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Letters / Prisoners of the car

The perhaps ill-named Lerwick Lanes Project ‘consultation’ (really? Read on) is actually about the space between Pitt Ln. and Burns Ln. or for many the former swimming pool and its car park site, not the plethora of other lanes, some leafy, where tourists now oft reside.

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

It does not, unfortunately, including Water & Chromate & Leog Lanes public spaces which are in much more need, and overdue for a face-lift/refurbishment, being as they are at least 15 years older than the former swimming pool site.

Whose priorities? Officers’, councillors’ or residents?

Sooth-End Residents Association and I, prior to its formation have tried SIC senior managers, and councillors, former and current, to get improvements, even onto a list, over a period of six and a half years.

Nothing constructive back as yet. Hey Ho! They did however skim the road, omitting to fill in the biggest road issue – a huge pothole in the upper car park.

They did cement over the many pavement holes and cracks last summer. For the tourists? After the recent freeze of course, as most know, they all cracked. A complete and utter waste of frontline workers valuable time and money, with the soothend Commercial St. tourist trail needing urgent repairs, replacing many sunken temporary tarmac areas in need of flag stones.

Did they not order enough? Many tourists do actually walk up the ‘forgotten lanes’ – by the council at least – in search of our local jewels, the magnificent St Magnus Episcopal Church and woodlands of Clumlie and Leog.

And so to it. Having attended the Lerwick Community Council meeting on Monday as a co-opted, unelected member, which was immediately on the back of their day-long consultation in the town hall, the consultant architects may well have been tired.

With 30 years’ experience of community development and creating strategic infrastructure planning consultation events, I was very disappointed not to be able to actually read the slide screen presentation that quickly flashed before us, and no hard copies provided to community councillors. Bet SIC councillors will get them or at least electronic versions they can enlarge to see and/or print off.

Only 457 people replied to the initial online survey, 2 per cent of the Shetland population. Very, very poor given this is, we were told, a space of importance to all of Shetland. Drivers at least.

Certainly according to Living Lerwick (some of Da Street businesses), other vested business interests present and the chair of  SIC development committee, cllr Dennis Leask. They were in unison: parking is essential to Da Street businesses profitability, if not survival.

This wasn’t the case before the 1980s – no empty shops then. I count five currently. How did we all manage then, when Da Street was in fact much more frequently full of thriving locals and no cruise ship visitors as now.

Lerwick has more car parks and parking places than ever before :

  • spaces at south end Commercial Street opposite Lodberrie (could be bigger if BT were public minded.)
  • Some Bains Beach ‘wild’ swimmers park on the street there
  • Water Lane Upper & Lower – daytime, when residents at work & no BT vans using public parking when they have their own private one!
  • Church Rd
  • outside Royal Bank of Scotland, BoS ( unofficial?) & TSB
  • Victoria Pier (Oct-May) – no cruise ships
  • Lower Hillhead for library and council meetings. Why can’t all Cllrs use their own buses and set an example?
  • Market St./Harbour St.
  • Beneath (and for some in) Fort Charlotte
  • Above Viking Bus Station
  • North Ness ‘business park’. Could council staff, town & rural, use buses?
  • Mareel
  • Shetland Museum & Archives
  • Burgh Rd/North Rd corner
  • Gilbertson Park and Rd on street
  • Hospital & Health Centre
  • Tall Clock shopping centre/Council SW Dept
  • Clickimin & Anderson High School
  • Coop & Tesco

This does not include the on-street parking throughout Lerwick which has, in effect, turned it into a one-way system in many areas.

Ronald St. for example has in effect become a car park. Lower Breiwick Rd particularly dangerous in the sharp bend. This is despite the many former council house gardens having been turned into parking bays. At least they then leave space for the few remaining council tenants to park on the street.

We are, it seems, afflicted by our own wealth and the American dream!  The ‘freedom’ of the car. Now perhaps prisoners of the car, like the mobile phone and the anti-social elements of social media? Lerwegian children now no longer playing in the streets but poisoned by petrol/diesel fumes. I’m joking, the wind blows these, the fumes not the children away to Norway or Scotland.

Yes, I have a car! An electric one, much worse for the environment according to some. And I take up valuable parking space.

I did use it to pick up mam up from day care. The council blue buses can’t get down Water Lane, it’s too narrow. Hope there is not a fire!

The main reason I have a car is SIC and/or CoSLA madness. Contractually I was forced to buy a car for my post, even though I lived and worked in the town! I resigned after five months. (Anyone want to buy an electric car?  I have my bus-pass & electric bike now!)

So, Cllr Leask thinks I am living in ‘fantasy land’ where people take buses. Should, could we encourage, or indeed force people, out of their cars to use buses with high parking charges, for the sake of houses and green space?

Most councils do, including Orkney. Let’s just do away with all the buses and set up lots of little local taxi companies. Or wait a minute community owned transport schemes like many rural areas do.

Clearly Cllr Leask and the business community, at least part of it on Da Street, oppose the much-needed council’s climate change targets which includes transport changes.

The more people use public transport – buses, yes buses, the more affordable they become. And it’s part of the circular economy, Cllr Leask.  What did council staff do during Covid? How many still work from home? How many could? How many could and should take public transport?

A proper town service – not one old uncomfortable huge and mostly empty dirty diesel fuming bus – but smaller ones and more of them for a third of Shetland’s population plus rural and tourism visitors.

Say four, maybe six of the blue type micro-buses currently used for our non-car owning, less physically able citizens. Yes, some people don’t and can’t afford cars, Cllr Leask). Let the buses run continually, two clockwise, two anti-clockwise, extended to perhaps include park & ride facilities from Brig o’ Fitch and the notorious Black Gaet/ South Rd junction or at the former Observatory, might work. Let’s model it.

Maybe when the new hospital is built the current site can just be one big car park? Turn the Knab golf course(?) into a car park. They might as well, with the planned over-development of houses, with car parking spaces of course, for the former AHS site.

No transport solution included in the ‘Master planning’ there. The same N7 were one of the consultants.

We have a very tight transport budget according to Cllr Dennis Leask. Ferries, bloody ferries! Expensive and polluting and subject to weather. Oh for a tunnel or three, as per Faroe. Maybe the budget could be used more wisely?

Perhaps a community owned charitable transport solution for Lerwick, for profit. Funded and owned – like SHEAP, the district heating scheme – by Shetland Charitable Trust, with additional money from the council’s car-parking charges, as per Orkney.

I’m maybe not so much a fantasist as he proclaims. Just a creative thinker and problem solver. Perhaps he, and/or his advisers in planning, roads, development/community development just lack the imagination for long-term, strategic policy planning beyond the next council election or senior management retirement.

They, the consultants N7, scoffed, as did others, at my suggestion of an underground car park. Ground floor under flat parking I alternatively proposed was supported by an award-winning local architect, sadly retired. It was taken more seriously. At least the childish sniggering stopped.

So then, 20 three story one bedroom flats, with some parking places below them at ground level, adjacent to/extension of Gladstone Terrace, Hillhead. Some similar at bottom and perhaps side (Pitt Lane) of the site?  Maybe even four storeys high as per Water Lane Stouts Court flats – built by a visionary, public-minded town council in the late 50s/ early 60s, with spending and planning powers. Such flats would also have a view over to Bressay.

Ah! Bressay! Empty Bressay! The Laird’s Bressay! Like King Charles, once the Young Pretender! Yes Bressay, where much more affordable housing and lots and lots of parking could be built, to take pressure off Lerwick, given it is part of Lerwick North ward anyway.

If not, they are not getting a tunnel, bridge or chain ferry. They don’t want it anyway and neither do LPA. Why? They can pay for their own ferry in future then, if they wish to remain isolationist, rural idyll NIMBYs and pretend they are not part of Lerwick North ward!

I digress, but maybe not. It’s all part of having the bigger picture, or a bigger picture and one that paints for the years beyond the current grey-haired men on the council. Still time to have your say Lerwegians and rural dwellers. Hurry up though.

The council’s development department seems to be in a sudden rush to get a report to council by March. Why the rush? Financial year end issues?

It is nearly four years and not a word about their own policy of 2020 (previous council, but still council policy) about getting grown-up, greater responsibility powers for Shetland to solve its own problems. That would require a new council, of full-timers, with councillors of all ages and genders.

Send your ideas, your dreams, whatever they are, wherever you live, to N7, on the three possible options or try your own options. Were the three options already agreed by senior officers, if not the chair? Not all N7’s expert work. We haven’t seen the internal pre-briefings from departments.

Don’t be shy, be creative, go crazy and email them. Get your magnifying glasses out to view the options though. E-mail:  

No later than Wednesday 14 February.

James J Paton
Secretary Sooth-End Residents Association
c/o 20 Leog – no bus service for Sheltered Housing & Widows Homes

Take a look at options for Lerwick Lanes masterplan


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