Councillors have thrown their weight behind the new £4.5 million Eric Gray Centre on Lerwick’s Seafield sports ground after hearing the number of adult places there is projected to double by 2020.
The SIC’s planning board supported the new building today following a plea for no more delays in getting the centre up and running
There have been long-running concerns the current structure is increasingly unable to cope with its growing client base and fears over a “bottleneck” with young people having been forced to stay on at the ASN department at Gressy Loan well beyond school-leaving age.
At a hearing in the town hall councillors were urged to approve the development.
Sally Shaw, executive manager of adult services, said a larger, purpose-built centre was badly needed.
“The requirement for adult places is projected to double by 2020. The current building is not fit for purpose,” she said.
She added the job of organising staff and clients between the Kantersted Road building and Gressy Loan was a “logistical nightmare”.
Her comments were echoed by Leslie Smith, whose son relied on support from Eric Gray staff going to Gressy Loan until he was 21.
“Gressy Loan is an excellent educational building but it was never intended to be an extension for adult services.
“It has restraints with traffic congestion which hampers drivers to keep to timetables, lack of parking and difficulties during wintry conditions, and the terrain for wheelchair and less mobile people make it difficult for staff to support them without the use of buses.
“This new location for the new local authority building offers to accommodate all Shetland’s diverse special needs so that their development can be supported.
“Don’t let the bottle neck happen again – no more delays.”
Not everyone has been in support of the new development however.
The area earmarked for the centre is commonly used as a play area for children and youngsters from Sandveien and Nederdale. Objectors say historical documents show the ground was intended for recreational use – even though the national body Sports Scotland concluded adequate facilities can be found at Clickimin.
They say a nearby horse park could be used for the centre instead.
Town councillor Jonathan Wills represented constituents against the development.
He raised concerns from one of his constituents, retired council official Billy Smith, whose home overlooks the planned site and who publicly spoke against the proposals earlier this year.
Dr Wills insisted the horse park deserved to be carefully considered before a final decision was made.
“This is a public park, owned by the community. It could be the nucleus of a really fine area for the community. As this is only in principle you could impose conditions, or you could defer a decision for amended proposals that would improve rather than diminish the area.”
He insisted his constituents were not nimbys, and were anxious that a new centre should be built in a more appropriate location.
Dr Wills insisted: “My constituents are not against the new Eric Gray Centre. They recognise it is long overdue and much needed in the interests of the community as a whole.
“They are not nimbys. They have had the Eric Gray Centre in their front yard for many years.”
Planning members were unanimous in their support for the proposed site, however.
Cecil Smith said road improvements would be required if the alternative plan for the horse park was taken up, which would “encroach” into the land. He added there could be a flood risk for the building if it was shifted to land close to the sea.
“I attended an open day at the Eric Gray and was appalled to see the conditions in which we have made staff work. People using this facility are members of our community, and we have a responsibility for them. We have been promising them a new building for years.”
He moved the recommendation to approve the development in principle. He was seconded by Caroline Miller, who said the construction would represent “a most excellent use of the ground”.
Josie Simpson added: “I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I didn’t support this.”
Half way through the item Gary Robinson declared an interest because of his association with Shetland Recreational Trust. He then left the meeting, which led to a protest from Bill Manson, who insisted there had only been a passing mention of the trust, and he had not needed to go. Mr Robinson declined to re-enter the chamber, however.