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Housing / SIC and Hjaltland hold seminar with construction industry ahead of major housing projects

From left to right: SIC development committee chairman councillor Dennis Leask, SIC development director Neil Grant, SIC housing manager Anita Jamieson, Hjaltland Housing Association chief executive Bryan Leask. Photo: Shetland News

AN EVENT is taking place this afternoon (Monday) in Lerwick designed to bring together Shetland Islands Council, Hjaltland Housing Association and the local construction industry in light of major housing developments planned in the coming years.

With hundreds of homes due to be built at Staney Hill and the Knab, and plenty of refurbishment and maintenance on the horizon too, the public sector and private industry are involved in the “future housing event” at Mareel which is running through to 7.30pm this evening.

One key aim is to foster collaboration and engagement between the two sectors and encourage businesses in the local construction industry to participate in the housing programme.

A lack of housing is widely regarded as a repeated constraint in Shetland, not just for local people but also for people coming north to take up jobs, whilst there remain hundreds on the social housing waiting list.

There are around 350 new build social housing units planned over the next decade in Shetland, with most in Lerwick, and the value of this is expected to reach up to £88 million.

There is also expected to be refurbishment and maintenance worth up to £79 million over the next decade too, as well as energy efficiency works potentially valued between £20 million and £30 million.

The Staney Hill housing project is being led by Hjaltland and should see around 300 new homes constructed in phases.

Initial work on the infrastructure element already underway with financial support worth £19 million from the Scottish Government. Construction on the first houses could start in 2025.

Over at the former Anderson High School site there are plans for around 140 homes, also in phases, as part of Shetland Islands Council’s Knab redevelopment project.

Demolition work is well underway and an application for infrastructure elements is going in front of councillors on the planning committee on Wednesday.

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Other objectives from Monday’s event include addressing common challenges faced by businesses in participating in work connected to publicly funded housing projects, and promoting innovation construction methods.

It also aims to promote awareness among local businesses of housing opportunities and facilitate networking.

Speaking in a media event prior to the session kicking off, SIC housing manager Anita Jamieson said a key goal was to figure out the next steps for “how we work together to deliver everything that we need delivered”.

She added her view that the SIC needs to do a bit of “reset, and rebuild some relationships” following the Covid years in which there was disruption to housing programmes as well as the construction sector.

The housing event underway. Photo: SIC

Jamieson said one possibility is looking at whether there are different ways contracts could be packaged to make them more attractive to smaller and medium sized companies.

For the council the Knab is the main housing project on the cards, and Jamieson said there stands to be a year’s worth of design work for the first phase of the development – with the hope to be on site in 2025.

It will be phased over seven to ten years, but “depending on the conversation with the industry we might be looking at how we re-phase that”.

Hjaltland Housing Association chief executive Bryan Leask said it is “no secret” the organisation has been saying there is a lot of work coming up – and there needs to be capability and capacity in the local sector.

One hope for him is to get across the quantity of work which will be coming over the next decade, and encourage people in the industry to get involved.

“There’s plenty of work, there’s plenty of money – we just need the contractors to fill the space,” Leask said.

He said Hjaltland should be tendering for the first of the houses at the Staney Hill development early next year, then hoping to get on site in May or June 2025.

Leask said there was no reason why the Knab and Staney Hill projects could not work in tandem despite the size of the projects.

He said there stands to be about 35 housing units created a year over the next decade, which is not too much different than what has been done in the past.

But on top of new builds is maintenance work on existing homes, including energy efficiency jobs.

“What we’re trying to get across today is that it’s not just about the new houses coming into the ground,” Leask said.

“It’s once you’ve got the houses built, they need to be maintained, looked after and brought up to the standard.”

Demolition work is well underway at the Knab. Photo: SIC

Although most upcoming social housing is planned for Lerwick, Leask pointed to the fact that many recent Hjaltland builds has been outwith the town – with homes constructed for example in Scalloway, Sandwick, Aith and Brae, with more coming in Walls.

Leask added that when he started at Hjaltland around 23 years ago the waiting list was around 600.

Since then 650 homes have been built, but the waiting list is now around 700.

He believes this may be down to smaller household sizes these days, such as individuals or couples – saying the average in Shetland is around two people per house.

Lerwick South councillor Dennis Leask, who chairs the SIC’s development committee, said he had been pushing for a seminar with the industry for a while.

He said this is because a lack of housing repeatedly comes up as a “major issue” which is holding back development in Shetland.

When asked about engagement with the construction industry, Leask said there was a “real need to make sure that we understand them and they understand us”.

Meanwhile SIC development director Neil Grant said the key goal for him was for “everybody understanding the size of the opportunity” ahead.

He said housing is “really, really important” for Shetland from a development perspective.

Grant also suggested there could be more events with industry in the future.

“If everybody is up for a more regular meeting, that entirely makes sense,” he said.

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