The SIC is hoping to begin work on a scheme for 76 new homes on and adjacent to the existing Hoofields site on the outskirts of Lerwick early next year as it attempts to get a handle on the isles’ housing shortage.
In what will be the first major tranche of new accommodation to go up as part of the SIC’s desire to provide 200 additional homes to deal with the problem, the first part of the development will see new social housing built on land to the south of the chalets at Hoofields.
It is then hoped that some of the existing residents can be moved to the new homes before the 33 temporary chalets are demolished and replaced by a variety of local authority properties catering for between two and six people.
Earlier this year councillors agreed to find £20 million from their accumulated oil funds to invest in attempting to tackle a waiting list of over 900 people looking for accommodation, predominantly in and around Lerwick. The precise details of the funding package for the Hoofields project are still being ironed out.
SIC head of housing Chris Medley said the plan was to create a mix of one- and two-story accommodation for families and single people, ranging in size from 50 square metres up to 120 square metres. There will be two four-bedroom houses capable of housing up to six people, eight three-bedroom properties, 22 two-bedroom houses and 44 one-bedroom flats and houses.
Mr Medley said: “What we’re hoping is to start getting the new houses built and as those houses become available people will be moving into them, freeing up houses across the whole council stock. Then we’ll begin moving people out of the current Hoofields houses. Some have said they want to stay in the area so we’ll try and meet their wishes, gradually move people around and free up the existing chalets so they can be demolished and replaced as well.”
It is the first time the council has undertaken a substantial programme of house-building in many, many years but Mr Medley said the depth of experience of large-scale projects accumulated by council staff meant it wasn’t presenting too many problems.
“It’s fairly straightforward,” he said. “In technical terms it’s not particularly challenging. The challenge for the council is carving the funding out of its resources to do it. We’re cutting a new path in terms of our approach to design. We’re looking for standardisation of components and variety in the stock. It’s a case where there is quite a large amount of land available and we don’t want to increase the density when we don’t really need to – people enjoy open spaces better.”
During a presentation to Lerwick Community Council in the Town Hall on Monday evening, the council’s contract manager Neil Clubb said the intention was to have an application before the planning board by January. It is hoped that a contract will be in place to build an access road by that time, with the first foundations being dug in the middle of next year. All being well, the third and final phase is scheduled to be completed by late 2012.
Although figures are only indicative at this stage, based on a cost of £1,050 per square metre the homes will set the council back £53,000 for a two-person property and up to £127,000 each for a brace of six-person households.
While some Hoofields residents will hopefully be moved to new properties prior to demolition, Mr Clubb said it was likely that some would have to be decanted elsewhere. He said all tenants have been visited individually and are being kept informed.
In an attempt to make the homes as efficient and sustainable as possible, they are to be fitted with ground source or air-to-water heat pumps. A ground source pump can lower the energy consumption created by hot water and heating by up to 75 per cent compared with traditional use of fossil fuels.
Councillor Jonathan Wills described it as an “original and imaginative” development and said he was pleased to see the SIC devising something suitable for the Shetland climate.
The chalets were initially put up as temporary units to give people their “first step” on the housing ladder in the wake of the devastating New Year 1992 hurricane which destroyed Annsbrae caravan park at the opposite end of the town.
Over the past decade there have been calls, on and off, for them to be replaced with permanent constructions.
Community councillor Karen Fraser, who stays in one of the handful of caravans which remain at the Hoofields site, told The Shetland Times she hoped the development would eventually help remove the stigma attached to the area. “Once the place gets a bad name it takes a while for it to go,” she said. “There is a stigma with Hoofields, which is a shame because I’ve lived there for 13 years and I really like it – and a lot of the neighbours like it too.”
Ms Fraser owns her caravan and rents the site from the council and she, along with other caravan dwellers, does not expect to be directly affected by the new project. But she said it was a welcome move for the area on the whole: “It looks fine, it’s available land and it’s good to see the council building some houses in that area.”
She added that she did have some worries about traffic with the increasing expectation that there will be a new road going over the Staney Hill to cope with the new Anderson High School and other planned new housing developments. It will be imperative, she feels, for the route of any new road to be planned very carefully.
Councillors believe building council houses, as the local authority did in the 1960s and 1970s, could be a valuable long-term investment in the community, though the SIC is still saddled with a housing debt of around £48 million. Its stock of housing last year fell below 2,000 – prompting some councillors to suggest the SIC should consider suspending tenants’ right to buy.
On top of the 76 homes at Hoofields, Mr Medley said the outline plan was for roughly another 40 council houses to be sited at the north end of Staney Hill and the remainder will be outside of Lerwick. Councillors are set to discuss the matter at the next services committee on 26th November. He said: “We’ll be asking councillors to confirm how many houses they want to be built in each area.”
It is expected that Hjaltland Housing and private developments will swell the total number of new houses on Staney Hill in the next few years to around 200.