Councillors clashed over parking provision in the Lerwick Lanes masterplan last night – as the debate over the future of the conservation area intensified.
Lerwick Community Council members shared conflicting views on the proposals when it was raised for the first time at their monthly meeting on Monday evening.
Councillor Stewart Hay, a lanes resident of almost half a century, said it was an integral part of Lerwick’s heritage but had been “disregarded” over recent years.
He said it would be “sacrilege” to undermine the area – adding that parking should not be prioritised if it meant “desecration” of the town centre.
Mr Hay compared the situation to the Royal Mile in Edinburgh,where he said attempts to remove the surrounding lanes for parking would be considered a “national outrage”.
“That’s what we are considering doing in this town.” he said.
Mr Hay warned that any attempts to “desecrate” the lanes for parking would be “outrageous”.
Lerwick North and Bressay member Gary Robinson, who won the vote to continue with the masterplan at the SIC’s meeting last week, agreed with Mr Hay.
He said the town centre had been at its busiest during the tall ships races in July – when there had been no parking at the pier or the old swimming pool car park.
Around 10,000 visitors attended the town each day for the event
Councillor Karen Fraser was also keen to see the masterplan progressed – and a fresh look at parking considered.
She said the previous move to abandon the masterplan seemed to have been driven by a “social media pile-on”.
“A lot of the comments on Facebook were people getting outraged about things that weren’t necessarily going to happen, which unfortunately happens quite a lot in Shetland,” she said.
Ms Fraser said cars had been given priority for “many decades”.
Said it was “interesting” to now see “this backlash from poor beleaguered motorists who have had it all their way for quite a long time”.
Lerwick North and Bressay member Stephen Leask, who also supported the masterplan at the SIC meeting last week,again spoke out in favour.
He said he had been “astonished” to learn members were apparently unaware of the masterplan, prior to it appearing in the media, and accused some of “making up policy on the hoof”.
Mr Leask said the lanes must be treated with “sensitivity” and due consideration for their “culture and heritage”.
Referencing the motion by Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall to simply replace the demolished and derelict council housing in the lanes, Mr Leask said he felt there was an opportunity to do better.
He also criticised what he called “derisory” comments made by some colleagues regarding officers’ claims the masterplan would be completed this financial year.
Mr Leask said that was “quite unfair” on the officers – but added that “we will hold their feet to the fire” if they did not deliver on time.
Councillor Amanda Hawick welcomed the masterplan but said she hoped the consultation involved experts, adding: “If we lose our heritage we lose our culture.”
Lerwick South member Dennis Leask, who had supported Mrs Lyall’s motion at the full council meeting, said his main objection was the potential delays.
He warned the council housing could become “totally derelict before we see any progress”.
Lerwick North and Bressay member Arwed Wenger had also raised concerns about delays and a preference to get on with the housing as quickly as possible.
He disagreed with Mr Hay’s assessment of the parking situation – saying it was “very important” to many people in the town and its visitors.
Living Lerwick project manager Emma Miller said consultation with businesses in the town had highlighted the importance of parking.
“The main and very forthright feedback we are getting is ‘please don’t take away any parking’,” she said.
However, Ms Miller also said that if the masterplan was done property she felt it would be possible to achieve a “good balance” between not removing parking and maintaining the “integrity” of the lanes.
She also welcomed the opportunity for investment as she felt the lanes had some “amazing stories” which could be made more of a feature.
Lerwick South member Neil Pearson said some councillors were concerned the masterplan risked “overpromising but under-delivering”.