The row surrounding the naming of the new high school hostel has been reignited, with renewed calls for the council to bow to public opinion and name the new build after popular former warden George McGhee.
Former hostel resident Peter Gear, now of Bell’s Road in Lerwick, has written to The Shetland Times in a bid to have the halls named after the now retired housemaster.
“George McGhee is unquestionably one of our most well-respected and hardworking public servants, and there is clearly a great deal of support for honouring him in this way,” Mr Gear states.
The previous council’s education and families committee found itself in hot water when it decided to dismiss consultation carried out over the naming of the new hall of residence.
Despite sweeping an SIC poll with 44 votes – over half the 80 cast and the overwhelming favourite – the idea of using Mr McGhee’s name was binned in favour of the more prosaic Anderson High School Hall of Residence.
The then education and families committee chairwoman, Vaila Wishart, argued against using Mr McGhee’s name because the former warden was “still with us”.
But those on the other side of the fence argue the precedent of naming buildings after people who are still alive has already been set.
An online petition gained 750 signatures in favour of the George McGhee name.
Mr Gear’s call has gained the support of North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson, who says this is one u-turn Shetland Islands Council can afford to make.
He hopes to raise the matter before the education and families committee in December – ahead of a planned official opening of the new school in 2018.
“There is an ongoing strength of feeling in the community that they still see as an issue,” he said.
“It went out to consultation and the public gave their opinions on the matter and the public were ignored.
“There are certain situations where the council has to make unpopular decisions and the public doesn’t have any say on it. This was not one of those situations. This was an unpopular decision. Many unpopular decisions fade away in time but this one certainly hasn’t.”
There is an ongoing strength of feeling in the community that they still see as an issue. RYAN THOMSON
He described Ms Wishart’s assertion that a building should only be named after a dead person as “nonsense”.
He cited the Hendra and Edward Thomason House as each named after living retired public servants.
Nationally, he pointed to the Chris Hoy Velodrome, too.
“This idea that buildings can only be named after people who have passed away is nonsense.
“We have a duty to listen to the people and when the public opinion is so strong, we have a duty to represent that view.
“This goes far beyond the naming of the hostel. I think this goes into the councillors listening to the public.
“Given what the council is dealing with at the moment, I know many people will see this as a relatively trivial matter. But we have a duty to listen to the public, gauge their opinions and represent their views.”
New education and families committee chairman George Smith said he had not received any correspondence on the matter. But he said the door was still open to have the decision reconsidered.
“The standing orders of the council allows any decision of the council to be revisited.
“If there was a notice of motion that came to the council that we should reconsider a name or propose a different name then the council would be obliged to consider that.”
Asked for his view on the name chosen for the halls, he said: “The committee made a decision, rightly or wrongly. It made a decision and that is the name we have.
“They [campaigners] could get councillors to raise it as a notice of motion.”
However, the man at the centre of the storm was reluctant to be drawn on the debate.
Mr McGhee said he would be “delighted” to see the halls named after him. But he insisted he would respect whatever decision was made.