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SIC staff could return to North Ness shortly

The SIC's North Ness headquarters.

IT IS hoped staff will be able to return to Shetland Islands Council’s HQ at the North Ness in the coming months after initial testing of the building’s structure was found to be “reassuring”.

Around 200 workers were suddenly evacuated from the £7.3 million building back in September 2016 – a little over four years after it first opened – amid worries about sagging in the floor of a building colloquially known as the White House.

Since then staff from departments including planning and finance have been relocated to various buildings around Lerwick after the council’s landlord, Shetland Charitable Trust’s property arm SLAP, instructed them to vacate.

The SIC has continued to pay rent of approaching £500,000 a year to SLAP while the building has sat vacant.

Several council members are known to be frustrated that legal wrangling prevents them from talking publicly about a drawn-out situation that could well extend beyond the 18-month mark.

Corporate services director Christine Ferguson told staff in an email last week that a load test – which involved using heavy volumes of water to evaluate the strength of the floors – “has now been completed and initial results have been reassuring with regard to the condition of the building”.

“This should mean that the extent of the works that will be required before we can move back into the building should not be as great as it might have been,” she wrote.

“Once we have a report with the detailed analysis of the outcome of the load test, we will be able to prepare detailed plains for the work that will be required and the likely timescale for returning the building to full use.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Shetland on Wednesday evening, Ferguson said her understanding was there is “no fundamental health and safety issue with the main structure’ of the building.

She said there would still need to be “significant amount of work” to do before staff could move back in, and it was “too early to say” who was legally responsible.

That will include some changes to partitions within the building and repair work.

Ferguson added that capital programme manager Robert Sinclair was talking to staff about “how we can make best use of the space when we do move back. This will incorporate any changes from lessons learned during the time we have been relocated”.

A few months after staff were evacuated, Ferguson confirmed publicly that there had been “deflection in some parts of the building”.

She insisted that, given that deflection was visible at the time the SIC was asked to vacate, she remained of the view that evacuating was “absolutely right to safeguard our staff and make sure their health, wellbeing, safety, welfare was put first”.

A spokesman for SLAP said it did not have any comment to make at this stage.