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Council moves workers out of North Ness

Desks being moved out of the North Ness offices on Tuesday lunchtime. Photo: Andrew Gibson/Millgaet Media

STAFF based at Shetland Islands Council’s North Ness headquarters were swiftly moved out of the office block on Tuesday amid concerns about the building’s structure – a little over four years after it first opened.

The instruction to vacate the building came from Shetland Charitable Trust’s property company SLAP, which owns the property and leases it to the council.

Office workers from numerous local authority departments are housed in the £7.3 million building, which opened in April 2012, including the planning and finance departments.

SIC chief executive Mark Boden said SLAP had been “carrying out structural investigations” and said it needed the building to be emptied in order to put “temporary propping” in place while a permanent solution is found.

Council workers were told on Tuesday morning that the premises were to be vacated by the end of the day. Staff are being decanted to other buildings around Lerwick including Montfield, Train Shetland’s office and the nearby housing department office at 6 North Ness.

The extent of concern about the building’s structural integrity is unclear, with SLAP making no comment, and it is unclear how long it might be before staff can return.

The council moved its staff out on Tuesday after concerns came to light on Monday, chief executive Mark Boden said. Photo: Andrew Gibson/Millgaet Media

It has been suggested that the building may have subsided by as much as three or four inches, but Boden said that was a question for the owners.

“I honestly couldn’t say, because we didn’t do the investigations, we haven’t seen the reports,” he said. “What I do know is it’s not an emergency, there’s not a safety issue, we just need to empty the building so they can come in and do some work.”

Boden said he was “sure” the local authority would “go straight back in” once SLAP has carried out its temporary work.

In a statement issued at lunchtime on Tuesday, the SIC said it had been informed by SLAP that “structural work will have to be done within the building which will require vacant possession”.

 A SLAP spokesman said it had nothing to add to the council’s statement.

Council staff are being kept abreast of the situation and “further information will be passed on to them by their managers as plans progress”.

Existing telephone numbers will migrate with staff, and the public “will also be kept informed regarding the location of those face-to-face services provided within the building such as planning, the cashiers’ desk etc.”

Boden said: “It is unfortunate that we are having to disrupt the public services which operate out of 8 North Ness, but it is essential that work goes ahead to remedy any faults within the property.

“This will be disruptive and inconvenient for customers and staff alike. I know that everyone will be patient as colleagues work quickly and efficiently to minimise the impact.”

Vans at the entrance to the SIC's North Ness headquarters on Tuesday morning. Photo: Shetnews/Neil Riddell

Boden said it had been “a challenge” to relocate so many staff in one day, but the council had a “business continuity plan” for such occurrences.

“Colleagues and staff have been wonderful in dropping what they were doing and moving onto this task,” the chief executive said. “The process has gone extremely well.”

The council’s main reception has moved temporarily to 6 North Ness and other services “will be running electronically tomorrow form other places and then into normal offices over the next couple of days”, Boden added.

The three-storey, 3,000 square metre office block, commonly referred to as the White House, was built for SLAP by local construction firm Hunter & Morrisons. 

SLAP then leased the building to the SIC under a 30-year commercial agreement – enabling the local authority to bring over 200 staff from 11 departments under one roof.

Back in 2012, then council chief executive Alistair Buchan said the offices “present us with a huge opportunity to improve the way we work”.

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