SHETLAND Charitable Trust has thrown its weight behind the decision to evict a Lerwick marine engineering business from the site it has occupied for more than 45 years.
HNP Engineers have aroused huge sympathy within Shetland for the way they have been treated by the trust’s property and trading arm SLAP, who sold the site on Lerwick’s Commercial Road to an English property developer to build a student accommodation block.
However following an informal trust meeting two weeks ago to discuss a briefing paper from SLAP chairwoman Susan Groat on the issue, the trust said on Thursday it had given its “full backing” to the controversial decision.
Groat attended a separate meeting last week where she faced further questions by a smaller group of trustees.
It is understood that several trustees are unhappy with the way the decision was taken to turn down an offer from HNP for the site in favour of a considerably higher offer from Chester-based Cityheart.
However trustees have been advised that unlike Shetland Islands Council, they are not a political organisation and must make decisions for the benefit of the charity.
SCT chairman Bobby Hunter explained: “SLAP is tasked by the trust to generate income and Susan and her fellow directors have proven very effective at this, returning more than £7 million in the last three years.
“Under company law, it would be an offence for the trust to interfere in the running of SLAP.
“However in line with best practice in corporate governance, the trust receives regular reports on its activities from the directors of the company, most recently on the sale of the site partly occupied by HNP (Lerwick) Engineers Ltd.
“The trust is satisfied that the directors of SLAP and trustees have acted entirely correctly in the handling of this matter.”
A petition calling on SLAP and the charitable trust to reverse the decision attracted almost 1,300 signatures, showing the level of public feeling on the issue.
Meanwhile 16 HNP employees face redundancy if the eviction goes ahead at a time when job vacancies are likely to be in demand as work on the new gas plant and refurbishment of the oil terminal at Sullom Voe tails off.
HNP managing director Ian Walterson, who says the matter is in the hands of his lawyers, said he was aware that some trustees were “unhappy” with the decision to evict.
“I think trustees have a duty to the public of Shetland they represent to stand up and say if they are not happy with anything their company is doing,” he said.
Walterson has been highly critical of SLAP, saying they have run a campaign to evict him from the central Lerwick site for many years and have acted in a less than open and transparent fashion.
However SLAP has insisted it has given the company every chance to purchase the site and bent over backwards to help it find alternative accommodation.
Walterson has said that none of the alternative sites were suitable and his engineering equipment could not be moved without causing damage, therefore forcing him to close the business if the eviction goes ahead.
“There is a very gloomy mood around here amongst our employees,” he said.
“This whole issue is hanging over our heads and we don’t know what the final outcome is going to be.”
Meanwhile, the three SLAP directors Susan Groat, Bill Manson and Michael Thompson have been responding in some detail to criticism relating to the sale of the HNP site. Their letter can be found here.