The two main issues (Vic Thomas)
Now we know the brave souls who are putting themselves forward for the thankless task of being a local councillor, electors can focus their desires, concerns, suggestions etc and ask their candidates what their aims and objectives are.
To focus minds aside of individual community issues, there are two key issues facing the next council which need highlighting.
Firstly the matter of year-on-year local authority cuts. It’s going to get far worse than past councils have faced and as the SIC mantra has seen the biggest or intended cuts centred on rural communities, be it school closures, gritting, rural development, housing, etc, we have a growing divided community far worse than the Viking Energy issue.
The SIC’s philosophy for years of “target rural communities” for savings – has seen hundreds of people move to the Lerwick overspill townships of Scalloway, Tingwall, Whiteness, Whiesdale, Gulberwick and as far south as Sandwick – has created a real divide. Further focus on cuts will disproportionately increase this in favour of all things Lerwick.
The second serious issue is SIC planning. Shetland has the most draconian planning system in Scotland and nothing to do with Scottish government regulations. It’s down to a weak SIC, led by dominant senior planning officials who operate a local plan that is not fit for purpose any more and can be changed in the town hall easily.
Shetland is the most expensive council area in Scotland in which to build a shed, house or anything. It’s not the cost of shipping wood or whatever into the isles, it’s the planning, building regulations (which now insist on very unhealthy air tight houses) and rip-off building costs. The same house in most parts of Scotland is half the Shetland cost per square metre.
Aside of this the arrogant planning attitude that Shetland is a wealthy community and they can rip folk off shows. The SIC and planning do not understand how difficult it is for young or less well of folk to find loans, mortgages, etc for building. Many Scottish councils allow amazing low cost housing options recognising the fiscal and onerous regulatory conditions.
The new council needs to rope in senior officials who think they are more in control than elected members and are supported by a 40-plus years of an independent council with no joined-up plan.
So the two main issues facing a new council are:
1. Lerwick versus the Shetland rural community.
2. Planning. Councillors can change the disfunctional local plan and seek new and innovative affordable housing.
The reduction in central government funding is only as bad as the poor vision or lack of ingenuity. There are many ways to solve funding issues if the choking regulatory framework is amended to suit the current conditions.