LERWICK Community Council is to write to Shetland Recreational Trust to express concern over the prospect of Clickimin Leisure Complex’s indoor bowling area being reduced in size to make way for a soft play equipment for children.
It comes amid grave worry from the company behind plans for a soft play facility in Voe that installing larger equipment in the Clickimin would threaten the viability of their business venture.
The situation revolves around a proposal to install a soft play facility and sensory rooms in part of the indoor bowling room at the Clickimin, which would reduce the overall size of the bowling area from four rinks to three.
The indoor bowling club are not happy with the prospect of this and believe it would be better off located elsewhere.
Sarah Manson, a director of the company behind the Voe venture, said in a letter sent to the recreational trust that if the Clickimin plans came to fruition then this will “result in the loss of at least 10 much-needed full and part-time jobs we intend to create in the North Mainland”.
She said the company has spent over £100,000 of its own money so far in the Voe project, as well as putting in a “tremendous amount of time and labour”.
The Voe company claims that the proposed size of its centre – 110 square metres – needs a population slightly larger than that of Shetland to make the business sustainable in the long-term.
“This is why the Voe Centre is ideal as it is in the exact centre of the whole of the Shetland Isles,” she wrote to the recreational trust.
“With your proposed 300m2 of extra soft play in the same catchment area as us, this would make our business unviable and I would imagine that yours would need to be heavily subsidised.”
The letter was also sent to the Lerwick and Delting community councils, and it was discussed at a meeting of the former on Monday night.
Lerwick Community Council chairman Jim Anderson said he felt discussions over commercial viability was for “someone else to comment on”.
But he said he had received representations himself from the local bowling club, and Karen Fraser successfully proposed that the community council write to the recreational trust to express concern over the reduction in rink space.
In response to the letter, Shetland Recreational Trust chief executive Steven Laidlaw told Shetland News that the future viability of the organisation will “always remain my main concern”.
He said the trust needs to look at how to best use its space across all of its facilities to achieve best value, with the soft play plan one of many on the table.
“We have utilised this time, when we have been closed to the public, to assess the income and costs across each area within the trust and we are actively looking at various proposals, of which this is one of many, that increase the usage of every part of each facility,” Laidlaw said.
“We must consider the use of under-utilised buildings to make sure that each area of the business contributes financially to the trust.”
Manson said in her letter that the trust issued a survey to the public on the subject five days after their own soft play equipment arrived in Shetland, and plans for the Voe school were mentioned on social media.
On 10 October last year the trust asked for parents and carers of children up to the age of 12 for their thoughts on indoor play areas and sensory facilities.
The Clickimin already has a soft play facility next to the cafe but it is small in size.
In her letter Manson said the company behind the Voe plans was set up in March 2016, but “delays with council paperwork” saw the purchase of the old Voe school take 18 months.
They initially thought about opening a nursery, soft play centre and cafe but dropped the nursery element due to the Scottish Government offering more funded hours for school nurseries.
In June the company’s offer to buy the contents of a soft play business in Kirkintilloch was accepted, with more equipment bought in July.
Manson said in her letter that in late September the team shipped up the equipment in a container.
Last month the project secured planning permission.
The letter was also sent to leisure centre funders Shetland Charitable Trust, the council and Sport Scotland.
At Monday’s Lerwick Community Council meeting, while Anderson felt the Voe company had “legitimate concern” over their business, he questioned who else could provide competitive rink space in Shetland.
“It’s a bit vexing that Shetland Recreational Trust was set up to provide sports facilities…and they are going to lose [some of their] competition standard rinks,” the chairman said.
He wondered if losing the rink space would result in Shetland being unable to properly host bowls in any future Island Games or inter-county events.
Anderson also questioned whether it may mean the multi-purpose function of the hall, which hosts events like Up Helly Aa and the classic car show, could be impacted if rink space was lost.
The chairman also referred to plans from a Lerwick church to include soft play in a possible re-use of the vacant science block at the old Anderson High School.
Former recreational trust and Clickimin employee Gary Robinson said he wished to keep out of the debate, but added that “at one point the bowls hall was deemed to be the most under-utilised building in Lerwick”.
The recreational trust, meanwhile, runs all of Shetland’s leisure centres.
It receives more than half of its income from annual grants from Shetland Charitable Trust.
Accounts for the financial year ending March 2020 showed that the trust recorded expenditure of over £6.6 million, but its income stood at around £5 million.
Leisure centres have been closed for long periods during the pandemic, with staff furloughed, but the phased reopening of the facilities began on Monday.
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