PLANS to build a new pier at Toft to cater for the seafood industry passed the latest hurdle following an occasionally bad-tempered disagreement among councillors about whether capital projects are being prioritised properly.
Much of the debate centred on the wisdom of councillors abandoning their commitment to putting projects through a so-called “gateway process” when it suits them.
Following a tortuous discussion which conjured up memories of the type of “bun fight” that councils in years gone by used to specialise in, members eventually agreed by 17 votes to three to press ahead with the Toft pier.
That meant a resounding defeat for council leader Gary Robinson, who was visibly wound up by what he saw as other members’ disregard for agreed procedures.
Earlier in the meeting a small project to improve road safety at Mill Brae in Scalloway gained unanimous approval.
That decision came after SUSTRANS Scotland agreed to provide half of the £167,000 cost of the measures, while a further £35,000 chunk will come from a Scottish Government grant to make streets safer.
Robinson said it was “absolutely right and proper” that the Mill Brae scheme went ahead when external funding became available.
But, in a clear barb towards South Mainland members pushing to get an upgrade to a dangerous portion of the A970 road at Levenwick and North Mainland members making the case for the Toft pier, Robinson felt it was back to “the good old days of a bun fight”.
“This council took an important decision when it revised how it was going to programme its capital projects,” he said. “It wasn’t perfect but probably as close as we were going to get.
“The worst system of all is when you just start a list and throw projects at it. What’s being proposed here is picking a pet project and shoving it up to the top because we can, and that’s no way to do business.”
After councillor Jonathan Wills questioned whether the council was opting for “the Rolls Royce solution” with its Toft pier replacement, North Mainland member Alastair Cooper launched a stout defence.
He said the outer face of the pier was “in a very, very bad state and past the point of being fixed”. While the indicative £1.5-£2 million cost was high, he hoped the final bill would be cheaper.
Cooper won the vote after saying the final design would “have to be agreed in collaboration with the industry and what can physically go in there”, while because the pier lies within the Sullom Voe harbour area, the project would be financed from harbour charges.
The debate heated up when it came to the blind summit on the A970 at Levenwick, where there have been serious accidents in recent years including one where a lorry toppled over.
A project to improve the road remains without funding, but members squabbled at some length over whether it should be scheduled in the future asset investment plan when funding becomes available.
South Mainland councillor George Smith was unhappy with the way a “STAG” appraisal was carried out before council officials recommended not approving the project.
Councillors agreed that it was a dangerous stretch of road, but West Side councillors yet again raised the spectre of the Haggersta-Cova road, which has been spoken about in town hall circles since one councillor was barely out of nappies.
Robinson said the Levenwick road and its blind summit were far from ideal, but “I think the same argument could be made in other places – we can’t prioritise a road scheme on last week’s accident”.
He said if there was a problem with the “STAG” report that was a reason to “take it back and thrash that out”. To carry on regardless “seems incredibly rash – the kind of thing maybe expected of a council back in the 1990s”.
Environment and transport committee chairman Michael Stout sought to have the matter brought back before his committee to “explore it in better detail”.
Smith didn’t see what was to be gained by that. He accepted the road would only be upgraded when money has been identified, whether it was a £3 million junction-to-junction upgrade or just action to address the blind summit.
He was backed by fellow South Mainland member Allison Duncan, who described the road as “a death trap, and a blackspot”.
“We’ve had two fatalities on this road, and if that doesn’t tell a story, what does?” he asked, going on to speak of “quite a number of near misses” where the police were not involved.
He and Smith won the vote 13-7, meaning the Levenwick road project will be included on the council’s asset investment plan when funding is available.
A similar debate earlier this month in relation to the replacement Eric Gray care centre, another project given the thumbs-up by members without going through the prescribed process, ended in a resounding defeat for councillor Gary Cleaver.
During Wednesday’s debate, Cleaver said members “run the risk of repeating mistakes other councils have made in years gone by” if they disregard normal processes.