to fast-track this hugely significant application,” said Dr Wills. “This is why I have asked for a postponement, to give objectors time to consider new material submitted by the applicant at a very late stage, and also for the application to be ‘called in’ by the Scottish Government, so that an impartial assessment can take place, free from the political contamination we are seeing here.”