Shetland’s economy, and in particular its further education college, has been given a major boost with the news of a £2.7 million funding package from the European Union.
Plans to significantly expand Shetland College have taken a major step forward with the granting of £1.8 million from the European Social Fund, while £300,000 has been “reconfirmed” towards the project to give the people of Fetlar their long-awaited breakwater.
A further £266,000 has been pledged towards a £1 million grant scheme designed to encourage energy efficiency in local businesses. That funding is being matched by the economic development unit and local businesses themselves and it is anticipated that the scheme will be up and running next month.
SIC convener Sandy Cluness said: “On the whole, we’re delighted with the results which will all be helpful for both employment and development generally.”
Shetland College director George Smith said he too was “delighted” with the funding, which will provide 40 per cent of the £4.52 million required to go ahead with a planned extension. It would provide a third block for the college at Gremista and Mr Smith said the coming weeks and months would now be spent seeking the remaining funding.
Possible avenues include Shetland Charitable Trust’s property leasing arm Slap, which built the existing two buildings, but Mr Smith said he wanted to find as much grant funding as possible to reduce the amount which has to be borrowed. He said the Scottish Funding Council was another possibility which would be looked into and he plans to “emphasise the unique position of a college on an island community” in his discussions with them.
Mr Smith said the third block was important to allow the college to develop further. It would allow the relocation of the hospitality kitchens from the Bruce Hostel and increase the capacity for hospitality courses to meet demand beyond the existing seven students. It would also help produce more social areas for students and staff and allow the college to expand courses in the creative industries and computing.
He is optimistic that if a funder can be found, design work can be carried out this year and the construction phase could start in 2011, with a provisional opening date in time for the 2012-13 academic year.
Looking further ahead, he said: “I’ve never hidden my view that if we could wave a magic wand we would locate somewhere differently, but at the same time being realistic the council’s capital programme is full and beyond, so to get the new college we’re going to be several years away and we need to be doing something now and for the medium term future.
“This is a more modest approach, a £4.5 million project which I think is reasonable, and would improve things aesthetically as well. We have two industrial buildings at the moment; [the idea] is to try with this project to make them more aesthetically pleasing, more environmentally friendly, and get folk circulating with a more campus feel to the place.”
The council had to reapply for the money for Fetlar after delays meant the original grant had lapsed. All being well, the Fetlar project – with a further £300,000 from the SIC’s economic development unit – should be able to get underway during 2010.
North Isles councillor Laura Baisley said it was “excellent news” and she hoped that this time the money would be used “for its proper purpose”.
“I’m just hoping everything will go smoothly,” she said. “Everything is in place for it to start this year, is my understanding. The community is actually doing great at the moment, there’s only one empty local authority house on the island and there’s lots of different small and important projects underway. This will give everyone an excellent New Year boost.”
For full story, see this week’s Shetland Times.