Lerwick Lanes Masterplan back on after council vote

Controversial masterplan proposals are on again – after councillors backtracked on previous calls to abandon them.

Members voted by 11 votes to seven in favour of progressing the Lerwick Lanes project, following a lengthy debate at today’s (Wednesday) meeting.

The masterplan seeks to take a fresh look at the historic heart of the town centre, including the council’s derelict housing in Park Lane and Pitt Lane, the old swimming pool car park and the community gardens.

However, it has been dividing opinion ever since first hitting the headlines earlier this month.

Members of last week’s policy and resources committee voted to abandon it.

Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall had warned against adding another major project to the council’s already long list – and instead suggested replacing the old housing with modern, high quality alternatives.

At this week’s meeting, Mrs Lyall again warned against taking on more projects.

“We need to deal with the immediate problem that we have, which is a group of houses that are no longer fit for purpose, that are standing vacant and need to be removed.

“And that’s what I’m suggesting we do – focus on the immediate issue rather than making some bigger project out of it to add to the pile that we already have on our books.”

Depute leader Gary Robinson, who clashed with Mrs Lyall at the policy and resources committee, again backed the masterplan.

Mr Robinson, who represents the area as a member for Lerwick North and Bressay, said the council had to “hold ourselves to a higher standard” when it came to planning matters.

He said the demolished homes had been too small, poorly laid out and hard to access – and the solution was not to “plonk” more housing on the same site.

“I think the whole area can be improved,” he said.

“I think we can have everything that everyone wants if we do it through a masterplan.”

Mr Robinson said a masterplan was the best way of ensuring car parking, housing and green space could all be achieved.

Depute convener Bryan Peterson agreed the area could benefit from a “more structured” approach.

However, he said the term masterplan had “negative connotations” about lengthy delays and asked development director Neil Grant for assurances about timescales.

Mr Grant said the masterplan was intended for completion in the current financial year.

Development committee chairman Dennis Leask was dismissive of such claims, however.

He said such a quick turn around would be a record for the council.

Mr Leask said he feared “too much consultation” could result in an outcome that pleased nobody.

Rather than looking at the wider area, Mr Leask said it would be better to focus on the housing.

“By attaching that word masterplan, I can see no hope of making reasonable progress in that area in the next decade,” he added.

Lerwick North and Bressay councillor Stephen Leask said it was “vitally important” the council consulted with the community.

While there have been negative comments made online, the councillor also said he had received positive representations.

“It’s not all doom and gloom on social media,” he said.

Arwed Wenger, who also represents Lerwick North and Bressay, said he wanted to see a “short term solution” – not another 10-year project.

Mr Robinson insisted the project would happen “as fast as we make it happen”.

“If we resource it and drive the project as we should do then there’s no reason it needs to take any longer,” he said

He suggested one option would be for people to come up with their own designs as part of a competition – an idea that had been raised with him by a retired architect.

Lerwick South member John Fraser had seconded Mr Robinson’s amendment at policy and resources, but said he may second Mrs Lyall’s motion when it was back on Wednesday.

He said he had “sympathies with both” – and asked for assurances that the replacement housing would not mean the loss of the community gardens.

Mr Grant was unable to do so.

“Surely, in this day in age a development of that sort in the town centre needs to be the right mix of appropriate housing, amenity, outdoor space, access to the town centre and that’s what I proposed in the masterplan,” he said.

“So no, I can’t give assurance.”

Councillors Neil Pearson and Liz Peterson also asked for assurances that car parking spaces would not be lost as part of the masterplan.

Mr Grant was again unable to make promises, although he did confirm the purpose of the planning was to take on board community views, not to remove parking.

Responding to a further question from Mr Fraser about costs, Mr Grant said the council had budgeted £50,000 for the masterplan.


Add Your Comment
  • Mr ian Tinkler

    • September 28th, 2023 16:06

    Stay in Lerwick style: Tarmac, concrete, a few modern artworks and loads and loads and loads of car parking spaces. Keep Lerwick ugly; why change to something pleasant like green spaces!!!


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