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Council / Concern from councillor over Knab redevelopment update being heard in private

Redevelopment of the Knab site is a key part of the SIC's plan to tackle a housing shortage in the isles.

A SENIOR councillor has “implored” officers to ensure debates on the Knab redevelopment project are held in public.

Davie Sandison was commenting ahead of a report on the Lerwick redevelopment being heard in private at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s policy and resources committee on Tuesday morning.

Whilst the agenda item did end up being heard in private, Sandison received some sympathy for his views.

The Shetland Central member acknowledged there are some contractural matters involved but he said it is an “extremely important” project.

“Substantial amounts of funding are being sought for continuing to pursue it, and I find that the balance of what we’ve been asked here in terms of what whether it should be held in public or private is not quite sitting well with me,” Sandison said.

He added that in his view the contractual elements of the report which would merit it being heard in private are “very minor […] in the grand scheme”.

The council’s Knab redevelopment project stands to see the former Anderson High School in Lerwick demolished and new housing constructed in its place.

At the moment the school buildings are being demolished, and a planning application is being considered for the infrastructure elements of the site.

However, the initial stages of the redevelopment have already gone over budget – with councillors previously having to approve extra spend.

The project is also in line to benefit from investment worth up to £9.1 million the UK and Scottish Governments’ islands deal.

Council meeting agenda items are often heard in private if there is commercially sensitive information involved.

The council’s legal chief Jan Riise said he accepted Sandison’s point and said it was “well made”.

But he said the consensus is that the situation may be best met with a press release being issued which contains as much public information as possible without referring to contractual details.

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Riise said ultimately the decision to hear the report in public or private was up to councillors.

But he said a particular issue was that the project is subject to funding from government via the Islands Deal.

Riise added that the full business cases which have been discussed in relation to the Islands Deal have all been heard in private so far “as a matter of discipline between all three of the island authorities”.

“I think the concern would be that if you take a different step then that would be out of kilter in the way that this has been handled across the three island authorities,” he said.

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall said she had a lot of sympathy for Sandison’s view, and while the project involves funding from governments there are many sections of the report which could be public.

She suggested in future there could be two separate reports, with one containing non-exempt information.

SIC leader Emma Macdonald also said it could be worth raising the issue in Islands Deal group meetings.

The report is also due to be heard in private by the full council on Thursday.

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