News / New town houses not at expense of rural areas

The site where between 300 and 400 homes could be built.

COUNCILLORS have sought to assure rural parts of Shetland that plans to build between 300 and 400 new homes in Lerwick will not be to the exclusion of developments outside the town.

Members of Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee queued up to press home that point during a hearing where they unanimously granted permission in principle for a major development at north Staney Hill which could cost as much as £50 million.

Objections to the development came from community councils in Dunrossness, Northmavine and Yell, who are concerned about perceived centralisation of services in and around Lerwick.

Planning committee chairman Frank Robertson described the 29-hectare development, a joint submission by Shetland Leasing and Property Developments (SLAP) and Hjaltland Housing Association (HHA), as “a very exciting project indeed”.

Referring to “piecemeal” developments that have cropped up in areas such as Gulberwick, Robertson said an “extremely robust and well-constructed masterplan” aimed at building homes in sequence was “absolutely essential”.


“It is essential that, as the developments occur and the contractors move backwards through, the people are not living for 10-20 years within a building site,” he said, “so that each area is clearly defined, will be completed, will be landscaped and they move out.”

Nearby resident Theo Nicholson told those at the Lerwick Town Hall hearing that new housing was “very much needed” in the town, adding: “I believe the rest of Shetland should not be suffering because of this particular development.”

Nicholson said he felt maintaining a population balance with two-thirds living rurally and one third in Lerwick was “about right” to avoid a drift towards centralisation.

Stressing he favoured SLAP’s development, Nicholson said he hoped planners would ensure care was taken on issues such as rock blasting, drainage and generally ensuring “as little disruption as possible for the residents in the area”.

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Shetland South councillor Billy Fox said it was important to “take cognisance” of the objections from outlying community councils, including Dunrossness in his own ward where it is felt more houses are needed to match the volume of employment opportunities afforded by Sumburgh Airport.

“While this is a very large development which is very much required in the central area, it’s not going to be to the exclusion of developments in other rural locations,” Fox said.

Following discussions at Dunrossness Community Council, he spoke to housing officials who informed him that over the 5-6 year period when new houses were springing up at Quoys, developments took place in areas from Cullivoe to Sandwick and “the number of that houses combined was actually more than what was being built at Quoys”.

Council leader Gary Robinson agreed, saying there had been nearly two decades where building new homes in Lerwick was “effectively stifled” because nowhere was zoned for housing.


“There needs to be room for growth in Lerwick,” he said, “and I think the outline plan that we see offers just that opportunity. It’s not at the expense of anywhere else.

“I’ve sought and received assurances from Hjaltland Housing in particular that if there is demand they’ll certainly look at supplying. What they won’t do is just build speculatively on the basis that somebody might come to live there.”

Robinson referred to anecdotal evidence of people wishing to take up a job in Shetland but being deterred by the state of the housing market.

“We have a longstanding commitment to grow our population to over 25,000 folk,” he said. “I think this is a major contribution towards getting folk here to work and live in Shetland.”

Councillor Davie Sandison said he felt statistics indicating demand for housing within the islands may have “a bit of a skew” because folk will “play the numbers game” and “go for the areas they think gives them the most likely chance of getting a house”.


Sandison said that meant some people “not necessarily connected or resident in Lerwick will make themselves available on that list” and that “shouldn’t get in the way of a proper assessment of the overall numbers and where housing is required in Shetland”.

Planning committee members agreed that building up to 400 new homes would not happen overnight, with suggestions it could take up to a decade – or perhaps longer – to complete.

Robertson said socioeconomic analysis indicated a development “in the region of £50 million” would employ a workforce of 60-70 people. That could in turn generate £5 million a year in retail and a further 30 jobs.


Planning officer Matthew Taylor said schools, shops and employment would all be “readily accessible” from the area, immediately to the north of Clickimin and the site where the new Anderson High School will go.

SLAP chairwoman Susan Grant welcomed Tuesday afternoon’s decision.

She said: “SLAP is delighted that this application has been approved and now looks forward to concluding the land sale with HHA which will lead to new and much needed housing development in Lerwick.

“I’d like to thank planning consultant Alan Farningham and his team, the SIC’s planning department and other stakeholders who worked with us in a professional manner to ensure this successful outcome.”

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