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Council / Local building contractors praised as SIC approves housing plan

Redevelopment of the Knab site is a key part of the SIC's plan to tackle a housing shortage in the isles.

THE IMPORTANCE of local building contractors getting the chance to bid for large housing schemes was raised in the council chamber on Wednesday – with the isles’ sector hailed as “second to none”.

Westside councillor Theo Smith said he was “horrified” at the idea of a big contractor from the mainland taking on some of the larger projects, and he encouraged Shetland Islands Council to keep doing what it can to tap into the local sector.

The discussion took place at a meeting of the council’s development committee on Wednesday as housing manager Anita Jamieson outlined how the local authority is looking to oversee the building of 339 units over the next five years.

The backbone of this, she said, was the proposed large housing developments at Staney Hill and the Knab in Lerwick.

The project at Staney Hill could deliver around 150 flats and houses by 2025 in phases, with more expected in the following years, while within the next five years 80 units are expected at the old Anderson High School site at the Knab.

The Strategic Housing Investment Plan for 2020 to 2025 is based on anticipated funding of just under £20 million from the Scottish Government and it sets out how the money could be used.

Also included in the plan are 12 units at Sandwick, and another 12 in Gulberwick, while 32 units are proposed for Upper Scalloway.

There are also smaller projects in Walls, Aith, Brae and elsewhere in Lerwick.

The plan, which is updated annually, has been developed in a partnership with other organisations like Hjaltland Housing Association, Scottish Water and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Jamieson’s report to councillors stated that workshops have been held with local contractors over the sector’s capacity as well as procurement, with work on this ongoing.

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Councillor Theo Smith, who is a retired architect, said engagement with the sector “had been a long time coming, and I think it’s certainly borne its fruit”.

He praised the fact that the Staney Hill and Knab developments are set to be carried out in phases, giving local companies a greater confidence.

“It’s taken away the fear of the big contractor coming from south and doing it,” Smith said.

“I’ve seen what a big contractor can do and vanish, and it’s not nice.

“The standard that we have here in Shetland is second to none. We have to exploit that and keep these contractors on board.”

Lerwick member Stephen Leask echoed Smith’s remarks, saying that the large developments have to be carried out in a “sensible and reasonable manner”.

South mainland councillor Allison Duncan also spoke up for encouraging local contractors to bid for work, saying that the money would be kept within Shetland.

Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper, meanwhile, said he hoped the five-year plan could help local contractors to think about taking on younger workers.

“It encourages them to take on apprentices” – the “next generation of tradesmen”, he said.

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