A horse-riding group is to be given a £100,000 sweetener by Shetland Islands Council in return for having its showground at Seafield used to build the new Eric Gray Resource Centre.
The site, a former hockey pitch near the existing Eric Gray centre, has been chosen by a working group as the best place for the new £4.5 million centre which serves people with complex needs. The alternative site was the north end of Clickimin.
Design work is to be done in the next financial year and planning permission will be applied for, but there is currently no date in the council’s capital programme for building work to start.
The services committee yesterday backed plans for the new centre but not before an attempt was made to stop the Equestrian Association of Shetland getting its grant, which it would only receive if it goes ahead with a covered arena near the grounds of the Cunningsburgh Show.
Councillor Alastair Cooper said he had nothing against what members kept referring to as “the horsey brigade” but there was no statutory obligation to make the grant and the council could not afford to indulge moral obligations. He said the group should take its chance with grant applications the same as any other organisation. He was backed by councillor Jonathan Wills.
The horse-riding fraternity was generally being mocked in the Town Hall and several councillors rode quickly to their defence. Declaring a family interest in the sport, Allan Wishart said the riders were always the ones getting thrown off their parks around Lerwick. “I wonder if this would have applied to the football brigade?” he said.
Rick Nickerson also said horsey groups had been treated badly in the past. “These folk have been bounced from pillar to post for the last 10 years,” he protested.
Others agreed that horse-riding was a growing activity in Shetland and one which helped keep children and adults active.
Also declaring an interest, Jim Budge informed members there was already great interest in the proposed arena from other sports groups which might use it, including the archery club, rugby players and footballers.
Cecil Smith said the arena was likely to cost £400,000-£500,000 and it was important to get the project moving. He won the day 14 votes to five.
The new Eric Gray centre will only take up the top section of the Seafield pitch so the horse riders will continue to be able to use the lower part until their arena materialises.
Meanwhile, the council is seeking expert legal opinion on whether the Seafield park can be used for non-sporting activities. It was handed to Zetland County Council in 1969 by the Lerwick Sports Association, which no longer exists. Documents contain a condition intended to ensure sporting groups were offered “adequate use” of the grounds. But it was not formally imposed in the title deeds.