A NORTH Isles councillor tabled, then swiftly withdrew, an amendment calling for the project to build a new Eric Gray Centre to be sent back to the drawing board at Wednesday’s meeting of Shetland Islands Council.
During discussion of the 2016/17 budget, Gary Cleaver said he had “grave concerns” about plans for the £5.6 million replacement facility at Seafield, and called for a more affordable proposal to be drawn up.
Cleaver then faced stern criticism from several members for seeking to revisit a project given council approval in summer 2014.
Users of the centre, which caters for adults with learning disabilities and complex needs, and their families had faced a lengthy wait for a replacement building.
The new centre is on course to be completed on the Seafield hockey pitch by the end of 2017.
Cleaver said he wanted the project to go through the proper procedures of the council’s gateway process, like most other capital projects.
“I would say that the process has been led by a building that was designed, some time ago, in different financial constraints,” he said.
“It has then been looked at [as] how do we fill this, rather than do we actually need this building. I do not feel that the full range of options have had the opportunity to be explored.”
But SIC vice convener Cecil Smith, who was instrumental in getting the project back on track, said Cleaver “seems to have forgotten that we, this council, approved this as a new build and we now have a moral obligation to see that through”.
Smith said the building was for the whole of Shetland, with people from outlying communities coming into Lerwick to use it, and “if we don’t support these people, we’re letting them down and we’re letting their families down.”
Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills described Cleaver’s move as a “wrecking amendment that will wreck not only the project but people’s lives”.
Westside councillor Frank Robertson said he had visited the current Eric Gray building and it was “not fit for purpose at all – there were buckets standing around catching the drops from the roof”.
“I have had parents on the phone crying because this had been delayed,” Robertson said. “It’s been on the go since 1993, so if we delay this, we go back through all the hoops, back to square one with the design, we are looking possibly at a delay of at least two to three years before we ever get back on the site.”
Councillor Drew Ratter defended Cleaver, saying the attacks on him were unfair and he had raised legitimate questions about why the usual processes and procedures had not been followed.
“I think it’s odd that it’s not gone through the gateway process,” Ratter said. “I think it’s reprehensible to simply bypass it on a whim.”
Following a short break in the meeting, Cleaver said that – while he continued to have “grave reservations” – it was clear from “the atmosphere in the room” that there was little point in pursuing the matter.
“I will withdraw the amendment,” he said. “I see no point testing this any further.”
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