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News / SIC tenants forced to leave crumbling homes

The property in Pitt Lane with scaffolding erected four years ago to support a bulging gable end. Photo Shetnews

FOUR council tenants were given 24 hours to vacate their Lerwick homes this week after the property they lived in was condemned on Thursday.

The tenants in Pitt Lane were given advance warning late on Wednesday that they would be asked to leave their bedsit homes the following day after structural engineers sounded the alarm.

The two storey building is constructed from the same crumbling concrete blocks that forced the council to demolish a neighbouring building on Park Lane four years ago.

It has emerged the council knew the building’s safety was in question and had been monitoring it closely for the past five years, after plans to replace it with new flats had to be abandoned due to lack of money.

Shetland has been plagued by the consequences of builders constructing houses in the 1970s and ‘80s from concrete blocks manufactured by Amalgamated Quarry Services, who ran the Sullom Mine at the time.

The blocks, which were made from inferior products and contain particles of iron ore, have been crumbling in recent years as they aged.

Hundreds of private and public sector homes right across the islands have been affected, costing the owners huge sums of money to restore their properties.

Structural faults with the Pitt Lane building were evident years ago with a bulge in the gable end causing such concern that the council erected scaffolding to support it.

The scaffolding went up four years ago at the request of local firm Irvine Contractors who were working next door refurbishing the block of council flats in Park Lane.

Halfway through that job, the contract was halted when a structural engineer noticed the state of the blockwork.

As soon as the council realised the seriousness of the problem, they told the tenants they had to leave immediately and rehoused them in temporary accommodation. The building was subsequently demolished.

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In a repeat performance this week, the Pitt Lane tenants were moved into temporary homes across the town in Union Square and Burgh Road on Thursday, the same day the consultant engineers published their damning report.

Shetland Islands Council’s development director Neil Grant said the consultants’ report recommended the building be demolished “promptly” as there was “a risk of structural collapse”.

“When we get that kind of report it is our responsibility as a landlord to get people out as quickly as possible,” he said.

He said the building went up some time during the 1980s. It had been monitored for the past five years, but in the past few months the blocks had shown “significant deterioration”.

Once all the consents have been attained, including from Historic Scotland as the building is in the Lerwick Lanes conservation area, the council hopes to demolish the building this summer.

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