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Community / Mobile app and installations among town centre proposals

Lerwick's Commercial Street. Photo: Shetland NewsLerwick's Commercial Street on a busy summer's day. Photo: Shetland News

LIVING Lerwick has outlined the ways it says it could spend new government funding earmarked for boosting town centres, with an upgraded mobile app, physical installations and traffic counters among its proposals.

Project manager Emma Miller told Monday’s meeting of Lerwick Community Council that the ideas could bring more people back to Commercial Street, as well as provide something new for visitors.

Shetland Islands Council was recently given £205,000 in capital grant money from the Scottish Government as part of a national £50 million fund distributed to all of the country’s 32 local authorities in the hope of making town centres more attractive.

The council’s external funding and community council liaison officer Michael Duncan said Shetland’s grant would be split between Lerwick and Scalloway.

The local authority is looking for proposals on how to use the money, which needs to be spent by March 2020, before a report is compiled to present to councillors in the coming months.

Miller outlined how she believed Living Lerwick could use around half of the money, with the organisation’s proposals coming to a rough total cost of around £96,000.

The main strand of the project would see Living Lerwick expand on its existing heritage trail mobile phone app.

This could include developing an augmented reality system, where for example you could hold up your device to a shop front and see what the building looked like in the past.

There could also be activities for young people, like a digital scavenger hunt similar to Pokemon Go where instead of searching for Pikachu children could be looking around town for Living Lerwick’s affable mascot Maunsie.

“It’s all about trying to encourage loyalty to the town centre,” Miller added.

The app could also be linked to shopping, where users could receive real-time offers and incentives.

Another part of the plan is a series of physical installations across the town centre, which could be like an art trail but more “natural and cultural”.

Miller used the example of an installation like the large orca model which sits at Sumburgh Head.

The project manager added that Living Lerwick could also spend money on installing footfall and traffic counters across the town centre.

She said this would allow for a greater monitoring of traffic flow in Lerwick, which could be fed back to businesses and the council’s roads and planning teams.

“The street and its use has changed at a lot since the school moved, and we know it’s going to change an awful lot again with the development of the Knab site,” Miller said.

“There’s only ever been one footfall count, and that was in 2017. It’s a fairly labour intensive process to do it with people.”

The footfall counters could be spread across three locations along the street, while traffic counters are earmarked for South Commercial Street, the Market Cross, Irvine Place and near the Fort chip shop.

Miller said the app development could cost around £60,000, with work potentially able to start from October. Part of this cost would be paying for the use of historic images of buildings and the town centre.

She indicated a ballpark budget of £25,000 for the physical installations, while the traffic counters would cost £11,500.

Community councillor Karen Fraser asked if local artists could be involved in the physical installations, as she felt Lerwick lacks “good art and sculptures”.

Lerwick councillor Stephen Leask, meanwhile, thought that installing free public WiFi on the street could have been a good way to use the government cash.

Miller admitted that WiFi was “number one on my wishlist” – but the cost of keeping the system going, which could be about £1,000 a month, meant it was unsustainable.

She added that the Living Lerwick app would not need an internet connection to work, and if any visitors or cruise ship passengers were keen to use it then they could download it using free WiFi in shops, cafes or the tourist office.

Scalloway’s proposals on how to use the government funding are expected in due course.

Leask, a Lerwick North councillor with Scalloway roots, did however ponder if the town should merit a bigger slice of the money due to its larger population.