A development group is being set up to improve camping and caravanning in the isles as well as promoting the leisure activity for the future.
The hockey pitch at Seafield could be the new venue for a new caravan and camping site if the Shetland Caravan and Camping Development Group (SCCDG) can secure funding and show that the proposal is viable.
Last November caravan enthusiasts discovered only through this newspaper that Shetland Recreational Trust had sold the existing campsite at Clickimin to the SIC and that the site would close.
Since then several local caravan owners have got together to set up the SCCDG, which is looking into establishing a new site in Lerwick which is equally good if not better site than previously existed.
Group chairman Gary Leask said the new group was separate from the Shetland Caravan Club which would still exist. But at the annual meeting of the caravan club this year he and Finlay MacBeath stepped down in order to set up the new group.
Mr MacBeath said: “When the Clickimin site closed some local caravan owners and enthusiasts immediately got together to try to secure a parcel of land in Lerwick for a new campsite.
“We approached the SIC and several sites were viewed including sites at the Knab which had poor access and at the Gilbertson Park [which] was in the middle of a residential area. None proved to be suitable apart from a site at Seafield – the [former] hockey pitch.
“At this point we are only looking at the possibility of developing this particular site, but initial negotiations have been very positive and we have a lot of people who are willing to come on board with the development of this site. Already there have been verbal offers of help.”
Early negotiations with SIC have suggested a long-term lease on the site.
Mr Leask said: “At the moment we are still very much at the stage of formalising ideas. Initial plans for the site have been drawn up but they are not official and changes might need to be made, but we are looking to provide a site with access for up to 30 caravans as well as a tented area.
“Improvements would be made to the existing toilet block [at Seafield] but a further building would also be constructed to provide more toilets with showers and laundry facilities, possibly a kitchen, office and reception space.”
The site would be terraced with new drainage and the group will be looking into the provision of environmentally friendly surfaces for hard-standing for the caravans.
Mr MacBeath said: “We want to establish a park akin to mainland sites and this would include stances for disabled drivers whereby they could simply drive into a caravan stance without the need for awkward manoeuvring.
“At Seafield we would hope to provide up to five such stances. We would also like to provide a wash bay for caravans as some visitors have expressed concerns about the effects of salt spray on caravans.
“The rule on caravan and camping sites is that washing of caravans in stances is not allowed but a designated bay would resolve this issue and larger sites on the mainland do have this.”
The group has not set a timescale for putting its proposals into action.
Mr Leask said: “Much of what we are proposing is dependent on funding of course. While we do not intend to approach the council for funding we do hope that they will point us in the direction of sources of funding for our project.
“We have been in touch with local community groups who seem very keen to lend their support, but we are looking for support from interested parties.
“Should we be allowed to go ahead we would hope to eventually end up with something much better than the former site at Clickimin and we would hope to be linked into other caravan bodies such as the national Caravan Club.”
The group does not have an official membership yet but it does have a committee of 10. At one time the Shetland Caravan Club had a membership of 117 but in recent years that has declined.
Mr MacBeath felt that was not due to a decline in interest as caravan ownership is increasing in Shetland but rather that many owners have been put off coming to Lerwick owing to uncertainty surrounding the future of the Clickimin site, fears which had proved to be well founded.
The SCCDG has already spoken with Serco NorthLink about providing a better service for those wishing to take caravans to Shetland.
Mr MacBeath said: “It used to be that if you arrived in Aberdeen wanting to take your caravan on to the ferry and you arrived before the boarding time you would have to wait on the road to board. In the summer months, it would not take many caravans travelling to Shetland to create a long tailback and real congestion.
“The SCCDG contacted Serco about this and in three days Serco had changed the system so that caravans and camper vans could park up on the pier early. This is just one example of improved services and facilities that the group wants to implement and promote.
“With improved facilities we would also hope to offer a longer opening season at the site and in turn this could encourage new members. We would have the site fully open in the summer months but still keep it part open during the off season for the more intrepid caravaners and campers.”
The SCCDG is keen to hear from any interested parties and those wishing to offer help and support and are asked to contact the committee by email at email@example.com.