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Community / Call to look a ‘wee bit further afield’ than Lerwick when using active travel funding

CALLS were made in the council chamber on Wednesday for rural communities not be left out when it comes to introducing measures to promote active travel.

A total of £200,000 is coming Shetland’s way from the Scottish Government’s Spaces of People fund to trial ways to support walking and cycling as lockdown eases.

Walls. Photo © Graham Uney (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Most of the ideas suggested in the funding bid from transport partnership ZetTrans focused on Lerwick, such as making Westerloch Drive more suited for people using the Clickimin footpath.

At a full Shetland Islands Council meeting on Wednesday a recommendation to approve staff resources to the development of a “strategic multi-agency approach to mobility and access in Lerwick” was shelved in a vote following a suggestion from south mainland member George Smith.

He said it risked confusion as there was already an active travel strategy being worked on for the whole of Shetland.

“They should already be doing that as part of the Shetland-wide approach,” he said.

“Why would we then want to divert staff resources away from that work? It is not needed at all.”

His amendment won by 15 votes to seven.

Much of the debate was over how far the £200,000 will go outside of Lerwick.

One strand of the funding bid is to look outside of the capital, with Voe pinpointed in particular.

The funding was described as a “windfall” which had to be applied for at short notice.

Leader Steven Coutts suggested that the council’s hands were tied when it came to the purpose of the funding.

“The government set the criteria without consultation and it was urban centric,” he said.

Chief executive Maggie Sandison suggested that participatory budgeting – where the public vote for projects to win a share of cash – could be used in spending some of the money.

ZetTrans lead officer Michael Craigie, meanwhile, said he hoped that a “legacy” could be left in Shetland from the funding.

Westside member Catherine Hughson admitted she was a “bit disappointed by the content of the report”.

She said she wanted to see more involvement of the rural areas of Shetland, where there can be problems with walkers on the roadside, for example.

Ian Scott, from Scalloway, said he was a regular walker in Lerwick and said the town was well catered for active travel.

But he said it would be “shame if Shetland active travel becomes Lerwick active travel”.

Lerwick member John Fraser, however, stressed a note of caution.

“I just hope that members will not fuel any polarised town versus rural community debate.”

He encouraged a more “holistic” approach to the benefit of the whole community in all areas of Shetland, including Lerwick.

West mainland member Theo Smith said one particular issue for his constituents in Walls was walking from Germatwatt to the shop.

He said they are at the stage of being happy with a path, “which has been looked at but nothing has happened”.

“When these lumps of money come…it would appear that they are destined for Lerwick and no place else,” Smith said.

He encouraged officers and councillors to “look a wee bit further afield”.

In response environment and transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson pointed to the Shetland-wide active travel strategy.

Council chief Sandison also said that the new funding would free up other resources that could be used in more rural areas.

Lerwick councillor Amanda Hawick, meanwhile, said she feels for rural areas of Shetland.

“The money must be spent fairly,” she said.

The idea to develop a specific strategic multi-agency approach to mobility and access in Lerwick was shelved following a 15-7 vote.

Those who voted for to keep it were: Malcolm Bell, Steven Coutts, John Fraser, Stephen Leask, Emma Macdonald, Robbie McGregor, Ryan Thomson.

Councillors, meanwhile, also stressed the need for community engagement around measures implemented with the £200,000 funding.