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SLAP defends its stance in HNP dispute

HNP Engineering's premises. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetnews

SHETLAND Charitable Trust’s property company SLAP says its offer to assist HNP Engineers to find new premises remains on the table.

SLAP is in the process of removing the long-standing engineering business from its current premises at Lerwick’s Commercial Road – a decision that has infuriated HNP boss Ian Walterson and prompted a petition in protest which has garnered over 1,000 signatures in the past three days.

On Monday, SLAP issued a statement referring to what it described as “mistaken claims” that its actions had placed HNP’s future in jeopardy. It leaves the situation at an impasse, with Walterson saying none of the alternatives put forward are “suitable, available or affordable”.

Chester-based property developer Cityheart is understood to have submitted the successful bid to acquire the site.

Subject to planning permission being granted, Cityheart is hoping to build a new halls of residence for college students in the islands. The company has not responded to requests for comment from Shetland News.

The decision has left Walterson irate, accusing SLAP’s directors of discriminating against his company – whose workshop stands on the site – and described its approach as “cold, calculated and aggressive”.

SLAP chairwoman Susan Groat said: “Since SLAP issued notice to HNP of the termination of their lease, SLAP together with the David Adamson Group has spent a number of months trying to assist Ian Walterson with relocating his business.

“We put forward five sites initially plus a further site recently for him to consider. Two of those sites were bespoke. Unfortunately Mr Walterson chose not to investigate any of them, saying that he ‘didn’t want to move’ and that he had been looking for a site for 19 years.

“Our offer of assistance to Mr Walterson to relocate to suitable premises still stands.”

Walterson says he is considering various options to prevent the sale going through, which he fears would mean closing down a business employing 16 people and with a turnover of up to £2 million a year.

He says none of the alternatives suggested by SLAP were “suitable, available or affordable”.

HNP boss Ian Walterson is furious with SLAP for its "cold, calculated and aggressive" behaviour. Photo: Shetnews/Hans J. Marter

Many of the petition signatories say that SLAP should have treated the long-running HNP business better, and that an alternative site for the 80-bed student accommodation block could easily have been found.

Groat insisted that, as the board of a private limited company, SLAP directors are responsible under company law for the proper corporate governance of the company and that merely selling an asset for a “reasonable offer” would not adhere to this.

She said: “This site is a complex site to value and therefore there is no, single valuation – it depends on what the potential purchaser is going to use the building for.

“The board made a robust, informed decision based on the facts at the time, which are not for public disclosure, as with any other private limited company.”“A number of offers were on the table at the closing date. The board considered those offers and sought clarity on some points before making a final decision and informing the bidders of the outcome.

The statement added that SLAP would be making “no further comment” on the issue.

SLAP gift-aids its profits to the charitable trust and says it has transferred around £7 million to the trust “for the benefit of the many, many people in the islands”.

Three years ago SLAP became a private limited company with directors who are independent from the trust in order to comply with charity regulations.

Its directors are Groat, former councillor Bill Manson and local property surveyor Michael Thomson, and the board makes regular reports to trustees of the charitable trust.