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Council / Church planning application hits roadblock over traffic and parking concern

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

CONCERN over the level of detail around traffic management and parking has seen plans for turning a former Anderson High School building into a centre for a church turned down.

New Life Shetland was denied change of use consent at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee on Monday.

Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison said he did not feel there was sufficient detail to approve the application, with his ward colleague Catherine Hughson seconding.

Hughson also said she was “very anxious” about the level of construction activity which would potentially be going on around the church building if it went ahead, noting health and safety concerns.

Shetland Pride founder Kerrie Meyer, who has campaigned against the project, led a protest outside the St Ringan’s council chamber prior to the meeting.

Kerrie Meyer (centre) led a small protest outside St Ringan’s council chamber on Monday.Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

Speaking after the meeting she said she was “delighted” by the refusal and described it as a “major victory” for the LGBTQ+ community in Shetland.

But the subjects of Meyer and Peter Hamilton’s concern – the church’s plan to undertake counselling at the building, and its alleged stance on homosexuality, marriage and sexual identity – were not raised in the meeting.

In response to this Meyer said God must work in “strange ways” – “he absolutely loves LGBTQ people”, she said.

Shetland Islands Council had already agreed to New Life Shetland’s community asset transfer of the old science block in Lerwick back in 2021.

The church plans to host a place of worships as well as “community hub” facilities like youth rooms and a cafe.

In relation to potential counselling taking place at the building, Hamilton and Meyer expressed concern about the practice of conversion therapy, which is a form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity.

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New Life Shetland pastor John Rollo previously refuted the allegations made against the church and added that “we believe that the good news of Jesus Christ is for all people regardless of background, sexuality, race or religion and all are welcome at all our services”.

Monday’s meeting however was purely about the change of use application, with members having to be guided by planning policy.

The decision had previously been deferred due to concerns over parking provision at the redeveloped ex-school site, which Lerwick Community Council had objected to

Members of the committee were told that the roads service had recommended temporary parking provision of at least 35 spaces in the area to ensure reducing the risk of congestion.

Permanent parking facilities would then need to be provided.

The whole of the former Anderson school site, which spans 6.2ha, is set to be redeveloped by the council in phases over a period of at least ten years, with between 120 and 140 new homes a key feature.

Some of the buildings will remain, included the listed ones and the science block, with the rest demolished.

The Anderson Institute building will be used as a creative hub, but at the moment it is not yet publicly known what the other retained premises will used for.

New Life Shetland meets at the Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre at weekends, but it is looking to expand.

Meyer and Hamilton had complained to Shetland Islands Council about the asset transfer, but the complaint process has been suspended while they receive legal advice.

They had taken the matter to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman but the campaigners said the organisation only looks at completed complaints.

Meanwhile the meeting also heard that a planning application will be submitted shortly for the infrastructure elements of the Knab site.

New Life Shetland has been approached for comment.

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