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HNP vows to fight SLAP eviction

HNP Engineers managing director Ian Walterson is heartened by the support he has received in the community as he prepares to battle the threat of eviction from the Commercial Road site he leases from SLAP. Photo Hans J Marter/Shetnews

A PETITION to stop property firm SLAP from forcing a well established Lerwick engineering business to abandon its premises has gained hundreds of signatures in the first 24 hours.

The petition comes as it emerged that SLAP, the property arm of Shetland Charitable Trust, has been trying to remove the existing tenants for the past 18 months.

HNP Engineers boss Ian Walterson has accused SLAP’s directors of discriminating against his company, which he believes put in the only “substantial offer” for the land on which his workshop stands on Commercial Road.

However sources close to SLAP insist that another higher offer had been made by the closing date on 25 September this year.

It is understood the successful bid from Chester-based property developers Cityheart is still subject to planning permission being granted.

In September Cityheart won a £44 million contract to build student residences across the region for the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Part of the deal included an 80 bed accommodation block for students at Shetland College and the NAFC Marine Centre, as well as staff working for Police Scotland and NHS Shetland.

The HNP Engineers building on Commercial Road which will be demolished if the sale goes through. Photo Chris Cope/Shetnews

The biggest stumbling block facing Cityheart in Shetland was a suitable place to build, but within days of winning the contract they had alighted upon the Commercial Road site that SLAP was on the verge of selling.

SLAP had purchased the site in question in 2004 with plans to sell it fairly quickly for redevelopment.

Those plans fell through, since when HNP has been leasing the site on a year on year basis.

Since last year SLAP has been working hard to gain vacant possession of the site for resale.

All the other smaller tenants have been persuaded to leave, including Lerwick Engineering Supplies and Services (LESS), which moved to new premises earlier this year.

With just HNP left, SLAP hired their agent Stephen Johnston of David Adamson and Partners to look for suitable alternative premises for them to move into.

Walterson turned down those suggestions, saying: “None of them were either suitable, available or affordable.”

Meanwhile HNP had hired their own valuation firm from the Scottish mainland to put a price on the Commercial Road site before putting in an offer for twice the value.

The proper advert for the Commercial Road site on SLAP's website, featuring the LESS building that has now been vacated.

Four days after the closing date, SLAP contacted Walterson and invited him to increase his offer, which he did.

However early in November SLAP told him that they could not come to a decision about the sale and needed more time.

It was not until 25 November, two months after the closing date, that SLAP chairwoman Susan Groat informed Walterson that his bid had been unsuccessful.

The former fishing skipper, who is now facing eviction from the building HNP has occupied for more than 40 years and which plays a major role in the local economy, is determined to fight the decision and has welcomed the support he has received.

“I am really, really pleased to see the petition and the number of people who have signed it. It’s really heartening to have such tremendous support from Shetland and beyond,” he said.

“We have been treated very unfairly, very badly and though Susan Groat denies they have been biased, to us it is quite clear they have been.

The 'brand values' SLAP espouses on their website.

“I don’t think SLAP have any good will. I think they are cold, calculated and aggressive in their approach.

“I have had three meetings and they have said in no uncertain terms that they wanted us to go and there were no other options.”

However sources close to the property firm said that had HNP put in the best offer for the site, they would have been “delighted” to accept it.

The source suggested that Cityheart’s offer did have a price that outstripped HNP’s by a significant amount, but it was more an “indication” than a formal offer.

They also said that Cityheart’s offer was dependent on planning permission being granted by Shetland Islands Council.

Attempts to contact Cityheart for comment were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile Walterson is considering various options for stopping the sale from going through, which he says will mean closing down his business which employs 16 people and has a turnover of up to £2 million a year.

The petition can be found here.