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Community / Residents express frustration about Knab development project

  • Former Anderson High School site developed in phases
  • Neighbours say their concerns are not listened to
  • Council insists the project will change as time goes on

The cleared site of the Knab redevelopment. Photo: Dave Donaldson

FOLLOWING planning consent for infrastructure works at the Knab redevelopment, local residents have been left frustrated due to what they see as a lack of response to their concerns.

A meeting of the council’s planning committee on 24 April granted permission to go ahead with site levelling and landscaping in preparation for the next phases of the project at the former Anderson High School site at the Knab.

The project masterplan was developed by Shetland Islands Council back in 2019 in an attempt to address housing shortages in the isles.

Current estimates suggest there could stand to be up to 140 new homes constructed on the site.

Patricia Stewart, who has been a resident at the Knab for 30 years, addressed April’s meeting on behalf of neighbours who had objected with a formal letter signed by every household on Gressy Loan and their nearest neighbour on Twageos Road.

The objection was submitted on the grounds of worries “mostly around substantial under-estimated traffic increases, site access proposals, significant parking under-provision, and prolonged disruption for residents”.

In addressing the meeting, she said the objection stemmed from “a history of community engagement dating back to May 2019” in opposition to the planning project.

Gressy Loan.

She said that “little to no consideration had been given to the substantial impact on the community that already resides in this area” and “minimal effort has been made to address the legitimate concerns raised by neighbours.”

A drop-in event was held in early May at Mareel to offer the opportunity to meet members of the development team and discuss further plans for the site.

Following the event, the SIC said in a statement that it was pleased that so many people had attended the drop-in session.

“Some expressed concerns about parking, access, and asked for more details of housing plans and construction timescales,” a spokesperson said. “We will consider these views and will get back to the community with detailed responses. Wherever possible we will address these issues in future proposals.”

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They added: “Views of the local community have been considered during the drafting of the Masterplan for the Knab site. We have continued to engage with them in a variety of ways since it was adopted in 2019.”

However, many local residents would disagree with this assessment.

When Shetland News met with a group of residents from Gressy Loan and Twageos some weeks ago most spoke on condition of anonymity.

They all concurred: “We completely agree that the site has to be developed and have nothing against housing in the area: but we need to make sure the plan is safe.”

Their main concerns involve access routes to the site, parking provision and the safety of road infrastructure, which they believe have not been appropriately considered (see video clips below).

“They are proposing to have about one parking space per dwelling, including for houses with up to four rooms. Folk already park on Gressy Loan, which is quite dangerous especially when it’s wet, dark or there’s an emergency.

“We can put up with the number of people that are here now, bearing in mind that Gressy Loan is almost a double street with inadequate parking already, but it wouldn’t be manageable with what has been proposed.”

The residents highlighted how the weather and public transport also affect how people travel to work or school.

“They’re assuming people in the new housing won’t have cars or will use electric vehicles. That’s feasible if you live in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

“But here, it’s blowing a hoolie most of the winter, the public transport network isn’t reliable, and people aren’t going to walk or cycle to work.”

Their frustration was exacerbated by the lack of a response or support from local councillors.

One of the residents mentioned: “Folk were invited to put in comments, so we did – and never heard a thing back. There has never been a true consultation, but only information-giving.

“Hours and hours and hours have been spent on this, and it still feels like our views are being brushed under the carpet.”

The residents also highlighted the feeling that the decision was “imposed” upon the neighbourhood, while many pointed out that the narrative on behalf of the planning committee appears to be focusing on the “new community”, rather than the existing one.

“It should be about extending the community that is already here, not putting in a new one. If only they had made us more involved, then we would’ve been part of this wonderful community they’re planning on building.”

As well as not understanding why the community was not involved in the development, the residents of Gressy Loan concluded: “We are worried about what’s going to happen after that and the legacy that will be left.

“Everybody has the same concerns, and the council is not listening. It hasn’t been listening for five years.”

All four councillors representing the Lerwick South ward were approached to give them the opportunity to respond to the criticism levelled at them.

In a joint statement to Shetland News, they said they would not make any comment at this point and suggested that “if there are members of the community in the area who are affected and feel aggrieved then there is a complaints process in place for both officers and council members, and they may wish to pursue that avenue”.

Meanwhile, council chief executive Maggie Sandison said the Knab project is being developed in stages and therefore can always be amended as the project takes shape over time.

This approach, she said, has been shared with the local community but is, perhaps, something that not fully understood and appreciated.

“At each phase we are looking at their concerns. We are not dismissing their concerns, but they are concerned about something that hasn’t happened yet,” she said.

“What we are saying is that at each phase of the development these concerns can be revisited; and we can decide not to do the final phase and turn over an area to parking if that proves to be the need that has arisen on the site.

“We are looking at a ten-year development; [and] we are not approving the whole thing in one go.

“We are approving it in phases, and at each phase the issues that are arising will be revisited and different solutions may well come out, including not developing the whole site.”

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