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Transport / Walls road project to proceed to next stage

A PROPOSED upgrade of the road leading into Walls will move to the next stage in the business case process after a vote in the council chamber today (Wednesday).

It came amid concern from Shetland West councillor Mark Robinson that the communities of Walls and Sandness could “die” without a useable road.

The decision to move the potential upgrade – which could cost around £9.4 million if the preferred option for a new two-lane road is what will be decided – to the next stage went to a vote at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday.

The potential upgrade is many years away due to other major road upgrades in Cullivoe and Levenwick having priority.

Council officers had recommended work is not taken forward on the Murraster to Walls project at this time until its funding situation is clearer.

At present the upgrade of the A971 is at the ‘strategic outline case’ – an early stage where various options are explored.

Shetland West member Liz Peterson argued for moving the project to the next stage – the outline business case – while Mark Robinson’s brother Gary advocated keeping things as they are for now.

The vote ended up with 14 councillors siding with Peterson, and five with depute leader Robinson.

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

During debate Mark Robinson highlighted how the road is the only route into Walls and Sandness. He suggested that the project could potentially be eligible for the UK Government’s Levelling Up fund, which has already provided more than £25 million for a new Fair Isle ferry.

“Without that road in a useable condition, that communities are completely cut off,” Robinson said.

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“There was a lot of fanfare when the money was awarded to Fair Isle that this had saved Fair Isle.

“If this project is not carried out in a reasonable timescale, Walls and Sandness are in the same situation – communities will die without a road that can supply them and provide the needs that the community has.”

The meeting heard earlier that there would be enough capacity in the roads department to progress the project to the next stage.

Peterson felt it was important for the business case to be ready if funding was found.

“If this gets laid aside, and it takes another five ten years, we’ll not have another road left at all,” she said.

Gary Robinson argued that the project was not being held up by the absence of a further business case, saying he felt it was just down to a lack of capital funding and that the Walls road was effectively third in the queue.

He also suggested the chances of picking up Levelling Up funding would be slim given the council has already been awarded cash from the pot.

Meanwhile councillors approved a number of projects including repairs to two retaining walls in Lerwick and Nesting.

This includes the demolition and replacement of sections of the existing concrete retaining wall that runs through the Stendaal housing estate in Nesting, which could cost more than £210,000.

Meanwhile around £165,000 could go towards repairs to a retaining wall that runs around 150 metres along the west side of south St Olaf Street in Lerwick amid concerns over structural stability.

Councillors also gave their backing to the construction of two new parking areas at the West Gaet access to the Hamnavoe Primary School in Burra.

Shetland Central Davie Sandison said unlike previous media reports funding had not yet been approved for these projects.

He clarified that this will form part of the budget setting process next month.

None of the proposals are provisionally funded within the council’s asset investment plan. Their progress depends on budget being allocated within the the 2023-28 asset investment plan, which is under development.

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