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Council seeks views on uses for old AHS site

The SIC has drawn up a "draft development brief" for the existing Anderson High School site. Photo: Shetnews/Neil Riddell

SHETLAND Islands Council is launching a six-week public consultation to help determine how best the site of the current Anderson High School – which in theory has room for up to 276 houses – can  be developed.

Consultation on a “draft development brief” will begin in July prior to drawing up a more detailed “masterplan” for the Knab site, which will be freed up once the new high school being built at the lower Staney Hill opens in the second half of 2017.

The Knab site contains three listed buildings that any developments will have to work around.

Along with the oldest part of the jumble of school buildings on the site – over 150 years old and formerly known as the Anderson Educational Institute – the Bruce and Janet Courtney hostels are also afforded protected status.

The SIC-owned bank of land at Lerwick’s south east tip was described by councillors as a “fantastic” development opportunity during a meeting in Lerwick Town Hall on Monday.

It could cost £1 million to ensure the 150-year-old Bruce Hostel, one of three listed buildings on the site, is externally sound. Photo: Shetnews/Neil Riddell

Uses being mooted for the site include housing, “residentially compatible” business and industry, education, tourist accommodation including a hotel, and open/recreational space. 

Planning director Iain McDiarmid said that in theory as many as 276 houses could fit on the plot. 

But the report also notes that it would be “desirable” for some of the large areas of open space to be retained, while Historic Environment Scotland has indicated it wishes to see the area east of the listed buildings remain as open space.

Once pupils and staff are shipped across town to the lower Staney Hill, they will leave behind a number of buildings in various states of disrepair.

The report estimates it would cost £1 million to bring the Bruce Hostel up to a condition where “the masonry is sound and the roof and glazing are free of defects” – before any internal works are considered.

The other listed buildings are in “sound condition”, while there may be potential to reconfigure or refurbish the 1970s-built A, B and C blocks that contain the bulk of AHS classrooms at present.

It “seems likely” that other school buildings on the site “will be demolished early in the course of re-development”.

Following the six-week consultation, the draft development brief will be updated and then the council will tender for companies to draw up a “masterplan” for the site that builds on work conducted by Architecture and Design Scotland back in 2014.

McDiarmid said it was “quite a long process to get everything in place”, but that does not prevent the council from working with prospective developers in the meantime.

Councillor Michael Stout said it was a huge site with “all sorts of potential” and something that is “worth people taking time with, engaging with, giving their thoguhts on”.

Asked by Stout how best to stimulate public interest in a consultation when no specific plans are on the table, McDiarmid joked: “Tell them there’s going to be a 24-storey office block and see what happens!”

Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said the masterplan for what is being referred to as the “Knab campus” would be “one of the early things the new council will have to grapple with” after the May 2017 elections.

An aerial view of the site. Image courtesy of the SIC.

Councillor Frank Robertson described it as “one of the most significant and important sites to come up for development in Lerwick” with scope for “housing, social activities, education, recreational activities, possibly even commercial activities”.

Lerwick South member Amanda Westlake pointed out that, with Lerwick Health Centre and other areas of public provision, already under pressure, the addition of potentially hundreds of new homes could result in some services reaching “breaking point”.

SIC development director Neil Grant said the masterplan for the Staney Hill site, where Hjaltland Housing is working with local firm Redman Sutherland Architects on plans to build up to 400 houses, provided a “good template”.

“It’s the biggest opportunity Lerwick has seen or is likely to see in a long time,” he added.