UP TO 400 new homes could be built in the north of Lerwick if councillors back a recommendation from Shetland Islands Council planners to give the development permission in principle.
Shetland Leasing and Property Developments (SLAP), working in association with Hjaltland Housing Association, wants to develop a 29 hectare site at North Staney Hill to provide much needed housing in the town.
Objections to the development of between 300 and 400 homes have been received from three community councils outside Lerwick, along with a few households in the town, but Lerwick Community Council (LCC) is supportive of the planning application.
The outline plans go before Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee on Tuesday (10 March) and SLAP has welcomed the positive response from the local authority’s planning department.
SLAP held a pre-planning application public consultation event at the Clickimin Leisure Complex in March last year, which was attended by 52 people mainly from neighbouring properties. It has since engaged “closely and openly” with interested parties including LCC, SEPA and Historic Scotland.
SLAP said concerns relating to the need for new tree planting, open space, public access, traffic, drainage and potential visual impacts on the setting of the planned Clickimin Broch monument “have all been fully taken into account”.
In late 2014 both Historic Scotland and SEPA withdrew initial objections having received reassurances over their concerns.
“We have worked closely with planning consultant Alan Farningham and his team and with the SIC’s planning department to ensure that people’s concerns have been satisfactorily addressed,” SLAP chairwoman Susan Groat said.
“We are naturally pleased that the application is being recommended for approval at the next planning committee on 10 March.
“Lerwick is in need of a significant number of new houses and a strategically-placed site such as this with a capacity for 300-400 houses will help to ease some of the demand for housing.”
LCC members agreed there was a “dire need for additional housing” in the town including houses catering for a mixed number of occupants. The waiting list for social housing has hovered either side of 1,000 for many years.
It also welcomed the addition of paths and cycle ways, but said access to the proposed site should be restricted to limit the amount of through traffic: “It would be highly undesirable for the new development to allow a through-road with the danger of it becoming a rat run.”
With the new Anderson High School and halls of residence going up nearby, LCC also called on planners to “take a holistic view of all these future developments with the inevitable increase in the volume of traffic”.
Community councils in Northmavine, Yell and Dunrossness have objected, calling for a smaller development in Lerwick coupled with new social housing in rural areas.
The trio of community councils argue that rural businesses already find it difficult to recruit staff – “often exacerbated by a lack of housing in rural areas” – and contend that Lerwick Health Centre is already struggling to cope while the town’s two primary schools “could not cope with the influx of new families”.
Dunrossness Community Council points to a surge in business at Sumburgh Airport creating job opportunities, but it says there is a “distinct lack of available social housing” to accommodate anyone wishing to work and live in the area.
It is “something which could easily be improved on” given the SIC owns a plot of land in Virkie which could “easily be developed”.
LCC chairman Jim Anderson said he understood where the other community councils were coming from, but “I didn’t think it was appropriate that they objected and lobbied all community councils for them to object”.
He said SIC policy had restricted development in Lerwick in recent years, leading to depopulation and a surge in new properties going up in surrounding areas such as Gulberwick, Tingwall and East Voe.
“These areas have no services, no infrastructure to support development going on there,” Anderson told Shetland News.
“The population of the town is down from what it was, so [an influx to fill 300-400 new houses] would be putting the town back to what its figures were 20 years ago.”
He also feels pressure on public services in Lerwick is partly being caused by demand from commuters – citing that around 20 per cent of pupils currently attending Bell’s Brae are placing requests from elsewhere in Shetland.