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Business / Local building industry’s capacity for large jobs a ‘real concern’ for councillor

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

CONCERN has been raised over the local building industry’s capacity to take on sizeable housing jobs.

It comes amid worries over a lack of housing in Shetland and against a backdrop of plans to build hundreds of new units across two sites in Lerwick over the coming years.

The matter was raised at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s development committee on Tuesday.

Shetland West member Theo Smith felt with issues like people going self-employed and retirements, there was a reduced number of local contractors able to commit to projects such as builds of 40 or 50 houses.

And he questioned why contractors on the mainland would take on the “risk” of work in Shetland when there is plenty on offer on the mainland.

“It’s a real concern which at the moment I can’t see going away,” Smith said.

“It’s going to take years I think to come back onto a level footing.”

Committee chairman Alastair Cooper also stressed the importance of encouraging local people into the industry.

It comes amid concern over the amount of available – and affordable – housing in Shetland, with worries it is affecting recruitment to jobs in the council.

Meanwhile Smith expressed concern that the Knab redevelopment project in Lerwick is “shockingly overcomplicated” at the moment.

He said he had a site visit recently and saw “what’s going to happen – or possibly not happen”.

The project will see the former Anderson High School area largely demolished and reworked into 100-plus homes, with other uses on site too.

Development director Neil Grant said a contract for the design of “infrastructure and public realm” had recently been tendered.

The first phase of demolition is almost complete, and the second phase – which will leave only the listed billings and science block – will go out to tender soon.

Smith explained he was not trying to be critical – but he said there was uncertainty in the community over what exactly was involved in the project and what stage things were at.

Grant felt the recent tender was not particularly overcomplicated, although he acknowledged there was a lot of components to the project.

He said it represented a big opportunity for Lerwick and Shetland as a whole – so “we need to get it right”.

But Grant agreed more could be done to better communicate the progress to the public.

An outline business case is being progressed for £9.6 million of funding from the UK and Scottish governments’ Islands Deal, which includes £3.5 million for a creative and cultural hub.

The case for student accommodation on the site is also being investigated, councillors were told.

Meanwhile Grant told the meeting that generally some tenders for work have come back “unaffordable” due to high prices during the pandemic, leading to the council having to think about the jobs again.