THE WAR of words between Lerwick business HNP Engineers and the Shetland Charitable Trust has intensified after the marine engineering company made an official complaint to charity regulator OSCR.
At the end of last year HNP publicly voiced its unhappiness that the trust’s property development company SLAP was pursuing plans to evict the business from its Commercial Road site and sell it to Chester-based company Cityheart to build Shetland College UHI student accommodation.
HNP managing director Ian Walterson claimed the company, which has been a tenant of the site since the 1970s, would be forced to close if evicted, with the loss of 16 highly skilled jobs.
SLAP has since then countered those allegations, claiming that HNP had been notified of its intention to redevelop the site as early as 2009.
Last week, the three SLAP directors published a letter in the local media saying the company had “spent considerable time and effort trying to help HNP”, including offering several sites to relocate to, but these had all been declined by HNP.
SLAP, which is wholly owned by the trust, returns several million pounds into the coffers of the trust every year, funds that are used to support social care, sports, arts and heritage activities.
On Tuesday, HNP responded by saying that the company had not “been given a fair opportunity to purchase the site as a long term tenant”.
The company added: “In the circumstances we have instructed our solicitors to make a formal complaint to the office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) about the conduct of SCT/SLAP in this matter.”
A spokesman for OSCR confirmed that a complaint had been received and added that it would be considered “in line with our standard policy and procedure”.
Responding to the complaint, SCT chairman Bobby Hunter said the trust was content that it has acted in accordance with charity and company law.
“We will of course co-operate with OSCR should the regulator choose to carry out an investigation into this matter,” Hunter said.
SLAP chairwoman added: “We vigorously defend our letter issued last week and have nothing further to add to it.
“We are now concentrating on with the business and our task of earning money for Shetland Charitable Trust for the benefit of the whole community.”
But in a long statement, published by Shetland News as a letter here , Walterson said he had “serious concern” over the details presented to trustees.
The managing director said: “What is the point in the continued funding of the arts, heritage, leisure and many other life enhancing activities in the islands if there is a lack of employment for the people who live her?”
Walterson said HNP would have sought to negotiate the purchase of the site to avoid the current situation. But after HNP offered to purchase the site at more than twice the commercial value, SLAP’s chairwoman started negotiating the sale of the site to Cityheart Ltd.
He added: “SLAP states that various alternative sites are or have been available to HNP in the Lerwick area. However none of these sites are owned by SLAP and it is not for them to say they are available.
“Several are in close proximity to Shetland College UHI at Gremista and would be in an ideal location for student accommodation.
“SLAP also states that two local businesses have offered sites on which to build bespoke premises for HNP. HNP have never been contacted by any local businesses with regard to this.
“All we want to do is to continue to run a successful business, employ people, pass on skills to the next generation and provide an important service to people and other businesses as this company has done for almost half a century.”
Meanwhile it emerged that an attempt by Shetland MSP Tavish Scott to get all parties involved in the dispute around a table to find a solution to the deepening crisis has failed.