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Build houses instead, BP urged as hotel rejected

A NORTH Mainland councillor has reiterated calls for BP to build homes – which could later be reused as social housing – to accommodate Sullom Voe workers after Shetland Islands Council rejected plans for a fourth hotel in Brae.

The council’s planning department has thrown out an application lodged by Gove Developments, which had an occupancy agreement with BP for the 120-bed hotel, on the grounds that the site is zoned for housing.

The decision was taken under delegated authority on 21 October. Although Gove could appeal the decision, which would result in the application going before the planning board, BP now says it has decided “not to proceed with the hotel occupancy agreement at this time”.

It comes amid mounting uncertainty over BP’s wider plans, as the main operator of Sullom Voe, for the terminal.

Speculation is rife that its planned gas sweetening plant could be both delayed and scaled down in response to a sustained drop in global oil prices to below $50 a barrel.

Delting Community Council objected to the hotel development on the south side of Brae, which would have taken the number of hotels in the village to four.

The SIC planning department said any use other than housing for the site would “compromise the planning authority’s ability to provide adequate housing in this area in future and, as a result, set an undesirable precedent”.

Councillor Alastair Cooper has renewed his plea to BP to build homes which could be used longer term for social housing.

Shetland North member Alastair Cooper told BBC Radio Shetland that he had “never been attracted to the hotel concept anyway” – though he acknowledged the application’s rejection means “it’s X number of jobs that’s not going to come into the Delting area”.

“I think we have to work along with BP and find a solution which meets their needs and also will hopefully give enhancement to the community at some point in the future,” Cooper said.

He has “always advocated” building homes that “could be turned into local social housing stock in Shetland, but we’re not there yet and we’ll have to find a short term solution for BP to deal with the workforce while they are in this transient position”.

In addition to needing accommodation for construction workers, BP has recently moved terminal staff from normal Monday-Friday weeks to a two weeks on, three weeks off shift pattern.

BP has a floating accommodation block, Bibby Challenge, based in Scalloway which Cooper said he believed was currently “under-utilised”.

There is also the accommodation block at Sella Ness, being used to house construction workers for Total’s new Shetland Gas Plant, which will be vacated whenever that much-delayed project is complete.

Cooper said those were potential “short term options” for BP, but “I’m looking for housing stock to be built in the area and used ideally for families [in the future]”.

A BP spokesman said: “Given the current business conditions being faced by our industry [a $40-$50 a barrel oil price], we are reviewing our accommodation requirements for shift workers at SVT.

“As a result, the decision has been taken not to proceed with the hotel occupancy agreement at this time. We are now reviewing all of the available alternative accommodation options.

“We remain committed to having a rotational workforce comprising domiciled and non-domiciled employees at SVT, and to engaging with staff on alternative accommodation options as soon as possible.”

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