CONCERNS have been raised about the long term impact of plans to open the biggest hotel in Shetland to accommodate oil and gas workers in the township of Brae next year.
On Tuesday Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee gave permission to the UK’s largest hoteliers BDL Management to erect a 100 bedroom hotel for workers operating Total’s new £500 million gas plant at Sullom Voe.
No objections were submitted opposing the development, despite its proximity to the council housing estate known locally as Toytown, built to house workers constructing the Sullom Voe oil terminal in the 1970s.
Three decades ago the council built houses to accommodate oil terminal staff who gradually integrated into the community, boosting the local population and economy.
Local councillor Alastair Cooper said he was “very disappointed” that approach was not being taken this time around, and that Total’s staff would be staying as paying guests rather than becoming island residents.
“My concern is that Total’s workforce is not going to be committing to Shetland for at least five or six years.
“I would far rather they had been domiciled in Shetland so their families and their income remains on the island. I am very disappointed that’s not happening,” he said.
Some local hoteliers fear the long term impact on their businesses after the first five years during which BDL has promised to house predominantly oil workers.
Joe Rocks, who owns nearby Busta House Hotel, said that 60 per cent of his business came from commercial sources including the oil industry at Sullom Voe and therefore the majority of their trade was “under direct threat”.
He said he understood Total needed to be able to provide accommodation for its staff and that it would boost the local economy, but he was worried about the long term impact.
“In five or six years time there will be an additional 100 bedrooms looking for trade, therefore you will have increased competition and there may be winners and there may be losers,” he said.
Brae Hotel manager Tim Pilling, whose 35 bedrooms are full 50 weeks of the year with oil workers, welcomed the development as long as the building was in keeping with the area’s character.
“If anything it will bring more people into the area, bring better circulation of money into the economy and keep more people employed.”
However he suggested there would need to be some lateral thinking in the future, perhaps converting it into flats at some stage.
The new hotel will be 50 per cent bigger than the islands’ largest, Lerwick’s 65 bedroom Shetland Hotel, built during the early oil era.
As well as 100 bedrooms it will provide 100 parking spaces, a bar, restaurant, fitness suite and meeting rooms. BDL say it will create 30 full time equivalent jobs, with a further 10 part time housekeepers.
Lerwick North councillor Caroline Miller moved the plans at Tuesday’s planning meeting, saying she was surprised there had been no objections.
“It obviously means it’s been accepted by those in Brae. I think it will mean a lot of jobs and a lot more income coming into the area, and that’s what folk are looking for in Shetland just now,” she said.
BDL vice-chairman Stuart McCaffer said: “We aim to open the hotel mid-late summer 2013 and very much look forward to developing a hotel which is sympathetic to the local surrounds, providing local jobs and operating a hotel in this unique environment.”
The new hotel will not carry a company brand, such as Crowne Plaza, which is owned by BDL.
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