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Community / Parking the topic of the day as Lerwick Community Council discusses lanes masterplan progress

The old swimming pool cark park in Lerwick. Photo: Shetland News

THERE was plenty of debate at Lerwick Community Council last night (Monday) as progress on the town’s lanes masterplan project was brought before members.

Chairman Jim Anderson even raised the suggestion of a multi-storey car park – but given that the site is a conservation area, and the cost that would be involved, it was deemed as a non-starter.

Many at the meeting spoke up for maintaining the car parking in the area, which has been the primary concern in the community.

But some said a better bus service would reduce the need for parking, while one town councillor highlighted the other parking spaces which are available in Lerwick.

Three options were presented for discussion by architecture firm 7N in a series of public events on Monday.

All three attempt to balance parking, housing and green space – with the options including a reduction in parking spaces of around 10 per cent. There are 144 spaces there at the moment.

A key factor in the thinking behind Shetland Islands Council’s decision to explore options for the lanes area is its current temporary accommodation along Pitt Lane, which is ageing.

A number of housing units have already been demolished in the area, with a community garden now in its place.

But Monday’s meeting heard that the garden only has temporary planning permission, and that the land is effectively designated for housing.

Lisa Blyth from 7N said it was a “balancing act” to factor in parking, housing and green space.

SIC development director Neil Grant said generally that the masterplan project was a good opportunity to look at the lanes area and see if it can be worked better.

Blyth highlighted how the old swimming pool car park was valued by the community, and said it was viewed as critical to the long-term health of Lerwick’s town centre.

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But she said: “While everybody values having the parking, it’s maybe not working in the best way that it could.”

Meanwhile 7N’s Harry Kirkham said the site of the Park Lane community garden is still in housing ownership.

“Value needs to be realised from that land – housing can’t just gift it in perpetuity to the community garden,” he said.

However, Living Lerwick chair Steve Mathieson suggested that if more housing goes in, the demand for parking would increase.

He also asked if the status quo was an option, but Blyth suggested the community garden site would have to be returned to housing.

Living Lerwick director and No.88 restaurant owner Ross Manson also asked whether new housing for the site could be built elsewhere.

Photo: Shetland News

Grant replied by saying that he felt it was important to have housing, particularly affordable units, in the town centre.

Manson also said parking is “hugely important” for local businesses.

“People come out at night when there’s no buses to come to our restaurant to eat – they come during the day, they park,” Manson said.

“If there’s no parking they’re not coming to the restaurant.”

Living Lerwick’s project assistant Joanne Williams also said a survey of the organisation’s members showed that no businesses wanted to see less parking.

She said key feedback from visitors is that there is not enough parking in the centre of Lerwick already, and this is compounded when Victoria Pier is often closed for cruise ship buses in the summer.

But Lerwick North and Bressay councillor Gary Robinson pointed to other car parks in the area, such as at North Ness.

“There’s actually quite a lot of car parking when you think about it, and I’m not convinced that it’s maybe being utilised as best as it might be,” he said.

Robinson, the SIC’s depute leader, also believed that the assumption that new housing in the lanes area would result in more car demand needs to be challenged.

He suggested some parking spaces at Hjaltland Housing Association’s scheme at Da Vadill are often laying empty.

Speaking about the old swimming pool car park, Robinson said: “I think we do need to really challenge ourselves whether or not parking is absolutely the best thing we can do for the town centre.”

But fellow ward councillor Arwed Wenger disagreed, saying that North Ness for example is “stacked full” during the day and that people need more parking.

Retired architect Richard Gibson also spoke up for making the site more sheltered.

James Paton, meanwhile, advocated creating a more regular bus service in Lerwick – which he believes would result in less people needing to use the car park.

He suggested having two smaller buses, perhaps running counter clockwise.

Paton also said in the long-term people need to have a “moment of reflection” about their car usage.

But SIC development committee chairman Dennis Leask reckoned an expanded bus service would be “fantasy” – particularly given the strain on budgets at the moment.

With discussion over the usage of the car park and the number of Lerwick residents and visiting drivers using it, he added: “I do have concerns that this is starting to be seen as a country versus Lerwick thing – as far as I’m concerned the commercial centre of Lerwick services the whole of Shetland, and it’s viability depends on the whole of Shetland”.

Lerwick North and Bressay councillor Stephen Leask added that the old swimming pool car park can be largely empty at certain times of the day.

He also said bringing in new housing that is designed to reflect the cultural heritage of the lanes could bring a benefit to the area.

Meanwhile community councillor Karen Fraser praised the work of the project team on bringing options forward.

“If you make the mistake of venturing into the Shetland News Facebook comments then everybody is kind of up in arms about all kinds of things – so it’s good that this can inform a better discussion,” she said.

The feedback from Monday’s public events will be fed back into the process, with 7N aiming to have a masterplan ready for the council by the end of March.

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