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Small is beautiful

Liberal Democrats have called for greater emphasis to be placed on energy generation being localised as they debated their blueprint for Scotland’s energy future at the party conference in Perth today.

A panel of experts considered the challenges presented by climate change in setting out a vision for Scotland’s energy future.

Commenting after the motion was passed, Liberal Democrat Energy spokesperson Liam McArthur said:

“Scotland has excellent natural resources and world leading skills and research capabilities. We are well placed to capitalise on the economic benefits of green energy.

“Our panel of experts have made recommendations that will help inform the party’s energy policy in the years ahead. This report identifies ways in which we can reduce harmful emissions while at the same time safeguarding energy security and tackling the scourge of fuel poverty.

“We believe there needs to be a move away from large-scale centralised energy generation in favour of a network of community scale plants, close to the point of demand.

This would see everyday buildings playing host to devices like solar panels, small wind turbines and combined heat and power boilers, which generate electricity as well as providing heat and hot water.

The electricity created would be used directly by the house or workplace and any surplus fed into a local network for local distribution.

“These radical plans to decentralise our energy system should be supported by feed-in tariffs and a new “smart grid” to better connect and integrate new, clean and localised energy technologies.

As well as helping manage demand for energy more effectively, this approach would enable households, businesses and communities to take more control in how their energy needs are met.”

In brief – 8 March 2010

Fisherman airlifted

A CREW member from the Banff registered fishing boat Uberous was airlifted by helicopter to the Gilbert Bain Hospital, in Lerwick, on Saturday lunchtime.

The vessel was 40 miles south south east of Sumburgh when Shetland Coastguard was alerted.

A coastguard spokesman said the man had been suffering from a medical condition.

 

Huge interest in land at Sullom

THE council’s economic development unit has reported “a lot of interest” by businesses in the land near to the Sullom Voe Terminal and the Sella Ness port administration.

Officers currently are carrying out a zoning exercise with the view to market the area as an attractive location to establish enterprises.

The work is being done in anticipation of the £2 billion Total investment into the Laggan/ Tormore gas fields which is expected to lead to a new gas processing plant being built next to the terminal.

The council’s harbour board is also actively pursuing new business opportunities for the port of Sella Ness.

 

Fibre optic link progress

INSTALLATION of the new fibre optic cable between Maywick and Lerwick can commence as soon as summer this year.

However, councillors sitting on the council’s development committee were told that state aid clearance had to be obtained from the European Commission before the project can go ahead.

Shetland Islands Council is set to invest £1.2 million in laying a cable to connect the isles to the Faroese high speed fibre optic cable that crosses the southend of Shetland between Sandwick and Maywick.

Head of economic development, Neil Grant, said that all the permissions required should be in place by the end of April.

 

Sponsored walk

MEMBERS and friends of the Shetland Stroke Support Group are setting off on a sponsored walk on Wednesday morning.

Starting from the Grantfield Garage, in Lerwick, at 10am, the walk will take participants north out of Lerwick, turning left for Scalloway at the Brig o’ Fitch and returning to Lerwick via Gulberwick.

The walk is in aid of the Shetland Stroke Support Group (SSSG) and CLAN 123.

A spokesman said: “Anyone who sees the walkers, or who would like to make a donation, please feel free. Your donations are most welcome and will help stroke sufferers and their carers to enjoy some day trips during the summer, and CLAN 123 always need help to improve their care.”

 

Harbour charges waived

HARBOUR dues at Fair Isle, Scalloway, Baltasound, Cullivoe and Symbister are to be waived for a short period next summer to attract as many tall ships as possible to Shetland’s smaller harbours.

In summer 2011 Lerwick expects the arrival of more than 70 tall ships with 3,000 crew as it hosts the annual Tall Ships Races between 21 and 24 July.

Prior to arriving in Lerwick, vessels will sail at their leisure between Greenock and Shetland and are expected to call at many ports along the way.

In order to attract sailors to other Shetland communities, members of the council harbour board have now decided to waive harbour charges.

Concern over new ship-to-ship rules

DRAFT legislation on ship-to-ship transfer of oil has the potential to disadvantage the port of Sullom Voe, a meeting of the council’s harbour board heard.

Councillors expressed concern that the port, “which has consistently set the standard for safe operations” could be left out should just six ports in the UK are licensed to carry out the lucrative business.

Officers will now lobby the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) on both the national and local level to make the case for Sullom.

Board chairman, Alastair Cooper, said he would like to see Toby Stone, the head of the MCA, come to Shetland to see how ship-to-ship oil transfers are being done in the port.

The council as operator of the port has high hopes that ship-to-ship transfers could create a regular new stream of income for the port to replace some of the business lost due to dwindling tanker traffic exporting North Sea crude.

A number of transfers whereby Russian oil was transferred from smaller vessels to a larger one for export have taken place during the course of particularly last year.

Now, the government wants tighter regulations of such operations and also force tanker owners to carry out oil transfers in the designated ports rather than the high sea.

In his report to board members, harbour master Roger Moore said: “The current consultation would suggest that up to six ports in the UK may be authorised to carry out ship-to ship operations.”

During the meeting, he added: “I would be highly surprised if we were not accepted.”

Isles need to sort housing debts

SHETLAND’s massive housing debt continues to be the stumbling block in attracting new funding to help pay for new affordable homes to the isles.

On Thursday, the Scottish government told a five strong delegation from the isles that Shetland’s housing debt of currently £45 million was a major concern and were considered as too high a risk to release further funds.

Three councillors and two senior officials met with housing minister Alex Neil after the government had declined a £4.3 million bid to help funding a £20 million council house building programme in the isles.

Yesterday (Friday), Shetland Islands Council’s housing spokesman Allison Duncan said the minister wanted the housing debt problem addressed first before considering any new bid for housing cash.

Council officials will now meet with civil servants from the government in Aberdeen next week to hammer out a strategy how to deal with the local authority’s housing debts.

The debts, which at some stage were as high as £60 million, were accumulated in the 70s when the council embarked on a massive house building programme to accommodate the influx of oil workers.

Attempts to have these debts written off by transferring the isles’ council house stock to a housing association failed in the early part of this decade when the majority of tenants voted to stay with the local authority.

Yesterday, Mr Duncan said the minister seemed keen to help Shetland sorting this problem and to allow the isles to bid for a share of £25 million of additional funding the government had just made available.

“If we are going down the route the minister has advised us and are drawing up a housing debt strategy together with his advisors, then I am sure we will get some solution to the problem.

“We would be looking for a share of the £25 million of funding he made public last week,” he said.

Closing date for bids to tranche of funding is the end of April meaning that local and national officials will have to work to an extremely tight deadline in drawing up the housing debt strategy.

A further meeting with the Scottish government is planned next month.

SIC to fight for Clair oil

Shetland Islands Council is to make representations to BP urging the oil giant to use its existing pipeline for exporting oil from phase 2 of the massive Clair oil field, due to come on stream after 2015.

This week, BP re-affirmed its commitment to invest around £4 billion to bring the Clair Ridge on stream with an estimated production of 120,000 barrels a day.

While it has always been expected that this would be exported to Sullom Voe Terminal via the existing infrastructure, harbour board chairman Alastair Cooper warned yesterday (Friday) that this shouldn’t been taken as signed and sealed.

“I don’t want to see offshore loading,” he said, adding that the council needed to make the case for using the pipeline at any stage along the consultation route during the next year or two.

Sullom Voe harbour master Roger Moore said there was concern that BP could decide to use a floating production vessel, which would increase the risk of an oil spill just 40 miles to the west of the isles.

“In case of an incident it would not take long for the oil showing up on our shore,” he said.

Board member and former secretary of the environmental group KIMO, Rick Nickerson, said the SIC had to make the case that bringing the oil ashore via the pipeline was environmentally the safer option.

Meanwhile, Mr Cooper repeated his warnings from earlier this week that the port and terminal could lose the business from the Schiehallion oil field, 100 miles to the west of Shetland, should BP decide to build a new floating and production vessel (FPSO).

“Schiehallion could be lost as the oil is stabilised offshore and then taken directly to market in Europe,” he said.

The current contract for Schiehallion oil to be taken to Sullom Voe Terminal by shuttle tanker runs until 2012, when BP is expected to make a final decision on the future of the oil field. Any new FPSO will not be in place before 2015.

Scalloway dredging plans adjusted

PLANS TO dredge the entrance to Scalloway harbour to a depth of 9.5 metre have been abandoned after it emerged that the plans was unaffordable.

Instead, members of the Shetland Islands Council’s harbour board agreed to dredge a 90 metre wide entrance channel to a depth of 8.5 metre at a cost of around £2.5 million.

The additional metre in depth would have cost an extra £1.5 to £2 million, the board heard.

Members expressed disappointment that their initial aspirations were outwith the board’s financial capabilities. A budget of £3 million had been approved for the 2010/11 capital programme.

The project is only to dredge the entrance channel, deepening the harbours’ piers and quaysides to a corresponding depth are not included.

The meeting was told that most vessels wanting to use the Westside harbour would be able to do so once the entrance is dredged to a depth of 8.5 metre.

Councillor Betty Fullerton said: “This is very disappointing, but 8.5 metres is better than doing nothing. We have to stick to our budget.

“This will facilitate by far the largest amount of ships calling at Scalloway”, she said.

Board chairman Alastair Cooper added that a channel depth of 8.5 metres would also be beneficial to the vessels serving the emerging marine renewables industry.

Board member Jim Tait said he would have liked to see an economic assessment of the perceived benefits of the project before making a decision on the way forward, but was told by board chairman Mr Cooper that the study would be available at the next harbour board meeting, in six weeks time.

Guns 4 Hire

ONE of the leading tribute acts in the country head north this weekend to play two shows for rock fans in the isles.

Guns 4 Hire who pride themselves on being the UK's number one tribute to US rock heavyweights Guns N Roses play at Norscot Angling Club tonight (Friday) followed by a gig at the Burra Hall tomorrow evening.

The London-based band have seen their popularity on the UK tribute scene rise at a meteoric pace since their formation two years ago and now find themselves regularly playing in venues to over 1,000 people with their show that authentically replicates the look and the sound of classic-era Guns N Roses.

As well as being a much sought after tribute band in the UK, the five piece regularly tour the Middle East, Germany, Holland, Cyprus and Ireland.

The show is based on the original line-up of Guns N Roses, with hits such as Sweet Child O Mine, Paradise City, Welcome To Jungle and November Rain.

The band also benefit from being the only tribute to have a sponsorship agreement with world-famous Marshall amplification.

Support for both Shetland dates comes from reformed local rockers, Rip Torn, who now feature ex-Suppository Business member John William Halcrow on drums.

Tickets for both shows are on sale from High Level Music priced at £10.

In brief – 5 March 2010

A POST mortem is to be carried out on a 43 year old man who died suddenly while returning to his home in Virkie in a taxi at 11.45am yesterday (Thursday).

Police said the main A970 was closed for a time while the CID investigated the scene, however there were no suspicious circumstances. The cause of death is unknown and the man’s identity remains confidential until the family has been informed.

A report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal.

The Simon King effect

THE ECONOMIC value of the three Simon King programmes on Shetland’s wildlife broadcast last month is said to be in the region of £6 million.

Councillor Jonathan Wills told his colleagues at the SIC’s development committee yesterday morning that tourism businesses in the isles were already experiencing increased bookings as a direct consequence of the programmes.

“Everything looks very, very promising for tourism at the moment”, the councillor said, adding that the BBC series is to be repeated in April

Meanwhile differences between the two organisations promoting Shetland have been resolved and website links from the Shetland section of the official VisitScotland site to the council’s own www.shetland.org site should be re-established shortly, the meeting heard.

Shellfish cash

THE organisation managing the Shetland Regulating Order for shellfish catching has been granted almost £135,000 from the council’s economic development budget to cover its management costs until 2012/13.

Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO), based at the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway, is responsible for the sustainable fisheries of shellfish within the isles’ six mile limit.

Last year, 2,222 tonnes of shellfish with a value of over £5.3 million was landed in Shetland. SSMO are trying to obtain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accreditation for the isles’ inshore fishery.

Man charged after overdose

A 41 year old Shetland man has been charged with dealing drugs and culpable and reckless conduct after a woman suffered a suspected overdose in Lerwick last Monday.

Shetland police issued a statement on the matter yesterday (Wednesday), saying that a report had been submitted to the procurator fiscal.

45 more years of Sullom Voe oil

OIL GIANT BP yesterday (Wednesday) re-affirmed its commitment to the west of Shetland oil province with billions of pounds of investments in the pipeline for the next five years.

Both, the Clair Ridge development (phase two of the Clair oil field) and the project to secure the long term future of Schiehallion (Q204 in oil industry jargon) will go ahead as of 2015, with crucial investment decisions being taken in 2011 and 2012.

The commitment will help to secure the long term future of the Sullom Voe oil terminal, which provides hundreds of jobs to the local community.

However Shetland Islands Council’s harbour board chairman Alastair Cooper said it was not clear if Schiehallion oil would continue to boost oil throughput at Sullom Voe.

On Tuesday, BP hosted a meeting with potential investors in London and gave a strategy update to the financial community.

Yesterday (Wednesday) a spokesman for BP in Aberdeen gave further details saying that the life of Schiehallion could extend beyond 2035, while the Clair Ridge development had a 40 year life design.

The spokesman said phase two of the Clair development, with an estimated production of 120,000 barrels a day until at least 2055, would be “significant larger” than the present operation.

Phase one started production in March 2005 when the first oil was pumped into Sullom Voe via a large new pipeline.

Further work on Schiehallion, 110 miles to the west of Shetland, will open up between 150 million and 250 million barrels of oil.

The spokesman said: “We are looking at different design options, including a brand new floating vessel. If we were to sustain oil production at Schiehallion in the long term we would have to do something differently towards what we currently have.

“Schiehallion has been producing since 1998, but our long term plans are for more production and for a longer period.

“We are looking at three or four options of how to do that, and we are currently targeting the first quarter of next year for the project to be sanctioned.”

He added: “The plan for Clair Ridge is a bridge linked twin steel jacket development with the drilling and production facilities on one platform and the quarters and utilities on the other.

“The estimated capital cost is going to be $6 billion gross (£4 billion). This is really a big project and that is why it was in the strategy presentation.”

Mr Cooper said the update from BP was good news on the one hand but also posed a challenge as it was unclear whether oil from Schiehallion would continue to be taken to the terminal by the shuttle tanker Loch Rannoch.

“The original deal with Clair was to deliver it in three phases. We have to be thankful to the tax concession the government gave to the oil industry, as I think it has brought forward the Clair phase two.

“It helps guarantee continuity at the Sullom Voe oil terminal. When the development of Clair was agreed the assumption was that all three phases of Clair would come to Sullom Voe, and I believe that is still the case.”

He added: “Schiehallion may not be so good news, because I suspect BP will be looking at a larger vessel that has the capacity to store sufficient oil to take it directly to the European market, as it is being done with Foinaven.

“The challenge for us and the Sullom Voe terminal is to offer a low enough unit cost for harbour operations to ensure Schiehallion keeps coming into the port of Sullom Voe.”

A spokesperson for Sullom Voe welcomed BP’s commitment but said it was too early to say that oil from Clair 2 would be pumped to the terminal.

She added the terminal would position itself in a bid to win some of the future business.

Second Kettle show

LEADING Scottish children’s entertainers The Singing Kettle are laying on a second concert in Shetland after all 750 tickets for their only concert in the isles were sold out in just 90 minutes.

The show has been booked as part of the 30th anniversary of the Shetland Folk Festival between 29 April and 2 May.

The Singing Kettle’s second show will be at the 280 seat Garrison Theatre on Wednesday 28 April, starting at 5pm.

Tickets for the show are priced at £10 for all and will go on sale between 10am and 12noon on Saturday 13 March at the Shetland Folk Festival offices at 5 Burns Lane, in Lerwick, or via the ticket line 01595 69 63 49 during those hours

Davie Henderson, of the folk festival organisers, said the queue for the first concert had stretched down Burns Lane and up Commercial Street to Malcolmson’s Bakery before the doors opened at 10am.

Last night (Wednesday) he said he was delighted that The Singing Kettle had been able to re-arrange their commitment to play a second concert in Lerwick.

“We knew that the Singing Kettle would be popular, but have to admit to being rather overwhelmed at the speed the tickets sold out.

“This second showing will hopefully result in another 280 happy smiling faces, which is obviously satisfying from an organiser’s perspective.”

Both shows will be titled ‘The Singing Kettle’s Silly Songs’ and audience members are being encouraged to wear something in their favourite colour.

Bursting with superb singalong songs like “Shove Yer Granny”, “Music Man and Woman”, “Apples and Bananas” along with loads of audience participation, ticket holders can expect a fun-filled, action packed experience.

Tickets for the other festival concerts will go on sale for festival members from mid-March and then to everyone else from the 2 April.

Tall Ships planning “well advanced”

PREPARATIONS for one of the largest community events Shetland has ever hosted are well under way, according Sail Training International’s race director Paul Bishop.

More than 70 tall ships with around 3,000 crew are expected in Shetland on a four day visit in July 2011 for the annual Tall Ships Races.

Yesterday (Wednesday), at the end of a three day inspection visit by a delegation from race organiser Sail Training International, Mr Bishop said planning for the Shetland event was “well advanced”.

In summer 2011, the tall ships will sail from Waterford, in Ireland, for Scotland, calling at Greenock and Lerwick, before heading to Stavanger, in Norway, and Halmstad, in Sweden.

Mr Bishop said: “We have had a highly successful and enjoyable Tall Ships Races planning visit to Lerwick.

“It is quite clear that the Lerwick Port Authority, Shetland Islands Council and other key partners are working closely together to ensure that the young Tall Ships crews from all over the world will have a great time and that the planning in Lerwick is well advanced.”

Fiona Dally, project manager of local organising committee Shetland Tall Ships 2011 said it had been a useful visit.

“It was great to receive positive feedback from the Sail Training International team and it is really exciting to see things coming together with just over 500 days until we welcome ships into Lerwick.”

Further information on the event in 2011 can be found at www.tallshipsraceslerwick.com.

In brief – 3 March 2010

Teachers thanked

SCOTTISH education secretary Michael Russell has written a personal letter to every head teacher in Shetland thanking them for their hard work in getting the islands schools open again after the recent bad weather.

Mr Russell said: "The Shetland Islands has been one of the areas worst affected by the weather this winter. This has had a knock on impact with inevitable widespread closure of schools, in the interests of everyone's safety.

"I appreciate that many school and council staff have put in a great deal of work and gone above and beyond the call of duty to reopen their schools and keep them open if possible.”

Mr Russell spoke directly to North Roe primary school head teacher Hazel Cranie thanking her for her efforts.

SIC head of schools Helen Budge said: "The cabinet secretary's interest and letter of thanks will be well received and much appreciated."

Rare fish

SCALLOWAY’S NAFC Marine Centre is displaying unusual marine species caught by local folk and commercial fishermen on its website at www.nafc.ac.uk

The “discovery zone” will plot where species were found, photos of the creature in question and further information about who found it.

Shellfish scientist Richard Shelmerdine, who has been co-ordinating the new addition to the website, said:  "Fishermen and members of the public often drop along with a find they have discovered in their nets, or while walking along the shore, and we're more than happy to try to identify the species.

“I think this new section on the website will prove a great point of interest and people will find it fascinating to see the wealth of sea life that often goes unnoticed around our shores.”

Rings

AN EXHIBITION of rings designed by Shetland children aged from five to 14 has been extended by a month to make up for the gallery being closed last month due to recent bad weather.

More than 70 children entered a competition to design and create a ring, with 11 year old Alfred Holt, from Uyeasound primary school, and 13 year old Aidan Sim, from Anderson High School, winning the contest. A further prize went to 12 year old Ross Johnson, of Mid Yell junior high school, who was highly commended.

Jane Matthews, of Shetland Arts, said: “I have been bowled over by the fantastic array of entries. There is humour, beauty, creativity and inspiration in spades and it really makes a fantastic show that should inspire us all. I am grateful to the teachers who embraced the project in the classroom.”

The exhibition in the lower gallery at the Weisdale Mill will now run until 11 April. Later this month the gallery will be running an egg decorating competition in the run up to Easter

 

New VisitScotland chair

NATIONAL tourism agency VisitScotland has appointed a new chairman. Dr Michael Cantlay runs William Glen Ltd, which has tourism, leisure and retail interests in Scotland, Canada and the US. He previously ran Highland dress specialist Hector Russell and the retail chain The Whisky Shop.

Dr Cantlay was brought up in Callander where he still lives and his business is headquartered, and holds several public appointments including chair of Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley; chair of Forth Valley College and an advisory member of Scottish Enterprise.

Last year Shetland Islands Council withdrew its funding from VisitScotland because it felt it was not marketing Shetland’s distinct identity, and set up a new organisation Promote Shetland to attract more people to the isles.


Labour’s Peacock backs Viking

HIGHLANDS and islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock (Labour) threw his weight behind the Viking Energy wind farm project yesterday (Tuesday) saying it would be “tragic” if Shetland lost its high quality services through a lack of income.

Mr Peacock met with the developers, as well as opponents and supporters of the development.

Afterwards he said anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland represented “a clear school of thought”, but he still hoped the wind farm came about.

He described the Windfarm Supporters Group as “an impressive group of people” who understood the opportunities that would be created from both the wind farm and the subsea interconnector cable.

He had also met “a number of individuals” who had been converted from scepticism and now saw the “very positive benefits” the wind farm would bring, “even if they accept there will be visual impacts”.

He added: “There is absolutely no doubt Shetland has a higher level of service than anywhere else (in the highlands and islands). It would be tragic to think that standards could be destined to fall significantly after peak oil and as revenues decline.

“I know that thought, and memories of Shetland before oil, have helped persuade many that the Viking project represents the best opportunity to help sustain a significant revenue stream into Shetland to maintain services."

He went on: "I can think of no worse outcome for Shetland than if the project was still to be advanced by the `Hydro Board' (now SSE), without the involvement of the charitable trust. That could mean all the disadvantages that some see from a large wind development, with none of the local financial benefits.

"I hope it does not come to that and that the amended plans of Viking Energy, when they are finally revealed, will be seen to have made genuine efforts to address as many of the concerns as possible, while still being able to bring all the major benefits. At that time I hope that more folk will feel comfortable with the project."

Whalsay tunnel could cost £80 million

A SEVEN kilometre tunnel to Whalsay would cost at least between £70 or £80 million, it has emerged after two days of talks with tunnelling experts in Glasgow.

Five councillors and two senior officials from Shetland Islands Council have spent a day and a half shut in a room with three Norwegian tunnel experts from Norway and UK tunnel consultant Andy Sloan comparing tunnel building in the two countries.

The group were establishing why one Norwegian company could price the Whalsay job at around £35 million, while Professor Sloan estimated a figure more than three times greater.

Last night (Tuesday) Shetland’s head of transport Michael Craigie said that the discussions had delivered a rough estimate of £11,000 per metre for a tunnel, which would mean a final cost of £79.2 million.

This compares to a bill of £26 million for one new ferry and three new ferry terminals at Laxo, Vidlin and North Voe to serve the community of Whalsay.

The island has been torn by different factions arguing over the island’s future transport link, with a majority wanting a ferry terminal at North Voe and others wanting the existing terminal at Symbister to be upgraded.

Last month the council deferred a decision after a Norwegian firm said it could build a tunnel for around £35 million, choosing to carry out a detailed study into the real cost of a fixed link in Shetland.

The three Norwegian experts, including the vice president of the International Tunnel Association, Eivind Grov, will be in Shetland later this month when the council will convene a special meeting of its infrastructure committee to decide on the way forward for Whalsay’s transport links.

Mr Craigie said: “We have had a good day and a half and achieved a better, shared understanding of the difference between tunnelling in Norway and tunnelling in Shetland.

“We know what can be achieved in Norway and this was about trying to understand what can be done in Shetland in terms of cost and delivering the project. It’s been a useful day and a half.”

He said everyone had agreed the “lower end” of the cost would be £10,000 to £11,000 per metre. “We agreed that would be a reasonable figure to use to contribute towards making a decision on a fixed link for Whalsay.”

The transport department will now prepare a report on the relative cost to the council of a ferry link and a tunnel over a 120 year period. “We normally use a 60 year time frame, but we will go up to 120 years just to show what that means. The report will be very detailed and full of good quality information,” Mr Craigie said.

Councillor Alastair Cooper, one of the five councillors in Glasgow this week, had called for the tunnel study after raising concerns about the long term cost of ferries in the face of government budget cuts following the global financial crisis.

The other question is the speed at which a tunnel could be prepared and built, with engineers saying Whalsay’s existing ferry link has just five years left before it becomes unsafe.

Council watchdog to probe Clark pay off

SCOTLAND’S local government watchdog is coming to Shetland this month to investigate the departure of the local authority’s controversial chief executive David Clark last week.

Mr Clark agreed to take a £250,000 tax free pay off to leave the council after just eight months in his post, after high profile fall outs with local councillors.

The deal caused uproar in the community, with islanders marching on Lerwick Town Hall last week to demand Mr Clark be sacked for bringing the isles into disrepute.

In December last year the Accounts Commission said they were concerned about “high profile relationship issues” at Shetland Islands Council after a series of fall outs between Mr Clark and councillors, culminating in a complaint by six members about the chief executive.

At the time they ordered the Controller of Audit to investigate their concerns that there may be deeper problems with the way the council is being run.

However that visit was delayed when Mr Clark suddenly left his office on 26 January as the islands were celebrating their annual fire festival Up Helly Aa. Three days later his lawyers contacted the council asking to negotiate a settlement for his departure.

Rory Mair, chief executive of local government umbrella group COSLA led the talks for the council and on 19 February councillors agreed to a tax free pay off of around £250,000, which is likely to cost the authority closer to £500,000.

Both sides issued a statement on 24 February saying that it had become impossible for Mr Clark to continue in his post following speculation about his private life in a national newspaper in January.

Two days later the police reported Mr Clark to the procurator fiscal over allegations he threatened a Lerwick councillor with violence during a phone call in September.

Last Saturday around 50 people gathered in Lerwick’s Market Cross calling for the entire council to resign and stand for re-election as confidence in them had fallen to an all time low.

Convener Sandy Cluness came in for particular criticism, though he has staunchly defended his position throughout.

Last week Audit Scotland indicated they might not send a team up until next month, but yesterday they made it clear the situation required more urgent action..

In a statement the organisation said they recognised “Shetlanders' high levels of concern about recent events at their council” and had been following developments closely.

They said it would have been difficult to pursue on-site audit work while the chief executive’s position was “unresolved”.

“We will now begin work, looking particularly at the events surrounding the departure of the chief executive and the decision-making processes followed by the council,” the statement said.

“We expect to have a report ready for the Accounts Commission by the end of April, for consideration at their meeting in mid-May. At that meeting we will also brief the Commission on the wider governance issues at the council. The Commission will announce its response to the Controller of Audit's report after this meeting.

“We cannot pre-empt what steps the Commission may take but it has powers to require further audit work, to hold a public hearing, and, in certain circumstances, to censure, suspend or disqualify elected members.”

One or two members of Audit Scotland’s best value team will meet councillors and officials to discuss what happened with Mr Clark and why certain decisions were taken.

The report will be made public in late April and then presented to the Accounts Commission who will decide whether further action needs to be taken.

Yesterday convener Sandy Cluness, who is currently attending the COSLA annual conference in St Andrews, welcomed the move, saying “as far as I am concerned the sooner the better”.

He said: “What I am hoping is that the council will be seen to have been acting properly in everything it has done, but I am happy that these things are being investigated by an independent body like Audit Scotland.

“I would hope that the main work will be done by May and by that time we will have COSLA’s Imrpovement Service assisting us, so it’s all moving in the right direction.”

Hildasay breaks down off Orkney

THE NEW freighter serving the northern isles broke down 20 miles east of Orkney at the weekend, just a week after she started working on the route.

The newly christened Hildasay operated by NorthLink was on her way from Aberdeen to Lerwick when she lost propulsion for an hour and a half due to an electrical failure at around 6.30am on Saturday.

The vessel had 18 crew and five passengers on board at the time, with two cars and 21 trailers, eight of which were empty. Hildasay arrived around four hours late in Lerwick at 4pm.


A NorthLink spokesman said that although the vessel had come to a halt without power, there was no risk to passengers, crew or the vessel itself and that, once the fault had been identified, normal service had resumed efficiently and without further mishap.

“Nevertheless, NorthLink takes this opportunity to apologise to passengers and freight customers for the delay,” the spokesman said.



Staney Hill pilots community scheme

NORTH Lerwick is the only area outside Scotland’s central belt to be chosen in a government pilot on community development.

People living in North Staney Hill will be given the chance to vote on how to spend £20,000 in the neighbourhood in an X Factor-type contest.

The pilot is the government’s first foray into participatory budgeting, where residents choose how money is spent locally.

The  Community Wellbeing Champions Initiative is being targeted at tackling anti social behaviour problems across the country’s inner city areas, and other pilots have been announced in Fife, Stirling, North and South Lanarkshire.

The Lerwick project has been chosen because it looks at preventing social problems before they happen by helping local people work together.

The North Staney Hill Community Association has been working hard over the past two years to reverse the area’s decline, helping to reopen the local shop, attract a mobile library and improve roads and pavements.

Association representatives will travel to Edinburgh this week to hear more about the pilot with SIC environmental health manager Maggie Dunne, who prepared the application from Shetland.

“No one knows much about participatory budgeting and this is the first time it’s ever been used in Scotland,” Ms Dunne said.

A public meeting will be held to inform the local community about how the pilot will work and invite people to come up with ideas about how the money should be spent. Then a public event will be arranged where each project will be judged. “It’s a bit like X Factor,” Ms Dunne said.

“We want to encourage people to come forward first of all with what their needs as individuals within the community are and ask them if they have ideas about how the money should be spent.”

The funding could be used as seed money to access other budgets, such as the lottery, she added.

Community association secretary John Bulter said: “It’s good to get the chance to bring some money into the area and we are looking forward to going out to the community with more information on this.”

Tunnel workshops in Glasgow

A SEVEN strong delegation from Shetland Islands Council is in Glasgow meeting with tunneling experts from Norway and the UK in an attempt to resolve the long running argument about a the transport link to Whalsay.

Councillors last month postponed a decision on a new ferry terminal for the island after some islanders came forward with a price of around £35 million for a seven kilometre tunnel to the isle.

The figure was dismissed by UK consultant Andy Sloan who said the final bill would be closer to £110 million.

This week councillors Iris Hawkins, Allan Wishart, Alastair Cooper, Robert Henderson and Laura Baisley were joined by infrastructure director Gordon Greenhill and head of transport Michael Craigie for a series of workshops.

The group are meeting with Professor Sloan and three tunnelling experts from Norway, including Eivind Grov, the vice president of the International Tunneling Association.

Mr Wishart said last night they had spent the day comparing the different business and legislative environments in Norway and the UK, which accounted for some of the vast difference in prices between the two countries.

Norway also has a much more competitive construction environment with one client, the Norwegian roads authority, inviting bids for every project.

“It’s been quite and open and constructive discussion and I think there is a better understanding developing between everybody about different contracting methods, legislative regimes and so on.. There is very little to choose between the different methods used to do the actual tunnelling.

“We hope at the end of the day we will get some clarity on why there seems to be a difference between Norwegian tunnelling prices and UK tunnelling prices.

“We are looking at tunnels in general so anything we learn will be applicable to Whalsay and other tunnel connections in Shetland as well, so it will be quite useful.”

The Norwegian experts are being invited to meet the SIC’s infrastructure committee later this month at which councillors will be expected to make a decision on whether they can go ahead with a fixed link to Whalsay or a new ferry terminal should be built at North Voe.

Low turnout for election call rally

AROUND 50 Shetlanders turned out on a freezing Saturday lunchtime to call for members of Shetland Islands Council to resign from office.

Anger has raged through the islands after councillors agreed to a £250,000 tax free pay off for the authority’s controversial chief executive David Clark who had spent just eight months in post.

Two days after the settlement was signed, which is likely to cost the council closer to £500,000, Mr Clark was reported to the procurator fiscal in relation to allegations that he threatened Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills with violence in September.

An initial investigation by the police was laid aside, but now officers have interviewed new witnesses about the case.

A council investigation into the alleged threats found insufficient proof to uphold them, but councillor Wills complained that he had not received a fair hearing.

Yesterday’s turnout was a disappointment for the protesters, and less than half of the 120 who gathered last Monday and marched on Lerwick Town Hall in an effort to stop the council agreeing to any financial settlement.

Organiser Kathy Greaves said: “I am disappointed that more people did not turn out today, but it is very cold and many people are only just clearing their driveways of snow.”

Others suggested that people who worked for the council, by far the largest employer in the isles, had been deterred from attending the protest after a notice was sent to all SIC staff on Wednesday ordering them not to make any public comment on the settlement with Mr Clark.

Some people had come to protest about other issues, such as the decision last week to abolish free musical instrument tuition in Shetland’s schools as part of a broad programme of service cuts.

Mrs Greaves said that a group of campaigners would now press for a meeting with the council to air their grievances and to demand an explanation for recent events.

“There have been so many mistakes made, so much wilful waste of our money over the years, it must stop now,” she told the small crowd of people assembled at Lerwick’s Market Cross.

“The last few months’ series of embarrassments at the town hallhave been the final straw for the people of Shetland. Trust and confidence in the council are at an all time low and Shetland’s reputation has suffered.

“At the local elections almost three years ago we were promised fairness, openness and accountability; because of those promises we put Shetland’s future in the hands of those councillors who were elected.

“Because those promises have not been kept to, we are rallying here today, expressing our democratic desire for change.

“A few of our councillors have our trust, but until they all resign and stand again for re-election, the council will not gain the trust of the people of Shetland. Those who do not pass scrutiny should not be re-elected.”

Mrs Greaves and her fellow organisers are planning to create a website for people to register their comments. This follows a petition which raised 1,300 signatures calling for Mr Clark to be sacked last week.

Other protesters said they had lost faith in the council’s ability to take responsibility for the wealth the islands’ have accrued from hosting the oil industry at Sullom Voe for the past 30 years.

Ironically Mr Clark’s father Ian was the SIC chief executive in the 1970s who negotiated the deal from which the islands profited. In a letter to The Shetland Times on Friday Mr Clark senior staunchly defended his son, saying that he had been the victim of “a torrent of abuse” and the “orchestrated efforts of a coterie” determined to get rid of him.

Local government watchdog Audit Scotland are due to start an investigation into what has been going on at Shetland Islands Council shortly.

A complaint submitted in December signed by six councillors, more than a quarter of the membership, which raises 20 questions about Mr Clark’s performance has not been addressed.

Meanwhile the Standards Commission is investigating a complaint against councillor Wills after he protested about the council’s internal investigation into the alleged threats. The complaint was signed by the chief executive and council convener Sandy Cluness, vice convener Josie Simpson, depute chief executive Hazel Sutherland and head of legal Jan Riise.

Lerwick to become decommissioning hub

SHETLAND is set to become the Scottish hub for decommissioning redundant oil and gas platforms from the North Sea, creating up to 150 jobs over the next two or three decades.

This week Lerwick Port Authority signed an exclusivity agreement with Norwegian-owned firm AF Decom Offshore UK Ltd, one of the most active companies in the North Sea decommissioning industry.

The deal will see the two businesses working together to develop a deepwater quay and decommissioning plant at Dales Voe, north of Lerwick, to handle the largest offshore installations as they come off stream in the northern North Sea.

The Norwegian parent body AF Gruppen has just spent £50 million completing the newest decommissioning plant in Europe at Vats, on Norway’s west coast, where it employs between 80 and 150 people.

Yesterday Robert Haugen, executive president of parent company AF Gruppen ASA, said that they had visited ports throughout Scotland’s east coast and decided Dales Voe was best suited to the task.

“We think the market will be for big lift vessels that need a lot of depth to load and unload material from the North Sea and Dales Voe is the only place that has the possibility to develop a deepwater site like the one we have in Norway,” Mr Haugen said.

“We have been looking for it for a long time and been up and down the coast looking for the best site and we have landed at Lerwick.”

Mr Haugen said that there were 550 platforms in the North Sea, with the biggest ones in the northern area that needed large cranes to dismantle them.

“The industry will be there for the next 20 or 30 years and I think it will start in about two or three years, and in Lerwick I hope we will employ between 50 and 150 people. The numbers will go up and down,” he said.

AF Decom Offshore UK and Lerwick Port Authority will now start drawing up plans to build the new facility.

Port chief executive Sandra Laurenson said initial designs had been prepared last September and now it would be a case of the Norwegian firm drumming up the business offshore while the port obtained the necessary consents to build the centre.

“We think it is fantastic for the port to have attracted such a significant decommissioning company to Lerwick,” she said.

“They are probably the most active decommissioning company in the North Sea at the moment. They are very successfully carrying out a number of decommissioning projects in Norway and are looking to expand into the UK.

“We will be working with them to develop and to market the site. The initial plan is that we will build something for them to lease from us, however we are just at the beginning of these discussions.”

The attraction of Lerwick was the depth of the water, with 20 metres water depth in the approaches to the base and a depth of 12.5 metres alongside the 52 metre quay. Within the harbour limits there are depths of 50 metres.

Work has already started to expand the laydown area around the Dales Voe base to accommodate the new operation.

In brief – 27 February, 2010

Short-changed

PEOPLE who showed initiative by installing solar panels or wind turbines early are being “short-changed” by the government’s new feed-in tariff payments, according to northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

Under the government’s recently announced Clean Energy Cashback scheme new feed-in-tariff payment rates of up to 41.3p/kW will only apply to people who installed their technology after 15 July 2009. Those who installed their renewable technology before this date will only receive 9p/kW.

When Mr Carmichael challenged the government on the unfairness of paying a lower rate to those who showed initiative, energy and climate change minister Joan Ruddock said the government’s priority had to be encouraging more people to install renewable technology.

“Those who have already taken the initiative on their own account will not be producing more generation, and the government’s aim has to be to get more in place and to create the incentive to make that happen,” the minister said.

After the debate Mr Carmichael said: “If the government is serious about wanting people to develop small scale renewable energy projects then they will have to treat everyone fairly instead of punishing those who demonstrate initiative and commitment.”

 

Quota fears recede

THE FEAR that Wealthy foreign fishing companies could take over Scottish and Shetland fishing interests in the North Sea have abated after concessions were made in the European Parliament last week.

Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson last week raised concerns over new proposals over access rights and individual transferable quotas during a debate about reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in the European Parliament.

After the debate, Mr Stevenson said: "I am delighted that we have won key concessions on the two crucial areas that were giving concern to UK fishermen, namely access and
transferable quotas. I was heartened by the reply to the debate today by the commissioner where she stressed that small-scale and local fisheries would be top of her agenda for protection under the reformed CFP.

"She also said that she wants to have further discussion and consultation with the European Parliament's fisheries committee on the whole question of quotas and transferable rights. While the definitive vote on the white paper will not take place until later next year, it is clear there are many more months of dialogue and discussion ahead."

Befriending

THE SHETLAND Befriending Scheme, which provides one to one support to young people aged seven to 25, is looking to expand its new service in the north of the isles.

A pilot project in Shetland’s north mainland and north isles last year trained up seven volunteers, and with demand in the area growing the organisation may recruit more volunteers later this year.

Meanwhile new volunteers are being sought for the Lerwick area, with training starting in May. Anyone interested can contact Amanda Rosie on 01595 743964 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

New tug off the blocks

THE SECOND of Shetland Islands Council's new tugs for the port of Sullom Voe was launched at the Union Naval shipyard, in Valencia, last week.

The Bonxie will join her sister vessel Solan which was launched at the same shipyard just before Christmas.

The two £7 million tugs with a bollard tow of 70 tonnes are due to be delivered in March.

The vessel was constructed in such a manner that it will be possible to operate her with a minimum level of three crew in port.

MP calls for change of culture at SIC

NORTHERN isles MP Alistair Carmichael has said Shetland Islands Council needs a change of culture at its most senior level to ensure there is no repeat of the crisis that has gripped the authority for the past six months.

However the Liberal Democrat MP held back from calling for anyone to resign, saying that it was a “systemic failure” in Scotland’s wealthiest council that allowed rules to be broken and ultimately led to a costly settlement to get rid of chief executive David Clark.

Mr Clark agreed to leave his £100,000 a year job this week after just eight months in the post, saying he had been hounded out of office by a media campaign against him.

However islanders are up in arms with the council for agreeing to a deal understood to leave him with a tax free lump sum of around £250,000, which will cost the authority closer to £500,000 after forking out for tax and legal fees.

Yesterday Mr Carmichael said the council had to work hard to restore the public’s confidence and should request the help of local government umbrella group COSLA to find an interim chief executive to get it back on its feet.

“I have never known the standing of the council in the community to be as low as it is today. That is exceptionally serious in any community, but particularly in Shetland where the council has such a dominant position,” he said.

“The council in Shetland is too big to be allowed to fail and the worry that I have is that it is failing.”

He said that the council was “kidding itself” if it thought that it had resolved all of its problems by getting rid of Mr Clark, after negotiating a deal with the help of COSLA chief executive Rory Mair.

“Dave Clark was a symptom that the council wasn’t functioning properly and after a lengthy discussion with Rory Mair, I took very strongly a message that there has been a failure of governance within the council.

“Councillors have not been doing the job councillors should do and senior officials have not been doing the job that senior officials should have been doing.”

Mr Carmichael first raised his concerns about the council when assistant chief executive Willie Shannon’s post was “deleted” without consultation last August, leading him and MSP Tavish Scott to submit a complaint to Audit Scotland.

Mr Shannon, he said, fell victim to a situation where different members of staff were not warning others that rules and procedures were being broken.

“I said at that time this was more than a staff matter. It was a situation where the checks and balances that exist within the system failed to operate.

“The relationship between councillors and senior officials has simply failed to function as it ought to. That has produced a dangerous situation which has now brought reputational damage to Shetland and which has brought a substantial financial loss to council tax payers in Shetland.

“If you think you can change that by putting in a new chief executive and changing nothing else then you fail to understand the true nature of the gravity of the problem.

“There is a need to move on, but people should not think that moving on is the same thing as sweeping everything under the carpet. There has to be a change of culture and the first example of that must be full disclosure of what has happened here.”

As a first step to rebuilding the public’s faith in the SIC, he said they should disclose everything that led up to the departure of Mr Clark and the full cost of his settlement.

“I think the payment was excessive and it’s clearly more than the community is prepared to accept and councillors should have been better tuned into the community before they agreed to make the payment.

“To re-establish the trust between the electors and the elected members, the council should publish the details of the agreement and explain why they felt they had no option to make the payment.”

Mr Carmichael suggested that the council involve the local government umbrella group COSLA in helping them find an interim chief executive, while a thorough inquiry is carried out into what has been going wrong at Lerwick Town Hall.

Local government watchdog Audit Scotland have been ordered to visit Shetland by the Accounts Commission to investigate the “deeper problems” within the authority.

The auditors share the local community’s concerns about the way the council has been run over the past few years, and intend to get to the heart of the problem when they send a team to Shetland.

This will take place after 18 March when the Accounts Commission holds its next meeting, but they intend to publish a report into their findings by the end of May.

Mr Carmichael said: “A culture change has to enter the town hall that says the law applies to them as well as everyone else. That means rules and procedures are there to be followed and they can’t be avoided simply on the basis that it helps you achieve a certain end that you think might be desirable at a certain point in time.

“Audit Scotland should unpick everything that has happened here to make sure that there is a full examination of what has gone on and where the mistakes have been made. The nature of those mistakes should be made clear to the public and actions should flow from whatever recommendations are necessary.

“There has been a collective failure of the council here and while it might placate some people’s immediate anger, simply getting someone’s head on a plate is not going to address the very profound failings that I see within the system.

“But the priority has to be to get some stability into the single most important organisation in Shetland so that it’s able to do what it’s there to do, which is to provide local services.”

Meanwhile the MP said that he did believe that individual councillors had been trying to do their best for the local community.

“There is a lot of criticism of Shetland’s councillors at the moment for what they have done, but by and large I still think our councillors are well motivated.

“They have got things badly wrong and that needs to be accounted for, but these are people who have been trying to do the best for their community.”

BP cleared of pollution charge

OIL giant BP was cleared of causing pollution by breaching environmental regulations at Shetland’s Sullom Voe oil terminal yesterday (Thursday).

The company was in the dock after denying that they were responsible for oily water spilling out of a tank during heavy rainfall on 7 October, 2008.

The terminal has a drainage system for separating oil from water so that it can be released into the sea, which includes a series of seven tanks and a series of filters.

Some water is stored in a clean water tank which is used to clean the filters, and on the day of the incident an air pressure valve into this tank failed, causing the tank to overflow.

At the same time a ‘high level alarm’ to warn about the overflow also failed after becoming blocked with sludge.

Under normal conditions the excess water would have simply flowed into one of the other tanks, but due to the heavy rain the water backed up the system and overflowed, leaking oily water into the surrounding environment.

Defence agent Craig Connal QC argued that these events could not reasonably have been predicted.

Michael Killeen, a chartered chemical engineer who was operations manager at the terminal and duty incident manager on the day of the incident, said he would not have expected the valve and the alarm to have failed at the same time.

"I remember the wind and rain bashing against the window. It was pretty horrendous in terms of the volume of rain, one of the worst times I've seen while at Sullom Voe," Mr Killeen said.

Records showed just under 2,000 cubic metres of water flowed through the system on the day in question, twice as much as normal.

Sheriff Derek Livingston found the company not guilty of all wrong doing, saying the spill could not have been predicted.

After the court case, terminal manager Lyndsay Boswell said BP welcomed the verdict, which recognised the unusual circumstances that combined on the day of the spill.