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Council / SIC property reshuffle on the cards

Strategy aims to reduce the number of properties the council occupies

Could the vacant former HNP building at Commercial Road be used as a council store? Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

USING the old HNP Engineers building in Lerwick as a store and demolishing the former Eric Gray Centre is among a number of recommendations included in Shetland Islands Council’s proposed property asset management strategy for the next five years.

The strategy was presented at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday, although it was reiterated that decisions on proceeding with any of the recommendations will come back before councillors.

There is a recommendation that the old Eric Gray building is demolished. Photo: Shetland News

The 2019-2024 plan aims to “provide the right property asset, in the right location, at the right price and quality” and it details some of the ways the council will look to make its property portfolio more efficient and as a result reduce costs.

Concern from councillors, however, over how service provision is linked into the strategy meant that a decision on approving the plan has been deferred for the time being to allow more information to be included.

The strategy, which was created in consultation with directors and executive heads of service, says the council’s storage needs could be best served by a central store, with the former HNP Engineers site at Commercial Road in Lerwick mooted.

The local engineering company left the building in 2016 following significant pressure from Shetland Charitable Trust’s property arm SLAP to vacate the site as it had been earmarked for UHI student accommodation.

But that sale was never concluded and the property was taken into council ownership last year when the local authority bought SLAP from Shetland Charitable Trust.

The building could potentially store items like ground maintenance equipment, school exam desks and files prior to digitising, and personal belongings and furniture from the housing service.

There is also a suggestion that environmental health and trading standards staff, who are currently housed at the old Anderson High School, could also move into 66 Commercial Road next door to the HNP building.

The strategy adds that youth services’ Bridges project, which has leased property at Pitt Lane and Weisdale, could move into 68 Commercial Road, which was also part of the SLAP deal.

There is also a recommendation for the former Eric Gray centre at Kantersted Road to be demolished following the completion of the new facility across the road.

Officers say that the old building is “not suitable for service delivery as it requires significant investment to ensure it is ‘warm, safe and dry’ and able to deliver excellent service in a pleasurable building”.

After landscaping, the “site can then be banked as a strategic land reserve for suitable future SIC needs”.

Viewforth House, which was previously leased out to Shetland FM to use as worker accommodation. Photo: Shetland News

Shetland Islands Council’s assets, commissioning and procurement manager Robert Sinclair told councillors, however, that “we have not identified any future use for this”.

The strategy also recommends that Viewforth and Quendale House in Lerwick are “disposed of on the open market to allow private investment to redevelop [the sites] and generate a capital receipt”.

There are also details of where services currently based at the old Anderson High School site could relocated to before the area is redeveloped.

Among the potential moves is the ASN department to 12 Scalloway Road, which could cost £350,000, while the Bruce Family Centre could transfer to offices at Montfield alongside the educational support base and psychological and support services.

The strategy also recommends that the council does not continue its lease of the museum store at Staney Hill as the facility is “no longer fit for purpose owing to the need for more space and compliance with changed health and safety standards”.

A business case would be established to prepare for its replacement no later than 2023, which is when the £33,000 a year lease ends.

Looking into the future, the strategy raises concerns over the condition of Hayfield House in Lerwick, which currently homes children’s services.

It says it will require “significant investment” to continue to maintain a “warm, safe and dry” condition.

The Bruce Hostel at the old Anderson High School will be available as part of the site’s redevelopment. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

It is recommended that investigations are undertaken with the “possible outcome” that it is sold on the open market.

There could also be subsequent investigations into the potential for parts of the listed buildings due to remain at the old Anderson site to be redeveloped for mixed use by children’s services, in particular the old Bruce Hostel.

If all the strategy’s recommendations are ultimately implemented, the number of properties Shetland Islands Council own in Lerwick could reduce from 42 in 2019 to 27 in 2024.

It could also mean that the number of leases in Lerwick would fall from five in 2019 to zero. This would include giving up a lease at the Arlanda Buildings at Gremista.

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison stressed that “as it says in the asset strategy, these are just options at this stage”.

“Each site will come with a full business case,” she added.

Lerwick North councillor John Fraser asked when service delivery would be considered in the planning.

“I think the drive for the asset strategy is to bring down the cost of our estate,” Sandison replied, adding that this would mean more money could be kept at the front line of services.

She continued by saying that “it’s our staff, not the buildings” that are the council’s biggest asset.

Council leader Steven Coutts said he wanted to see more focus on the collaborative nature of property and the staff running the services inside them.

“I think we need to understand that more holistic approach,” he said before suggesting a motion to defer approval of the strategy.

South mainland councillor George Smith echoed Coutts’ thoughts.

“I think we need full involvement of those who use the assets,” he said, before seconding Coutts’ motion.