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Community / Don’t undermine the heritage of the lanes, Lerwick community councillor warns

The Park Lane community garden. Photo: Shetland News

A LERWICK community councillor has warned that it would be “sacrilege” if a masterplan for part of the town’s lanes ends up undermining the area’s heritage.

Stewart Hay added that he looked forward to “not just consultation, but acknowledgement of the fact that these lanes are at the core of the town and at the centre of what I think makes Lerwick”.

The topic was raised at a meeting of Lerwick Community Council on Monday night, with a variety of strong views on show.

It came after Shetland councillors voted last week to press ahead with a masterplan for the area between Hill Lane and Pitt/Park Lane, which includes vacant SIC housing earmarked for demolition, the old swimming pool car park and a community garden.

The council says a masterplan gives an opportunity for a fresh look at the area – whilst offering the public a chance to provide their input too.

At Monday’s meeting Hay – a lanes resident himself – said the brief of the masterplan would be “crucial”.

He spoke up strongly for the perseveration of the characteristics of the lanes, which is a conservation area.

“If it’s about enhancing and making the modern residential part of the town that intrinsically keeps and reflects the lanes as a concept, that would be very interesting,” Hay said.

“If the brief is to enhance parking and facilities, we could go down any road that takes us to the 60s where a reaction to bad housing prompts an alternative.”

He added: “I think perhaps we’ve maybe come to take them for granted, and take for granted that a great core of the Lerwick lanes for 40 years have been given over to parking.

“It’s as if the whole development of the green environment has passed Lerwick by.”

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Whilst Lerwick councillor Arwed Wenger said parking is important for businesses and visitors to the centre of Lerwick, Hay said “not to the desecration of the core of the street”.

He pointed to lanes in Orkney’s Stromness and Kirkwall, which are valued and “fantastically maintained”. “Ours have almost gone,” Hay said.

Lerwick councillor Gary Robinson, who won the vote at the SIC meeting last week to keep the masterplan proposal in the local authority’s property asset management strategy, said in his view the lanes area was just as important as the south of the street and the lodberries.

He added that Commercial Street has been the busiest when there was no parking – with Hay also saying it was “so encouraging during the Tall Ships when the town was almost car free”.

Meanwhile Lerwick councillor Dennis Leask, who chairs the SIC’s development committee, expressed worry at the length of time a masterplan could take.

He said he is keen to get the housing in the area replaced.

Another town councillor, Stephen Leask, also aired his views – firstly by saying he was “astonished” some of his colleagues were unaware of the masterplan idea until it was reported in the media.

“We must consult with the community of the lanes and the Lerwick Community Council, and it must be treated with sensitivity for the culture and heritage of the lanes,” he said.

Stephen Leask added that everything would be in the mix as options are scoped out – such as whether there needs to be more parking, or less, as well as housing and other factors like electric vehicle charging.

Whilst the other side of the vote in the council chamber last week was just to rebuild the SIC housing in the area, Leask said he felt that “we could do something better – something that was more designed in such a way that would be befitting of the lanes”.

Community councillor Karen Fraser also said she was glad that the SIC stuck with the original idea to develop a masterplan.

She felt it was being “knocked back just off the back of a social media pile on” following media reports.

Fraser suggested people were getting outraged over things that necessarily were not going to happen – and added that she was glad the process will give people a chance to discuss the area.

Community councillor Amanda Hawick also spoke up for the need to have culture and heritage experts involved in the process.

“If we lost our heritage, we lose our culture,” she warned.

Meanwhile Living Lerwick’s Emma Miller said the town centre organisation would “welcome investment and improvement in the area”.

“There’s definitely a fine balance,” she said. “The lanes are […] really, really important and something we should be proud of.”

Miller suggested the lanes have not had enough maintenance in the last 20 or 30 years, while she also spoke up for the idea of creating signage to tell their stories.

She said Living Lerwick informally asked members about the idea of exploring potential redevelopment of the area, and the main feedback was concern about parking being taken away.

“But I think if it’s done properly, hopefully we can get a good balance of not removing parking but still being able to improve and maintain the integrity of the lanes,” Miller said.

The short description for the masterplan tender which had a closing date of 6 September said: “The council wishes to look at proposals for the Lerwick Lanes area of Lerwick incorporating the part vacant Park and Pitt Lane site together with the existing car parking facilities on the site of the old swimming pool.

“Proposals should be sympathetic to the surrounding established character of the area, providing innovative and inspired solutions which balances occupancy and space. The council wishes to encourage a strong community on a site that meets the needs of an active, outdoor and sociable life while creating a protected and sheltered place to live and work.

“As a result, the council seeks to appoint the services of an planning consultant or architect to undertake a masterplan for the area which shall look at the provision of options, sympathetic to the surrounding area whilst maximising opportunities. The commission will involve community input and consultation will be an integral part of the output of this commission.

“Proposals are therefore invited for the development of a detailed, phased and costed masterplan. The masterplan will include options and recommendations for housing provision and best fit for area(s) to be zoned for housing, remaining land uses together with their effective implementation and must provide effective solutions for infrastructure issues and constraints whilst fully complying with relevant development guidelines and regulations.”

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