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Council / Planning decision on church proposal parked for now

The science building at the old Anderson High School. Photo: Shetland News

A DECISION on turning the former science block at the old Anderson High School into a church building has been deferred to gain further clarity over future parking needs in the area.

Members of Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee considered New Life Church’s change of use request at a meeting on Monday.

It went in front of the committee because Lerwick Community Council objected over parking concerns.

Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee had recommended approval, adding that permanent parking for the development could be provided on the Knab site as part of its redevelopment.

A report to councillors added that in the meantime a temporary parking area could also provide parking spaces for early stages of the development.

But Lerwick South member Cecil Smith called for extra time to decide as he felt there will still questions that needed to be answered about future parking.

Suggested conditions proposed by the planning department would mean that no development would take place until sufficient parking is in place, if the application is passed in the future.

Shetland Islands Council has offered an open tarmac area at the southern corner of the site for a temporary car park, although this would be subject to its own planning application.

The proposed use of the empty building is a place of worship, as well as a community hub with crèche/youth rooms including soft play and café facilities.

The building has been subject to a community asset transfer request. There is legislation which allows community bodies to make requests to local authorities for assets that they feel they could make better use of.

The whole of the former Anderson school site is set to be redeveloped in phases over a number of years, with new housing a key feature.

A temporary car park with a minimum of 35 spaces would enable the science block to be used by the church while the Knab site is progressed.

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Meanwhile a transport and parking strategy document in the Knab redevelopment project shows a permanent 21 space car park more or less adjacent to the proposed church building, the report to councillors added.

“This arrangement appears to be the best solution available given the space and topographical constrains of the site,” it said.

But there remained a lack of clarity among elected members over the parking requirements for the other buildings which will not be demolished and will stay on at the ex-school site.

Smith also suggested car parking for the building could eat into space that could be used for housing.

Shetland Central member Catherine Hughson also said she was concerned from a health and safety perspective about the building being used while construction goes on elsewhere at the Knab site.

“It does not sit well with me at the moment,” she said.

Lerwick Community Council chairman Jim Anderson also spoke at the meeting, questioning whether the proposals fit with local development policies.

He also felt that Shetland Islands Council potentially providing temporary car parking for a private venture was a “dangerous” precedence.

Meanwhile pastor John Rollo from the local New Life Church highlighted that the roads service was content with the current proposals for parking.

The church meets at the Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre at weekends, and there has been no complaints there about parking.

Rollo also said parking stewards are used in busy periods and this would be continued at the new building.

He highlighted the church’s view of “love our neighbour”, saying it was important to work through concerns together.

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