The long-awaited skatepark for Shetland was given to go-ahead by councillors today when they voted by six votes to three to pledge £100,000 towards the project.
The skatepark, which will incorporate a BMX track, will be built in the recreational area at the Knab Golf Course, between the coastguard station and the recessed drystone dyke, near the toilets and well away from housing.
The £100,000 of council funding to be given to Shetland Skatepark Association had first been approved by the council in 2005, when the skatepark seemed likely to be sited at the rear of the athletics store at Clickimin athletics track.
But difficulties in buying the necessary strip of land and more recently the possible advent of the Anderson High School scuppered the proposal. This caused intense frustration to the Shetland Skatepark Association, which was set to provide more than £7,000 to the venture.
The delay caused the loss of match funding from external sources and the project, for which plans had already been drawn up by a leading skatepark designer, will now have to start from scratch.
Speaking at a meeting of the new social services committee, SIC leisure services manager Neil Watt said funding for the revived project would be available from sportscotland, which had been to the site. Previous offers of funding had been lost through no fault of the skateboarders, who, he said, would be “100 per cent committed to local fund-raising”.
Among the councillors, convener Sandy Cluness proved himself to be the skatepark’s most ardent supporter. Insisting the funding pledge be honoured, he said: “Sometimes the council has to keep its promises and this is one of these [occasions]. To try and escape from this promise now would put us in a very bad light. Leisure is just as important as many statutory functions.”
The skatepark would be well used, he said, and every effort should be made to secure external funding. He was also sure the Shetland Skateboard Association, which was originally formed as long ago as 2001 and for which a new committee was appointed in February, would be willing to contribute.
Acknowledging the long campaign waged by the skateboarders and the opposition they had faced from residents in the very early days when sites in Gilbertson Park, and later at Clickimin north, were suggested, Mr Cluness said: “Fairness must creep in. It is a different generation [of skateboarders] from those who started it – they had opposition from the public who did not want it in their back yard. To the credit of the skateboarders this is up and going again. A new generation of skateboarders will be looking to contribute, and the residents at the far end of the road [the graveyard] will not complain. I am happy to move this.”
He was seconded by North Isles councillor Laura Baisley, who said the skateboarders had been “very patient”. The funding approved in 2005 was not a “new budget”, she pointed out.
Shetland South councillor Rick Nickerson said it would be “very unfortunate if we dashed their (skateboarders) hopes”. The project would improve quality of life and benefit health, he said.
Shetland West councillor Florence Grains praised the skateboarders for “staying with it” and said it was far better for them to have a dedicated place in which to skate.
Mr Watt said the council’s money would come from the grants to voluntary organisations general budget. Building at the Knab could potentially be less costly than building at Clickimin as less ground preparation would be required. The Clickimin project, where it would have been necessary to blast into the hillside at the rear of the athletics track, had an estimated cost of slightly over £200,000 in 2005.
The council would lease the skatepark to the association for nominal rent for at least 25 years, with insurance and maintenance costs being met by the council. Although it was too soon to estimate what these would be, Mr Watt said that as the skatepark would be built with a concrete base the running costs were not likely to be “huge”.
However Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan was against the proposal. He reminded the meeting that £20 million savings had to be found within two years, and said: “It is vitally important to deliver statutory obligations and this is not in the same category.” Mr Duncan put forward an amendment that the funding bid be incorporated into the 2012-13 budget-setting exercise. He was seconded by Shetland central councillor Betty Fullerton but his amendment was defeated.
The project will now have to have new plans drawn up and a full planning application will be required.
Shetland Skateboard Association has around 50 active members but there are many more throughout the isles who participate in skateboarding, BMX biking and roller skating.