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MCA must now repair the damage

COASTGUARD officers say their employers must work hard to repair relations within the service, after a damning report on modernisation plans from the powerful House of Commons transport select committee on Thursday.

The all party committee has described the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s proposal to close 10 of its 18 coastguard stations, leaving just one 24 hour station covering the whole of Scotland from Aberdeen, as “seriously flawed”.

The MPs have told the government to withdraw their plans, and to reinstate the emergency towing vessel contract due to end in September, warning that to lose the four tugs stationed around the UK coastline was “inviting disaster”.

Shetland coastguard union spokeswoman Alex Dodge said that the committee’s report had “vindicated” the stance they had taken since the consultation began six months ago.

“This has been a very stressful few months and all that’s been achieved is a huge gulf between operational coastguard staff and MCA management at headquarters,” Mrs Dodge said.

“They have shown a complete lack of respect for our work and as a result of this they have lost the trust of those of us working in the coastguard service.”

Lee Coutts, the Shetland Islands Council ferry man who launched and now chairs the Save Our Station campaign, went further and called for the architects of the changes to resign.

“I seriously think that this report is so damning that the management team at the MCA has to be looked at and heads may have to roll,” he said.

The MCA’s plans to streamline the coastguard service by closing stations and halving staffing levels, leaving just three 24 hour and five “daylight only” centres covering the UK, were part of a three pronged attempt to save the government £20 million a year.

The MCA also plan to end the contract with the four emergency tugs brought in after the Braer oil spill and to close the Maritime Incident Response Group that fights fires offshore.

All three proposals have been slammed by the transport committee, who said the government appeared to be more interested in saving money than saving lives.

The committee also said the MCA had “mishandled” the consultation, which had made them appear “arrogant”.

The report says: “It is regrettable that the Department for Transport announced all three sets of maritime proposals with no prior consultation whatsoever and did not consider their combined impact.

“The atmosphere of disquiet and suspicion generated by this consultation process is of the MCA's own making.”

The committee has called for further consultation, saying the changes are not “time critical”, and called on the government to consider alternative proposals put forward by the coastguard officers themselves.

While welcoming the introduction of a central geographic database, they said that technology could not replace local knowledge and community relationships which were essential in speeding up an emergency response.

Shetland Islands Council vice convener Josie Simpson welcomed the report, which shared the view of the island councils who combined forces to lobby the government on the issue.

“The councils’ unified stance has been successful so far and as we continue to stand together I am sure the government will see sense on this very important issue,” Mr Simpson said.

The Scottish government responded by calling for the coastguard service in Scotland to be devolved to Holyrood.

Rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead said: “The option of devolving coastguard functions should be seriously considered if we are to preserve the current  life-saving service that coastal communities have come to depend on, and which are under threat on current plans.”

Transport secretary Philip Hammond said that he was glad that the transport committee acknowledged the need for the service to be modernised.

The government has already said that the outcome of the consultation would be very different to the original proposals.

 

In brief for 22 June

Digital Shetland

THE LOCAL council is to invest up to £40,000 in tendering for the next step of its hugely ambitious Digital Shetland project.

The tendering process will establish how best to create a high speed broadband network throughout Shetland once the council’s Shetland Telecom operation has linked into the Faroese fibre optic cable later this summer.

The alternatives include the council spending between £8 million and £16 million building such a network, or leaving another telecommunications company to do the work.

The council’s telecom project officer Marvin Smith said that by 2014 Shetland would need a communications network that could deliver 100 megabits per second.

Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said the council had to act quickly as expectations in the community were high, and were likely to grow further once Lerwick had access to the fibre optic cable.

Care report

SHETLANDERS are receiving good social work care despite last year’s upheaval at the council, according to a follow-up report by the Social Work Inspection Agency.

Inspectors said that the management of the service needed to improve, but recognised it was under a lot of pressure due to the political crisis at the council last year.

The report specifies that improvements were necessary in self evaluation, quality assurance, and the out of hours service.

Social services committee chairman Cecil Smith said: “Front line social work services have been performing well and that has been recognised.

“The management and evaluation issues identified were largely a result of the temporary governance problems at the council, and are being thoroughly addressed. I am confident that social work in Shetland will continue to provide the effective and professional care the community is accustomed to.”

Shetland the Brand

THE SHETLAND brand has been re-launched with the publication of the Shetland Brand Pack, a folder with 12 sheets celebrating different aspects of island life.

Following a presentation to the council’s development committee on Wednesday, Andy Steven of Promote Shetland said that the ‘Pride of Place’ logo and slogan is being presented in a new “powerful and accessible way”.

Mr Steven said: "We want new companies to come and set up shop here, we want tourists to travel here, we want Shetland's worldwide reputation to be vibrant, welcoming and attractive.

"This isn't about advertising, it's about identification. All of us, one way or another, represent Shetland in our dealings with people and organisations outside the isles.”

The pack covers energy, sport, tourism, the creative industries and more, and is available from www.shetland.org/prideofplace or by contacting Promote Shetland directly.

SIC loans could kick start house building

SHETLAND Islands Council is stepping in to help private sector housing developers with bridging loan finance after high street banks were alleged to have abandoned the sector.

Councillors heard on Wednesday that the move should “kick start” the private housing sector in the isles again, after access to finance had almost entirely dried up.

The council’s development committee unanimously agreed to commit funds towards the new scheme, which will benefit private developers but is not designed to help individuals build their own homes.

Under the scheme, up to £300,000 could be made available as a bridging loan to enable businesses to develop housing sites or small housing estates.

Interest charged will be in line with high street bank rates, but the repayment period would be limited to three years and be triggered when the site or buildings were sold.

Head of economic development Neil Grant said it was necessary for the council to step in until the banks were “willing to do business again.”

Some councillors expressed concern that the finance on offer was not available for single house developers, but agreed with the need to act in order to satisfy the “strong demand” for private sector housing in Shetland.

Committee chairman Alastair Cooper said: “This is an attempt to kick start the private house building sector again and to help the construction industry.”

Hockey: Scalloway celebrate

Rosebowl

Scalloway 4 v Burra 0

Scalloway won their first victory in the Rosebowl against local rivals Burra, after an inspirational team talk saw the players leap into action with strong play throughout the field.

Their efforts bore fruit when Lynne Scollay picked up a Meg Laurenson cross to slot the ball home.

The team’s confidence grew, winning several short corners and filling the Burra circle that eventually led to a second goal from Kate Moncrieff, after Mhairi Moncrieff hit the post.

Scalloway maintained their focus and control in the second half, but they nearly broke under pressure piled on by their rivals. But Burra’s heads fell when Meg Laurenson made it 3-0 and Michaela Johnson put the result beyond doubt with a fourth.

Sarah Young was deserved player of the match for Burra and for Scalloway, Rhiannon Inkster and Kerri Redfern.  

Delting 3 v Zetland 2

Delting started the game on top of the action, with Toni Sidgwick playing outside of goal for the first time this season and scoring the first goal of the match, though Zetland managed to level the score before half-time thanks to an Erika Leask deflection.

A series of short corners to Delting eventually resulted in their second goal from Ashley Burgess, but Zetland remained strong in defence and refused further access, finally equalising after a good run from young Lynsey Morrison.

With teams battling for the decider, it was Sidgwick who put the north team ahead and no amount of effort from their opponents could change the scoreline.

Dawn Anderson was player of the match for Zetland, while Donna Murray was picked for Delting.

Zetland 1 v Spurs 4

A positive start from Zetland was soon overwhelmed by Spurs, with Spurs scoring three times in the first half through Emma Gray, Fiona Shearer and Emma Inkster.
Ava Sim made it 4-0 from a well taken short corner, but Zetland did finally win one back thanks to Helen Robertson.

Best on the night for Spurs was Susan Morrison and Joanne Stewart for Zetland.

P W D L Pts
Whalsay 8 7 1 0 22
Spurs 10 7 1 2 22
Delting 10 7 0 3 21
Burra 9 3 3 3 12
Zetland 10 2 1 7 7
Juniors 8 1 2 5 5
Scalloway 9 1 0 8 3





 

 

 

Fixtures:

Rosebowl

Monday 27 June
6:30pm Scalloway v Whalsay (Simon Skinner/Junior rep)
7:50pm Zetland v Juniors (Simon Skinner/Whalsay rep)

Lizzie Polson 

Thursday 30 June
Semi finals 6:30pm Burra v Juniors (Simon Skinner/Janice Johnston)
7:50pm Scalloway v Whalsay (Simon Skinner/Janice Johnston)

In brief for 21 June 2011

Lost medication

SHETLAND police have warned that a bag containing potentially harmful medication was lost on Lerwick’s Commercial Street on Monday.

The bag is from the local Boots pharmacy and if found should be handed into Lerwick police station, who can be called on 01595 692110.

Credit union seeks borrowers

SCOTLAND’S newest credit union has got off to a flying start with 60 members depositing “substantial” amounts of money over the past seven weeks since it opened.

Now Shetland Islands Credit Union (SICU) is looking for new members who want to borrow small sums at low interest to help the business on its feet.

Chairman Gordon Mitchell said they were looking for more investors, but were now particularly keen to attract people who wanted to access relatively cheap loans, currently set at 12.5 per cent APR.

“The idea is that we want to be giving sensible loans to people who would otherwise be finding themselves in the hands of loan sharks,” Captain Mitchell said.

The credit union is currently investing its deposits in secure, high interest accounts, but needs to start lending money to build up returns that can help cover its running costs.

Anyone wishing to borrow money must first join the credit union, which they can do at 8 Hillhead, Lerwick, on Wednesday evening (5-7pm) or Saturday morning (10.30am to 1pm). Anyone opening an account must bring photo ID and proof of address.

Further information is available at www.shetlandcreditunion.org.

Bad driving campaign a success

INSPECTOR Eddie Graham has described the local campaign to tackle law breaking on Shetland’s roads as a success.

In the two weeks leading up to Monday, Northern Constabulary joined a national police effort targeting drink drivers and other forms of illegal driving, such as speeding and failing to wear a seatbelt.

In Shetland three reports are being submitted to the procurator fiscal about drivers who were found to be over the legal limit for alcohol.

Inspector Graham believes the campaign was directly responsible for all three arrests.

“Some of it was intelligence led and some of it was officers being proactive, but the campaign raised the profile with the public. From that point we are quite delighted.”

Five minute theatre

SHETLAND Youth Theatre perform a five minute theatre piece at 9am on Wednesday morning which can be viewed live over the internet.

The piece is called Secret Shetland and is one of 200 performances celebrating the fifth anniversary of the national Theatre of Scotland.

The piece was devised by the company with local drama directors John Haswell and Izzy Swanson and can be seen at www.fiveminutetheatre.com.

Come clean on ferries

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott is worried the Scottish government will try to rush through the tender process for the northern isles ferry contract, currently held by state-owned NorthLink.

He also fears the government may be planning to split the passenger and freight contracts, warning this would be “profoundly dangerous to Shetland’s needs”.

The Liberal Democrat MSP has called for a government consultation on the tendering specification.

The new contract is due to commence in June next year, but previous tender exercises took between two and three years, he pointed out in a letter to infrastructure secretary Alex Neil.

Mr Scott said: “I have raised these points with the minister as I am seriously worried that the delays in getting the tendering process going are going to lead to a rushed tender process with insufficient time being provided for consultation on the specification.

“The government’s lack of understanding of our needs was demonstrated by their previous plans to cut the winter services and to slow down the ferries so that they either left too early or arrived too late.

“We headed the government off then, but the fear is that they will try again to introduce something similar in the new contract.

"And, if they are indeed thinking about splitting passengers and freight, it shows a fundamental lack of understanding how the two services combine effectively to provide the service we need at the lowest cost.”

 

Minister could see Viking plans by August

PLANS for the huge Viking Energy wind farm in Shetland could be before energy minister Fergus Ewing by the end of August, according to the developer.

The Scottish government’s energy consents unit (ECU) has agreed to hold on to the application for the 457 megawatt development until 1 August while Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) study new data concerning protected bird species.

SNH have objected to plans for one of Europe’s largest onshore wind farms on grounds of its visual impact on the landscape and the danger it poses to protected birds, notably whimbrel.

The government agency is the only statutory consultee with an outstanding objection, though other bird and environmental groups have formally opposed the plan, along with 2,700 individuals. A further 1,100 have voiced their support.

While landscape concerns are taken seriously, it is the fate of the whimbrel that puts Viking Energy in danger of breaking the law by disturbing red-listed breeding birds.

The developers claim that the 127 turbines, each measuring 145 metres in height, will only kill 2.1 whimbrel in comparison to the 108 that can be expected to die through natural causes each year.

SNH are concerned as Shetland’s 300 pairs represent 95 per cent of the UK population, which is on the decline and any extra deaths could provide the tipping point for the species.

Two weeks ago Viking submitted large quantities of ornithological data to SNH, who have promised to respond by the end of July.

If their response provokes Viking to alter their plan in any way, the consortium will have to submit a second addendum and go out to further consultation.

However Viking Energy project co-ordinator Allan Wishart said he believed their discussions with SNH would end at that point and they would simply ask the ECU to present their bid to the minister.

Mr Wishart said: “We have given SNH the data they asked for and they can respond by not changing their view, changing it slightly or even withdrawing their objection.

“But I think at that stage we both understand that we have both gone as far as we can and we will simply lay all that evidence in front of the energy consents unit who will have to decide whether this is really taking account of the public interest, such as climate change, rising fuel prices, energy security and the Shetland economy.

“I would certainly hope that the ECU will be able to complete their work by the end of August.”

Kevin Learmonth, acting chairman of anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland, said they were concerned that the developer intended to discourage birds from breeding in the area during the construction phase.

“Technically that is within the law, but in practice what will happen is birds will be forced to go to less favourable breeding areas and there will be less breeding success so ultimately there will be fewer birds,” he said.

SNH renewable energy casework advisor Nina Turner said they had sought further information to clarify the impact the 127 turbines would have on whimbrel.

“It is the overall level of impact that causes us concern and we are looking for clarity on the figures that Viking have provided,” she said.

Local girl could be Next big thing

Freda NicolsonLOCAL girl Freda Nicolson is very close to achieving success in a national modelling competition run by retail giants Next.

Having made it into the top 500 out of 15,000 female and male entrants, she is in with a real chance of making it to the top 250.

With 11 days left until voting closes, the race is on to secure Freda a place in the next round and the opportunity to meet leading experts in the modelling world.

Originally from Burra Isle where she was born Freda Inkster, she now works for the NHS as a physical activity advisor in Aberdeen, where she lives with partner Joe and son Finley.

Her modelling took off by chance when she was invited to help a designer who was altering a bridesmaid dress.

Since then she has completed several modelling assignments and will feature in this month’s edition of the Scottish Weddings magazine.

“I was initially unsure about entering the Next model competition but after a little deliberation decided to beat the nerves and go for it,” she said.

“I've enjoyed my initial modelling experience more than I thought I would and this competition presents an excellent opportunity to extend this.

“I started at 14,000 and am now in the top 500. This is an amazing level of support for which I am incredibly grateful.”

The format of the competition means that publicity is almost as important as a good photo for the first round, and so the more votes Freda can secure the better.

To vote for Freda, click the link at http://www.next.co.uk/model-competition-2011/vote-for-me-idqnkg9ge3/

Dutch gales scupper yacht visit

LERWICK Port Authority said that they are still upbeat about the busiest week of the yachting season, despite the disappointment that 39 yachts participating in the Dutch North Sea Triangle Challenge had cancelled.

The yachts were due to arrive in Lerwick harbour from Tuesday this week, but due to gale force winds near the Dutch coast at the weekend, the start of the race had to be postponed by 48 hours and Lerwick was chopped off the itinerary.

Port chief executive Sandra Laurenson said everybody was now looking forward to welcome almost 50 yachts that take part in the annual Bergen – Shetland race.

Now in its 25th year, the yachts will leave Bergen on Wednesday evening and the first are expected to reach Shetland by Thursday night. After a weekend in the isles, they will race back to Bergen leaving Lerwick on Sunday morning at 11am.

That race will also include 15 European yachts – among them Vandal, skippered by Lerwick businessman Leslie Irvine – competing in the biennial 1,000 mile doublehanded race which sails from Scheveningen, in Holland, to Bergen and then on to Lerwick.

Ms Laurenson said: “It is disappointing the North Sea Triangle Challenge hasn’t been able to come to Shetland this year, and we are looking forward to welcoming them back to Lerwick.

“We had to cancel the event that had been organised for Wednesday and Thursday for them, but nevertheless, as of Thursday evening we have got the annual Bergen to Shetland race combined with the 1,000 miles, and I am sure that that will be a big weekend.”

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the race, organisers have laid on a prize giving event and a book launch at Lerwick Boating Club.

Quiet Waters to be brought ashore

The Quiet Water at Atla Holm over the weekend - Photo: Shetland NewsTHE SHETLAND whitefish trawler Quiet Waters which ran aground near Hamnavoe village in early May is being taken ashore for recycling and disposal.

Concern had been raised by the community and the salmon farming industry that the vessel was breaking up and could create a hazard.

Following some rough weather last month the vessel, high and dry on Atla Holm, started disintegrating with debris floating in the vicinity.

Quiet Waters ran aground in the early hours of 8 May when it was heading for Scalloway harbour. Six fishermen were airlifted to safety.

On Monday, Lerwick based marine engineering company Ocean Kinetics confirmed that they had been given the contract to dismantle the 22 metre wooden vessel.

The company’s managing director John Henderson said that the plan was to cut the vessel into pieces and then bring them ashore to Blacksness Pier, in Scalloway, for further work.

“We are cutting the vessel down into four pieces at the moment, and then we will hopefully be able to hire the dredger that works in Scalloway harbour at the moment, to drag it of the rocks and lift the pieces onto the barge and take it to the pier in Scalloway,” Mr Henderson said.

“We will then break her up, put the scrap metal for recycling, put the wood for burning, and take what is left over for landfill.”

Viking Energy ask for more cash

WIND farm developer Viking Energy Limited has asked the Shetland Charitable Trust for a further £420,000 to bring their hugely controversial project to the planning stage.

Trustees will on Thursday discuss the funding request from the trust-owned company, after hearing that developing the project had taken three years longer than originally anticipated.

Anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland urged trustees not to release any further cash as islanders had already “clearly stated” that they did not want the large wind farm.

In September 2007, SCT bought a 90 per cent share in the Viking Energy Limited (VEL) from Shetland islands Council and agreed to set up a £3 million investment budget.

VEL and Scottish and Southern Energy are equal partners in the Viking Energy Partnership (VEP), the company behind the plans to build a massive 127 turbine wind farm on moorland in the north and central mainland of Shetland.

A revised planning application under Section 36 of the Electricity Act was submitted to Scottish ministers at end of last year.

Scottish Natural Heritage is the only statutory consultee objecting to the project on grounds of ornithology and visual impact. The government’s energy consents unit has also receive more than 2,700 objections from islanders and 1,100 letters of support for the wind farm

The project could earn as much as £23 million per annum for the charitable trust, Viking Energy has calculated.

In his report, the trust’s financial controller Jeff Goddard said of the £3 million set aside in September 2007, £2 million is being used to meet half the cost of operating Viking Energy Partnership until 31 March 2012.

A further £1.4 million had been used on wages and other internal costs at the Viking office in Lerwick up until the end of March 2011.

He then goes on to propose a £200,000 budget for VEL for the current financial year plus a further £200,000 as contingency, making a total of £3.8 million of funding. With its 90 per cent share in VEL, the charitable trust will have to provide a total £3.42 million.

Mr Goddard said that VEL were hopeful that a determination of the project by Scottish ministers would be achieved this year.

He added: “The project has spent much longer than originally anticipated in the planning consent process and it is now likely to be 2012 before trustees will have enough information to be able to decide whether or not to proceed to construct and operate the wind farm.

“The additional time and effort has mainly been required to react to the significant concerns raised following the original consent application in 2009.”

Kevin Learmonth, acting chairman of Sustainable Shetland, said on Monday night: “Trustees should not release a penny more for Viking. The people of Shetland clearly don’t want it, as evidenced by the responses to the energy consents unit.

“Viking Energy have been unable to deliver their project on time and on budget. At every single step of this project, they have grossly underestimated the cost and time it will take to get there.”

Thousands enjoy midsummer carnival

The midsummer extravaganza raises thousands of pounds every year - all photos: Billy FoxTHOUSANDS of midsummer carnival revellers enjoyed themselves on a balmy night as a procession of 27 entries made its way from Lower Hillhead to Victoria Pier, on Saturday.

Now in its 5th year, the carnival has become a regular event in Shetland’s busy calendar of summer festivals.

Every year, the extravaganza raises more than £4,000 for the Callum Younger Reach Fund, a charity founded by father Malcolm Younger in memory of his late son who died from a heart condition in April 2005, aged 10.

The reach fund has been set up to offer financial support to help young people reach their potential.

Mr Younger said he wanted to thank all participants and everybody who came out to support the carnival and make it the success it is. “It made me proud and emotional at the same time,” he said.

The Mareel float was voted overall winner.

 

In brief for 19 June 2011

Medivac

THE SHETLAND based coastguard helicopter airlifted a sick oil worker from the drillship Stena Carron, 120 miles north of Shetland, on Saturday.

The incident was coordinated by Aberdeen Coastguard because the Stena Carron was outside UK territorial waters when calling for help.

The Search and Rescue 102 helicopter was tasked at 11.30 am and was back at its Sumburgh base three hours later, from where the man was transferred to the Gilbert Bain Hospital, in Lerwick, by a waiting ambulance.

New carbon calculator

THE SCOTTISH government has issued a new carbon calculator for wind farm developers to help calculate more accurately the carbon savings from onshore wind farms.

Speaking at the industry’s onshore wind conference in Glasgow, on Friday, the new Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing said the new calculator would help developers to design schemes that minimises the losses of carbon from peat.

“Planning authorities, like all public bodies, have a duty to take account of the emission effects of their decision-making and they should encourage developers to use the carbon assessment tool for all wind farms on peat as a matter of good practice. That will be in the interests of a sustainable wind industry.

"I am also investigating the standards of visualisation used by developers in wind farm applications. The visual impact of wind farms is a key consideration planning and designing a wind farm and SNH guidance is expected to be followed in respect of landscape and visual impact analysis and wind farm design,” the minister said.

The carbon calculator can be viewed at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Business-Industry/Energy/Energy-sources/19185/17852-1/CSavings

WildWater salmon at Royal Highland Show

Local salmon producer Grieg Seafood Hjaltland will be attending the Royal Highland Show, in Edinburgh, with their multi award-winning range of WildWaters Smoked Salmon& Gravadlax varieties.

The company’s representatives will be part of the Tesco stand for three days, from Friday 24th June to Sunday 26th June.

Managing director Michael Stark said: “It is very exciting to be one of the few Scottish suppliers chosen by Tesco for this prestigious event and to work alongside Tesco on their stand at the show.”

Webcam puffin falls victim to predators

Screeshots from happier days - Images: Courtesy of Promote ShetlandSTAFF at RSPB Scotland have been trawling through CCTV footage in a bid to discover what has happened to the occupants of a puffin burrow on Shetland.

For several weeks, courtesy of a Promote Shetland webcam, hundreds of people have been following the antics of a breeding puffin pair at RSPB Sumburgh Head reserve.

However, when virtual visitors to the Date With Nature partnership project logged on to the feed on Thursday (16 June) neither the adult birds of their egg could be seen.Worried members of the public have since inundated the conservation charity with calls, fearing that the chick, which was due to hatch shortly, may have been predated.

The egg had been laid on 7 May and failed on day 40 of an average incubation time of between 39 and 43 days. In 2010 the egg was laid on 6 May last year and hatched on 15 June.

Newton Harper, RSPB Sumburgh Head assistant warden, said: “Sadly the burrow has failed this year. We’re not exactly sure why that is but these things do happen in nature.

“It may be that the chick ran out of energy when trying to hatch or it may have been predated upon, we cannot be certain as its difficult to see the footage clearly during the night.

“The good news is that we’ve already heard reports of puffin chicks elsewhere on the reserve. Our concern now is that these other young birds have access to enough food to allow them to fledge, but with reports of low sandeel stocks this will be no easy task for the seabirds on Shetland.”

Andy Steven of local tourism agency Promote Shetland added: "Unfortunately it's not a happy ending this year but this is the harsh reality of nature.

“Each year we all learn something new and this can only strengthen the relationship we have with the natural environment around us."

Puffincam can be viewed at www.shetland.org or at
www.rspb.org.uk/shetlandsummer

Team Shetland ready to go

SHETLAND’s team of 83 sportsmen and women are in the process of final preparations before setting off for this year’s NatWest Islands Games, held in the Isle of Wight between 25th June and 1st July.

The island off the south coast of England is set to welcome 3,500 competitors from 24 islands for one of the largest sporting events in the run up to the Olympic Games, next year.

The Shetland team plus their 12 officials will leave the isles on board a NorthLink passenger vessel on Thursday night. The team will stay at a caravan park at Cheverton near Sandown where most of the events will be taking place.

Shetland’s athletes will this year participate in ten sports: archery, athletics, badminton, cycling, golf, sailing, shooting, squash, swimming and table-tennis.

The first medals up for grabs are those for the half marathon on Sunday (26th June) when Karen Fraser and Charlotte Black start in the women’s half marathon, and Karl Simpson and Russell Gair in men’s.

Team manager Bob Kerr said preparation was going well and everybody in the team were keen to get going.

“The excitement is building across the team. We are looking forward to a week of exciting competitions and some medals across the range of sports,” he said.

‘Most unusual’ bikers’ rally under way

Bikers getting ready for the traditional tour of the islands - Photo: Hans J Marter, Shetland NewsWITH bikers arriving from all over the country, Shetland’s annual Simmer Dim motor biking rally seems to be as popular as ever.

And with the 30th anniversary of the UK’s most northerly bikers’ rally fast approaching, the atmosphere among the hundreds attending this year couldn’t be better.

After a damp start to celebrations on Thursday, the weather gods showed some mercy with the 300 or so camping on a field in the village of Vidlin.

The next morning, as many bikers were getting ready for the traditional cruise of the islands, the sun was doing its best to convince everybody that midsummer was indeed just round the corner.

Organising committee chairman Michael Leask, a veteran biker who has attended most Simmer Dim rallies including the first one in 1982, said the rally was now so popular that they had to turn people away since they had reach capacity.

“I think Shetland would be worse without it. It brings a lot of people from all over the world. It really is unique, has grown for 29 years and next year we are celebrating our 30th birthday. We certainly look forward to that,” he said.

In different circumstances, bikers would have been able to celebrate the big anniversary this year already but the 2001 festival had to be cancelled due to the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Scott Crearie and Robbie Webb, both from Edinburgh, are also regulars. They enjoy the unique party atmosphere with lots of daring games on Saturday, visits from the isles' Up Helly Aa squads during the weekend, and bands playing into the small hours.

Scott said: “We come here every year, because it is the most northern rally in the UK and it is certainly the most unusual.

“It is a five-day event and not just the usual weekend, because of the boat journey from Aberdeen, three days here, and then the boat back again. It seems to get busier and busier.

“I have been coming to this rally since 1985, with a few breaks in between. It will be its 30th year next year, so that should be quite a party – the 25th anniversary certainly was.”

Cannabis plantation woman remanded

A THIRTY one year old woman who was arrested following a drugs raid on her house in Brae was remanded in custody when she appeared in private before Lerwick Sheriff Court, on Friday.

Rachel Alice Holmes, of 9 Burgadale, made no plea or declaration. She was committed for further examination, and is expected to reappear before the court next week.

She had been arrested on Thursday after police discovered one of the islands’ largest ever cannabis plantations at her address.

Officers said that the plants seized had the potential to yield illegal drugs worth around £30,000 if sold on the street.

 

Lowest debt levels

PEOPLE living in Shetland have on average the lowest level of personal debts anywhere in the UK.

Research from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) shows that the organisation’s clients reported an average debt of £19,338 on credit cards, personal loans and other unsecured credit, while the figure for Shetland was £12,278.

Nine of the ten areas with the highest average debt are in London or the south east of England, while Scotland’s average debt was given as £17,069.

The Shetland office of the Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) managed more than £3.2 million worth of debts from 245 clients, during 2010/11.

The bureau’s manager Les Irving said on Thursday that this was less than the previous year, because the organisation had been short of staff.

He added: “The average debt was £13,251, compared to a total of £4,397,263 and an average of £16,286 for the previous year.

“The amount of debt owed per client has been going down over recent years, but this figure is based on the people we see rather than the population of Shetland.”

Debt expert Martyn Saville of the consumer right’s organisation Which? said: “The surprising thing about these new statistics isn't that the south east of England has the highest personal debt levels, but how uniform the broad debt levels are across the country.

“Once you factor in regional differences in salaries and house prices, as well as job insecurity and high food and fuel inflation, it's arguably those areas outside the south east that are at greatest risk from unmanageable debt.

“If you're struggling with your finances, it's best to seek independent advice sooner rather than later.”

MP inquiry visits northern isles next week

A GROUP of MPs will be visiting Shetland from Sunday to Tuesday as part of the House of Commons Scottish affairs select committee’s inquiry into the Crown Estate in Scotland.

The MPs will have a series of private meetings with individuals and organisations and also tour Lerwick harbour and the Shetland museum and archives.

MPs are scheduled to meet Shetland Marine Energy Group, Shetland Aquaculture, Lerwick Port Authority and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, on Monday.

On Tuesday they go to Shetland Amenity Trust, Shetland Arts, Promote Shetland, Shetland Islands Council's Telecom Project, Grieg Seafood Hjaltland UK Ltd, and the council’s development committee before leaving for Orkney and Caithness.

The committee’s chairman, Labour Glasgow south west MP Ian Davidson, said: "The majority of our meetings and visits will focus on aspects of the committee's inquiry into the Crown Estate in Scotland, particularly in examining how the Crown Estate can best act in the public interest and its relationship with local communities which are directly affected by the decisions it makes.

“It is vital that we meet individuals and organisations on the ground, to hear firsthand about their experiences.”

He added: "We are also taking the opportunity of the visit to incorporate strands of our inquiry on health and safety in Scotland.

“Again, we want to talk directly to people about the effectiveness of health and safety regulation in Scotland, for example what are the specific concerns of local businesses in sectors such as fishing, renewable energy and oil and gas.

"In addition, we will also seek information as to how employment and enterprise are being sustained in the present economic difficulties. In particular, we will want to clarify how helpful banks are being in supporting all their customers."

The other committee members are: Fiona Bruce MP (Con, Congleton), Mike Freer MP (Con, Finchley and Golders Green),  Cathy Jamieson MP (Lab/Co-op, Kilmarnock and Loudoun), Jim McGovern MP (Lab, Dundee West), David Mowat MP (Con, Warrington South), Fiona O'Donnell MP (Lab, East Lothian), Mr Alan Reid MP (LD, Argyll and Bute), Simon Reevell MP (Con, Dewsbury), Lindsay Roy MP (Lab, Glenrothes), and Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP (SNP, Banff and Buchan).

Woman in custody after cannabis plant seizure

A THIRTY one year old woman is in police custody this morning (Friday) following a drugs raid on a house in the Brae area, on Thursday.

Police officers, assisted by the Dogs Against Drugs charity, uncovered a cannabis plant cultivation and seized plants that had the potential to yield as much as £30,000 if sold on the street.

A report is being sent to the procurator fiscal.

North Ness move will force SIC jobs dispersal

SIC chief executive Alistair Buchan - Photo: Pete BevingtonSHETLAND Islands Council’s decision to move their corporate headquarters to Lerwick’s North Ness next year will force a major dispersal of local government jobs outside of the town, according to chief executive Alistair Buchan.

The new £6 million office block under construction beside the Mareel cinema and music venue is being rethought to accommodate far more people than the 140 education and social care staff it was originally designed for.

Employees currently scattered throughout Lerwick will be shifted to the new HQ, releasing a large number of valuable properties onto the market, including historic Hayfield House and Quendale House.

The money raised will help create new offices in rural Shetland to allow people living outside town to work closer to home, possibly alongside other public sector organisations.

Mr Buchan explained: “Since we agreed to reorganise the council it doesn’t make sense for departments to be working in isolation.

“We have yet to determine the exact allocation of office accommodation at North Ness, but there will be a presence there from several departments of the council.

“And by focussing our operation we will get rid of a lot of property scattered all over Lerwick. This will force job dispersal because we will be limiting the number of people we have at the centre and other people will be working from all over Shetland.”

Jobs dispersal has long been council policy and was a commitment from Mr Buchan when he took on the job of improving the SIC last year following criticism by local government watchdog The Accounts Commission.

He said councillors still had to debate the issue, but they were already looking at creating centres throughout the islands and surveying staff to find out where they live and how much work they could do outside Lerwick.

A “pragmatic approach” was needed, not an “artificial relocation”, such as the move of Scottish Natural Heritage headquarters to Inverness, he said, adding that he does not favour people working from home and councillors would still meet at Lerwick Town Hall.

As well as raising cash from the property sales, money will be saved from more efficient use of resources, with departments sharing facilities such as photocopying, clerical and IT support.

“We would achieve significant one off savings from the sale of buildings, which we would hope to use to support decentralising work and any adjustments to North Ness, but we would also hope to achieve significant ongoing revenue savings on things like heating and building maintenance.”

The North Ness complex is due for completion in March and will be rented to the council by the property arm of Shetland Charitable Trust, SLAP.

Meanwhile Mr Buchan said that he “entirely supported” a call from the council trade unions for a public debate on the future of the local authority as it imposes 20 per cent cuts on expenditure.

Council staff are worrying about their future when job losses amongst senior managers percolate down through the ranks, while community dissent is simmering over service cuts, notably in education.

On Tuesday Unison branch chairman Brian Smith called for a community-wide debate on spending priorities, warning the council was threatening to tip the economy into depression while wasting money on consultants.

Responding, the chief executive said councillors were already talking about going out to public consultation on next year’s budget, which is looking for cuts of up to £18 million on top of this year’s £9.5 million.

He acknowledged these were difficult times for council employees, but denied that money spent on consultants was wasted or that the council was cutting “too far, too fast”.

Mr Buchan said: “I believe we are working hard to maintain a good industrial relations climate within the SIC and we will continue to do so, however when you look at the scale of the budget deficit we are having to move fast.

“I didn’t come into this job to reduce services or to put people’s jobs at risk. Despite the way this is being portrayed, I am committed to doing this in as supportive and sensitive a way as possible.

Sensational week of music making

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra performing in the Usher Hall - Photo: Any BuchananTHE ROYAL Scottish National Orchestra is to visit Shetland in March next year as part of its Out and About initiative and its contribution to the Olympic celebration.

It is the first time since 1991 that local audiences will be able to enjoy the RSNO playing in the isles.

During its residence from 1 to 5 March 2012 the RSNO will play in the Clickimin Leisure Complex, the new music venue Mareel, as well as venues in Unst, Out Skerries, Fair Isle and Foula.

Their Mareel concert may even be the venue’s opening event, according to Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons.

Mr Gibbons said he was confident that Mareel would be open for business by March next year, although the arts agency has not yet been given a definite handover date for the £12.2 million building, which is still under construction

He said that due to “difficulties” with the glazing and timber contractors the handover date is not likely to be “in the later part of the year” and added that Shetland Arts was at present not confirming any booking before March 2012.

“We don’t really know, but at the moment we are working on the basis of March 2012,” he said.

He added: “The RSNO’s visit as part of Music Nation will coincide with the opening season of Mareel.

“The week of events will include collaborations and performances in venues including village halls, care homes, schools, Mareel and a full orchestral performance in the Clickimin Leisure Centre.”

Visits to communities throughout Shetland will involve a range of activities, from concerts and participative performances to community events and coaching opportunities.

The week will enable the Shetlanders to experience and interact with Scotland’s national symphony orchestra in their own community, the orchestra’s acting chief executive Kenneth Osborne said.

“The visit is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious projects of its kind that we have ever programmed, artistically and logistically.

“Plans are already well underway to deliver a sensational week of music-making that will involve communities throughout the Shetland Islands.

“I’m also particularly pleased that this project is playing such a prominent part in Music Nation, celebrating the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics. We look forward to holding aloft the cultural torch in the north!”

Full programme details of Out and About in Shetland will be released later in the year.

In brief for 16 June 2011

Man dies on North Sea platform

A THIRTY seven year old oil worker has died on the Brent Charlie oil installation, 116 miles northeast of Shetland, on Thursday morning.

The man was working from ropes on the oil installation when he fell to his death. The alarm was raised by colleagues.

A spokesperson for operator Shell said: “Shell U.K. Limited can confirm that a man rescued from the North Sea this morning after falling overboard from the Brent Charlie platform subsequently died on board the standby vessel Ocean Spey.”

A report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal in due course.

Conochies sold

News agent and stationary retailer Conochies, on Lerwick’s Commercial Street, has been sold.

On the retirement of previous owners Tom and Elaine Worthington, Livingston man Usman Mohammed took over the shop this week.

He said he would continue the business along the same lines as his predecessor, implementing just a few cosmetic changes to the layout.


Top fundraisers

THE SHETLAND organisers of the Relay for Life fundraising events for Cancer Research have been recognised nationally for their outstanding success.

Last year, the group raised an unprecedented £229,000 for the cancer charity, the most ever raised by a Relay for Life event.

The local group has now scooped the Cancer Research UK’s Fundraising in the Community accolade.

Chair of the local organising committee, Olive Macleod, said: “It’s a testament to the hard work of everyone involved in the Relay for Life, but it says just as much about all the people of Shetland.

“I live in such a generous and caring community and I’m just so proud of everything we’ve done together. I know the money raised will be spent wisely and will go straight to helping save more lives.”

COPE seeks new manager

SOCIAL enterprise company COPE Ltd has started the search for a new general manager after former police chief inspector Malcolm Bell, who had been appointed in April last year, decided to step down.

Mr Bell said: “This role was always intended to be an interim one and I believe the time is now right to commence the process to identify and recruit a permanent general manager.

“I have offered to continue working in my interim role, until an appointment is made, to ensure continuity and a smooth handover.”

New police chief pledges quality despite cuts

Shetland area commander chief inspector David Bushell with new Northern Constabulary chief constable George Graham - Photo: Hans J Marter, Shetland News NORTHERN Constabulary’s new chief constable George Graham assured islanders on Wednesday that the quality of policing across Shetland would not suffer despite tough financial times ahead.

Mr Graham was in Shetland on his first short visit to meet officers and to open the new police office at Sumburgh airport, after meeting councillors on Tuesday.

The chief constable, who succeeded Ian Latimer in April, said the force would continue targeting the drug trade, and fighting anti-social behaviour as well as alcohol misuse.

“Life is not going to be easy for any of us in the public sector over the next three, five or ten years. We know we have to do things more efficiently, save money but still provide services that people value,” he said.

“We spend around 87 per cent of our financial resources on our people, staff costs and wages. It will be my endeavour over the next few years to spend as much as we can on people, because it is people that deliver the services here.”

The 47 year old, who joined the Dumfries and Galloway force aged 19, said the police had a two pronged approach to tackling drug abuse with the aim of reducing demand.

He said education and prevention were just as important as enforcement to stem the tide of illegal drugs into rural Scotland.

Mr Graham said that police in Shetland have had outstanding success in controlling the drug trade into the isles, thanks to a combination of pro-active policing and intelligence gathering.

“I am not convinced that any associated increase in drug associated crime is tangible and real at the moment in Shetland,” he said.

Shetland area commander chief inspector David Bushell said: “We have had a big increase in seizures over the last 18 months, and a lot of that is thanks to the community intelligence coming in.

“What we find here in Shetland is that we have crime waves occurring. Some of that is connected to people with a drug habit, but a lot of the time we can be quite specific as it is committed by just one individual.”

Mr Graham added: “There is much criminality, if not more, connected with the abuse of alcohol and we need to bring that out in to the daylight as well. From domestic violence to drink driving, alcohol is related to so much misery. I would say tackling the misuse of alcohol is an equally important mission.”

Later on Wednesday, the chief constable officially opened the new police office at Sumburgh airport, replacing the Dunrossness police station that closed earlier this year.

Constable Stuart Millar will be on duty from the new office, which has a front counter, a back office as well as an interview room.

Police hope that moving the south mainland station to an office within the airport will increase the force’s visibility and act as a deterrent to people hoping to smuggle drugs into Shetland through the airport.

Chief inspector Bushell said: "The new office will also be used by other officers deployed to the airport or officers passing through the airport.

"This will give us an excellent opportunity to enhance security and safety at the airport and provide reassurance to those travelling through or working at the airport.

“The office however is not just for use by people at the airport, but residents in the Dunrossness area will be able to meet with PC Millar there if needed.

"We have seen a large quantity of drugs come into Shetland through the airport and this facility will enable us to operate even more effectively in tackling this."

Self immolator calls the fire brigade

A MAN who set out to end his life by burning himself alive in his Lerwick flat ended up calling the fire brigade last New Year’s Eve.

Forty year old Douglas Preacher, who admitted arson at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday, had drunk 12 cans of lager before spraying his bedroom at 4 Da Vadill with lighter fuel and setting it alight.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said: “The fire quickly took hold and unsurprisingly began to generate thick smoke that began to choke him to such an extent that he was unable to tolerate it and then decided against ending his life.”

Preacher called 999 and within seconds the police arrived with the fire brigade close behind, who discovered smoke billowing out of the roof of the flats.

Meanwhile several smoke alarms had gone off and the neighbours who were celebrating the arrival of the new year all had to immediately evacuate their homes.

Mr Mackenzie said that Preacher made no attempt to alert his neighbours, but simply waited in the stairwell for the emergency services to arrive, whereupon he admitted what he had done and why he had done it.

The fiscal added that the housing association flats were new and highly sought after. He said the damaged flat was out of commission for “an extended period of time” and cost almost £40,000 to repair.

Preacher now lives at 22 Ladies Drive, Lerwick, and must wait until 6 July before he is sentenced.

Sheriff Graeme Napier deferred the case for social work reports after hearing Preacher was on medication after being signed off work for depression.

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