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Housing and mixture of civic uses proposed for disused Anderson High School site

Tuesday afternoon's exhibition, ahead of a public meeting in the evening, was well attended by members of the public. Photo: Shetland News/Neil Riddell.

CONSULTANTS on Tuesday unveiled draft plans to demolish much of the old Anderson High School to make way for around 100 homes while retaining listed buildings on the site for a mixture of civic and business uses.

Edinburgh-based 7N Architects, appointed by Shetland Islands Council to draw up a “masterplan” for the site vacated when the AHS moved to lower Staney Hill last month, exhibited an early draft of its plans in the former school assembly hall on Tuesday afternoon.

It comes ahead of a public meeting tonight (from 6.30pm until 8.30pm) enabling members of the community to give their views on the proposals.

Over 40 people attended in the first half-hour of the exhibition, which proposes retaining the listed old AHS buildings, the Bruce and Janet Courtney hostels, possibly along with the 1990s-built science building known as “D block”.

Those buildings would be “repurposed” with suggestions including business start-up, childcare and vocational education.

Further up the hill, it is expected the remaining buildings would be demolished to make way for upwards of 100 houses, most likely a mixture of social housing, mixed equity and sites for sale to private builders.

The presentation talks of catering for the “mid market” rental sector with “a variety of tenure” under consideration including social rented, low cost home ownership and subsidised new builds.

Down the slope to the east of the listed buildings, green space will be retained and the area “could become a park/destination for the town”.

The Knab site could retain the former science block along with three listed buildings, with other buildings to be demolished to make way for housing. Photo courtesy of Shetland Islands Council.

SIC capital programme executive manager Robert Sinclair said that, in summary, the plans were for a mixture of housing, civic use and “compatible” business activity.

He said some bits of the site could be in use in “fairly short order”, with the old science block in particular being a “really flexible space”.

Sinclair said it seemed most folk that used the old PE games hall, which is set to be demolished, had been able to find alternatives – though he acknowledged the strong clamour for a new hockey pitch to be built and said the council was “willing to listen” to all suggestions during the consultation process.

7N Architects’ managing partner Ewan Anderson said it was “very early days” and he was looking forward to hearing the views of the community on Tuesday night.

He said 7N was looking to build on the work conducted by the SIC and Architecture + Design Scotland in 2014 now that the old school has moved and the “whole dynamic of the town has changed”.

A range of different housing styles from close to home and further afield are under consideration including Lerwick’s old town and the Grodians development, the Colonies in Edinburgh, Footdee in Aberdeen and a scheme in Malmo, Sweden.

Nearly 600 people have signed a petition calling for part of the site to be used for a new hockey pitch. That idea does not feature in the exhibition, but Anderson said: “We know there is a strong lobby for a hockey pitch. We know there is demand – the question is whether this is the right site for it.”

English hockey superstar Kate Richardson-Walsh – who has won Olympic medals and was capped a record 375 times for her country – also shared the petition on Twitter.

The petition proposes a new “multi-use sports facilitiy” including hockey, stating that “The need for an adequate playing surface for hockey in a central location in Shetland is bigger than ever. We think this is an ideal development for future use of the site that will also enhance Lerwick.”

Several of those attending the exhibition appeared somewhat underwhelmed by what they saw, while others questioned whether the wider community’s views had been fully taken into account.

Former SIC councillor Gussie Angus said: “I don’t know what they’re calling it a consultation for, because they’ve made up their mind.”

He said it was likely to cost millions to demolish the buildings not being retained, and the council appeared to be seeking to maximise its return on the site.

With the Bell’s Brae and Sound primary schools already “bursting at the seams” and hundreds of new homes already to be built at the lower Staney Hill, he sees a case for the already – already zoned for educational use – to be used as the site for a new primary school for the town.