News / Mareel seeks extra cash from SIC

AS EXPECTED, Shetland Arts have formally approached the local authority for help to pay the extra cost of building the £12 million cinema and music venue Mareel.

Shetland Islands Council confirmed on Friday that the arts development agency had approached them for funding and a report would go before members early next month.

The figure being sought is understood to be in excess of £500,000.

Though no official figures have been forthcoming from Shetland Arts, sources indicate the £12 million building has cost around 10 per cent more than originally budgeted for.

The Scottish government has already confirmed it will pay £276,505 towards the overspend, roughly 10 per cent of their original contribution through the European Regional Development Fund of £2.82 million.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who originally contributed £965,000 towards the venture, has offered to pay around £100,000 to meet the final bill.

Creative Scotland, whose original contribution was £2.12 million, has also offered extra funds, but both organisations say their payment depends on the other original funding bodies helping out.


By far the biggest contributor to Mareel was Shetland Islands Council, which invested £5.19 million (43 per cent).

Following that decision the Shetland Development Trust, which is being repatriated into the council’s economic development unit, put in a further £965,000. The trust is being wound up gradually and still has surpluses to distribute, but these have all been accounted for this year.

The other funder is the Gannochy Trust, who contributed £50,000.

A decade long campaign battled through institutional resistance to build Mareel at Lerwick’s North Ness and the council decision on 26 June 2008 by the casting vote of then convener Sandy Cluness was greeted with a combination of cheers and groans.

Since then the construction has been beset by wrangling between Shetland Arts and contractor DITT, who claim they are owed hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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The building took 18 months longer than expected to build due to a variety of factors including weather and sub contractors going out of business, making it unsurprising the project has ended up going over budget.

On Friday SIC leader Gary Robinson, who opposed the council’s original decision to invest in Mareel, said the bid for extra funding was not unexpected.

“I am aware that an application for funding has come in to the council. Officers are looking at the bid at the moment and they are going to bring a report to the council on 5 December,” he said.

“We are dealing with a lot of competing priorities at the moment and clearly this is something that we have not budgeted for at all, and any offer of a grant or loan to support this bid would by necessity have to come from our dwindling reserves.”


It will indeed be a tough decision for councillors, especially in rural Shetland, who are consulting their communities on school closures and significant reductions to ferry and other services to help the council cut its annual budget by more than £30 million over two years.

Many voters in the islands and elsewhere complained to election candidates about the money being spent on Mareel, saying they would see no benefit from the Lerwick centre.

However Mareel has proved a success since it was opened, with cinema audiences exceeding targets significantly and the music venue attracting internationally renowned acts.

In the three months since it opened the cinema has sold more than 27,000 tickets.

That is around 75 per cent of its target for the whole year, and well in excess of the 21,000 tickets sold per year when films were shown in the Garrison Theatre.

The arts centre has also created eight full time and two part time posts, as well as providing casual employment for 57 people from Lerwick and the rural areas, who are working a total of around 3,000 hours a month.

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