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Transport / ‘It has to be driven on to be believed’: West councillor wins Walls road vote

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A PROPOSED upgrade of the road leading to Walls is set to move to the next stage in the lengthy business case process after the matter went in front of councillors this morning (Monday).

A motion by Shetland West member Liz Peterson to press ahead won a vote 5-4 when it was presented at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s policy and resources committee.

She said the road was the biggest concern people in the Westside spoke to her about when she was leafleting during last year’s council elections.

On the other side of the vote was depute leader Gary Robinson, who said he has “considerable sympathy” for the project.

Shetland West councillor Liz Peterson Photo: Shetland News

But with the potential upgrade many years away due to other road projects having priority, he proposed instead to go along with the recommendations from council officers.

However, members of the full council will have the final say on the way forward at a meeting on Wednesday.

The report from officers proposed that work is not taken forward on the project at this time until the funding situation is clearer.

The preferred option at this early stage is for a new two-lane road between Murraster and Walls, costing an estimated £9.4 million.

The project is primarily based on road safety concerns, and an upgrade came close to happening in the past but was postponed following a change in the council’s  asset investment policy.

The single-track A971 provides access to increasing aquaculture interests; Shetland Mussels for instance employees 17 folk in Walls, and ship 2,000 tonnes of goods a year, while salmon is landed at the village’s pier too.

It is third in line when it comes to the council’s large road upgrades, with the already approved Cullivoe project as well as the proposed Levenwick upgrade above it in priority.

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Some members also spoke about workload for staff, who are already dealing with the Cullivoe and Levenwick projects.

But Peterson spoke up passionately for pressing forward with the Walls project to take it to the outline business case stage. It needs to go through further stages before being approved.

Whilst she acknowledged it was third in line, she felt the council should continue to progress through the process and use staff time where appropriate.

Road asset and network management team leader Neil Hutcheson, who is soon taking over as the service manager, told Monday’s meeting that the best case scenario regarding the council’s upgrades is that Cullivoe is tendered in the upcoming financial year, with construction taking up to two years.

The Levenwick upgrade could take one to one and half years to construct, but Hutcheson said there was a desire not to have the two construction periods overlap due to resources.

When asked about staff workload for the Walls project, Hutcheson said he felt there was capacity in the roads department for the design and business case process.

He said the road has already been designed through the previous process, but it will need to be looked at again following changes to guidance.

After a question by Robinson about the prospect of exploring external funding for the Walls project, Hutcheson also said the last time the council received this for a road was more than 20 years ago from European funds.

Corporate services director Christine Ferguson also noted that projects across the entire council will face being prioritised – not just roads – and in this are externally funded schemes like the new Fair Isle ferry.

She warned that amid budget pressures the council may “freeze” some vacancies instead of looking to fill them, further increasing pressures on staff.

During debate development committee chairman Dennis Leask remarked that the council tends to recommend the “Rolls-Royce option” when presented with various scenarios for projects.

“I think we need to balance up what we can deliver within a reasonable timeframe,” he said, adding that looking into cheaper options could result in improvements being delivered quicker.

Robinson said he was concerned that “we’re just getting a bit ahead of ourselves”.

“In actual fact there is plenty of time to bring this forward, once we see progress with the Cullivoe road and the Levenwick road,” he said.

Meanwhile Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall brought up that “with every passing year the condition of the existing road is deteriorating”.

Her ward colleague Davie Sandison said he felt a “strong dose of pragmatism and practicality” was needed regarding staff resources.

But Peterson proposed that staff could work on the project when time allows.

“At this stage what I would like members to approve is a motion to forward this to the next stage, which is the outline business case,” she said.

“This would allow officers to put more detail on the case, work out up to date costings and investigate external funding.

“It has to be driven on to be believed. It’s in a very, very poor state.

“I would love to keep it in the queue and just keep it moving to the next stage.”

Catherine Hughson, who used to represent Shetland West but is now in the central ward, said people in the community feel “aggrieved and left behind” when it comes to road development.

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