Lerwick masterplan slammed as ‘waste of money’ as members vote to drop it

Grand plans to transform the historic heart of Lerwick town centre look set to be “massively scaled back” just days after coming to light.

The SIC’s policy and resources committee today (Monday) voted to abandon the Lerwick Lanes masterplan in favour of a “like-for-like” housing replacement project.

The masterplan first emerged when the council’s housing team sought consultants to take a fresh look at the area, which includes Pitt Lane, Park Lane and the old swimming pool car park.

However many members at today’s meeting seemed shocked to have learnt about it.

Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall said she was “somewhat surprised” to read about the plans in the media – and questioned how they had emerged.

Assets manager Robert Sinclair said he was “not sighted on the exact trail of decision-making”.

From discussions with colleagues, however, Mr Sinclair said that considering Pitt Lane in isolation seemed a “shortsighted way of looking at what is a site with huge development potential”.

Mrs Lyall said the council already had “an awful lot of projects” on the go – and the “last thing we need to do is to add another major one to it”.

The ZetTrans chairwoman said that when the subject arose later in the meeting she would look to have the proposals “massively scaled down”.

True to her word, during a later debate, Mrs Lyall proposed a motion to drop the masterplan.

Instead, she suggested the council should look to progress “like-for-like” replacement of its housing in the area, which includes Pitt and Park Lane properties already earmarked for demolition.

Depute leader Gary Robinson sought an amendment, saying to rule out such options at this stage would be “folly”.

He said the council properties in Pitt Lane were in an “extremely poor state of repair” due to “bad blocks” – an issue affecting more homes in the area that would also need to be removed.

The Lerwick North and Bressay member said the old swimming pool site had suffered from “piecemeal” development over the past 30 years and it was a good time to have a fresh look at the area.

However, Mrs Lyall said the same argument that could be applied to the whole of Shetland – “but that doesn’t mean we need to masterplan” all the islands.

“In all my time in the council, nobody has ever one said to me that part of the town needs a significant change,” she said.

“In fact, the openness of that area adds significantly to the central area of the town, opening it up and allowing it to breathe.”

While acknowledging the proposals would need to come back to members with a full business case, Mrs Lyall said it seemed clear to her that a decision had already been taken to “press ahead”.

“One thing I have learned from my time on the council is that if you don’t say you don’t like something at the very first time you have the opportunity to, then it becomes council policy and you are too late to change anything.

“That’s why I’m pressing ahead with this just now, to say that we shouldn’t be looking at a masterplan for this area.”

Mrs Lyall said there were already plenty of plans for developing housing in Lerwick and suggested any masterplan for the lanes would take years to produce by which time the situation could have changed.

She said the masterplan would therefore be a “waste of money”.

It will go before the full council for a further vote next week.


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