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Housing / SIC responds to suggestion housing strategy update is too Lerwick focused

THERE was debate in the council chamber earlier about whether the local authority’s strategic housing investment plan for the next four to five years was too centred on Lerwick.

West councillor Liz Peterson said there is demand for affordable housing across Shetland, not just in Lerwick.

But housing manager Anita Jamieson highlighted how most homes built in the last couple of years were outwith Lerwick, which is also reflected in projects currently on site.

And there is also financial scope to potentially add to the plan in future years, councillors heard.

The strategic housing investment plan (SHIP), approved at Wednesday’s meeting of the council’s development committee, suggests 232 new builds in the period between 2024/25 and 2028/29, across both SIC and Hjaltland projects.

The document identifies potential opportunities for government funding for housing, and there is an indicative £26 million expected from the Scottish Government over the next five years.

Overall the programme put forward is currently worth in the region of £18.5 million.

The meeting also heard that another avenue opening up is a Scottish Government commitment to funding community led housing development.

A large number of the proposed units in the new SHIP update relate to the Knab and Staneyhill projects in Lerwick which are set to see hundreds of new homes built in phases.

The only new projects outside of Lerwick in the SHIP is a proposal for 12 homes in Brae on the site of the former Moorfield Hotel in Brae, which burned down three years ago.

However the proposal is still in the very early stages, with Hjaltland Housing Association only looking into things at the moment.

At Wednesday’s meeting Peterson was keen to see more house building across Shetland, suggesting there was the demand.

Shetland West councillor Liz Peterson Photo: Shetland News

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But the message from the council was the highest demand remains in Lerwick and the central areas, and that the Knab and Staneyhill projects have been a long time coming.

There is also a need to deal with homeless and temporary accommodation applications as a first priority, and this demand is mainly for Lerwick.

Jamieson said there was also a shortage of one and two bed properties in Lerwick.

She agreed that the current SHIP may seem Lerwick-based but said it was “where the needs are at the moment”.

Jamieson added that when capacity frees up, “I think that will change”.

Peterson suggested putting forward a proposal that 12 houses in each councillor ward is added to the SHIP – and if there was not the capacity, then the number of Lerwick houses should be reduced to enable them to progress.

But development director Neil Grant said that would not be possible, particularly given the frameworks officials have to work in, while councillor leader Emma Macdonald also highlighted the complexities around building housing developments such as acquiring land.

Peterson later said she has no issue with housing in Lerwick and would be pleased to see the proposed projects come to fruition.

But she added that she still feels the council is “seriously letting down the rest of the public in all the other areas of Shetland”.

Elsewhere eight new homes are being proposed for the site of the old Eric Gray Centre in Lerwick, which was demolished in 2021. These could potentially include independent living houses.

The SHIP also features ten units in the Park and Pitt Lane development, which is the subject of a masterplan. But the meeting heard this is only an indicative number used to demonstrate that work is ongoing on the project.

There are also 20 “off the shelf purchases” listed.

The plan also includes six units at North Road in Lerwick, and 20 flats within the Janet Courtney Hostel as part of the Knab redevelopment project.

But in the last two years only six of Shetland’s 62 new social housing units were in Lerwick, at Wista.

During this period 32 properties were built in Scalloway, 12 in Sandwick and 12 in Gulberwick.

For projects currently on site there are a further eight planned at Berryview in Scalloway, six in Aith, four in Walls and two in Brae. Eight homes in Lerwick housing estate Sandveien are also being rebuilt.

Given constraints on contractor capacity and economic climate Shetland South member Allison Duncan said during debate that “ambition is one thing, but I have serious doubts whether this [building 232 homes] will be achievable”

Lerwick North and Bressay councillor Gary Robinson said he felt an apparent population decline in the town was partly be down to the “fairly long gestation period” around some of the planned housing there.

He also did not agree with a suggestion to break down the proposed housing work into smaller lots, as it would increase costs due to economies of scale.

In a statement released after the meeting, development committee chairman Dennis Leask said: ”

Development committee chairman councillor Dennis Leask said: “The SHIP sets out an ambitious but realistic programme for the delivery of new affordable housing across Shetland for the next five years, and given Shetland’s extreme need I hope that we can add to this programme, which currently identifies proposals for 232 new homes.

“Long-term investment in affordable housing is an essential ingredient in our overall aspiration to create prosperous local communities where high quality, energy efficient homes are available to everyone.

“At the same time, we recognise the challenges that the housing sector is facing and the fact that the demand for social housing is likely to increase in the years ahead.

“The plan outlines our commitment to working with all our strategic partners to ensure that we deliver homes which meet the needs of our communities and helps to make Shetland a great place to live, work, study and invest. I’d encourage folk to go online and take a look at the detail.”

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