CONSTRUCTION firm T&N Joinery has applied for planning permission to convert the former Judane knitwear factory into a manufacturing plant and showroom, even though they do not own the building.
The company put in a bid for the controversial factory last April after it was put on the market by Judane directors Frank and Judith Miller, who then refused to sell.
The building had been empty since December 2008 after former tenant Chris Hodge moved out following the closure of his budget retail warehouse.
Since then Judane has been mired in a legal dispute with Shetland Islands Council over outstanding debts of £601,000 to Shetland Development Trust, and an action to sue the council for around £2.3 million for bad planning advice in 2005.
Last month the council agreed to settle for a payment of £190,000 if Judane dropped their case, though the agreement has yet to be signed and sealed.
Judane is not allowed to sell the building without the agreement of the council and the company’s other main creditor, the Royal Bank of Scotland.
T&N are keen to purchase Lerwick’s largest shed, at Gremista, to centralise their operations, which are currently spread out across the town between two workshops and a showroom.
The company employs around 45 people manufacturing kitchens, doors and windows and has moved into house construction recently. Earlier this month company boss Terry Hunter said that it would be “excellent” to centralise operations into a single building.
On Wednesday they submitted an application for the Judane building to the council’s planning department for a change of use from retail to general industry.
In their 11 page application the company say they want to turn the factory into a product and assembly plant, with 1,450 square metres for manufacturing doors, windows and kitchens; 345 square metres of storage space; 260 metres for offices; and 400 square metres for a retail showroom.
The move would secure the long term viability of the business and benefit the local economy, the company say.
If no one objects the planning department could approve the change of use within the next two months.
The application comes almost five years after businessman Chris Hodge was advised he did not need to get planning permission for a change of use from general industry to retail when he converted the factory into a budget warehouse in 2005.
Within days of finalising the purchase of the factory for £600,000, the planning department issued a notice telling him that planning permission was now required. The council then refused to grant it, but their decision was overturned on appeal in 2007.
However by this time the Judane directors refused to sell the building to Mr Hodge, who instead rented the premises for £5,000 a month. Eventually the retail warehouse closed in December 2008 and Mr Hodge was declared bankrupt last year.
His attempts to sue the council for £1 million faltered due to lack of funds, but he said that he now intends to apply for legal aid to take the council to court once again.
SIC legal chief Jan Riise said that the building can not be sold without the agreement of the council and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
“The council’s position is protected on all fronts and the mechanism for protecting us and the bank is to have a standard security. They can sell the building only if they have settled the debt with us,” he said.
Mr Hunter of T&N was unavailable for comment this week. Mr Miller refused to comment when contacted.