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Business / Sella Ness camp ‘damaging the local economy’

The owner of the accommodation block wants to keep the facility open until at least 2026.

The Sella Ness accommodation block.The Sella Ness accommodation camp.

AN APPLICATION to renew the planning permission for the Sella Ness workers’ camp has been met by strong objection from some sections of the community, including an accommodation provider and a local development company.

Brudolff Hotels Group, which runs three hotels in Lerwick, said in a letter to planners that keeping the facility open “would be to render a significant proportion of the accommodation sector in the North Mainland to closure”.

The Northmavine Community Development Company, meanwhile, wrote that the camp has “led to a major crisis in long-established local businesses” – adding that it sees “employment in Northmavine being seriously affected by the potential closure of the St Magnus Bay Hotel” in Hillswick.

Camp owner Malthus Uniteam recently applied to Shetland Islands Council to extend the planning permission for its 426-room workers’ accommodation near Sullom Voe Terminal until 2026.

Temporary permission is in place until 30 November 2020, but its owner wants to continue operations to cater for staff at the terminal and nearby Shetland Gas Plant – as well as possible future demand associated with construction projects like the Viking Energy wind farm.

The Sella Ness camp, which currently employs around 22 people and is now operated by international facilities management company Sodexo, was opened in 2011 to house workers building the nearby Shetland Gas Plant.

But the facility has been to the chagrin of North Mainland accommodation providers, who say the Sella Ness facility has taken business away from them.

Letters opposing the renewal of the planning permission have now been sent to the council’s planning staff.

Brudolff Hotels Group’s Robert Smith said Shetland’s accommodation sector did not oppose the initial application as it recognised the need to house gas plant workers.

“However, that project is long complete; there is no necessity for any temporary accommodation for that project. Indeed, there is a new 100 bedroomed hotel in Brae specifically for Total and their staff. That hotel did not exist in 2010 when the original application was made,” he said.

“This new application for extension of time is therefore completely flawed in its starting position.”

Smith added that the application pointing to possible future projects like wind farms creating demand is “no reason for an extension”, and he said that the local accommodation sector coped fine with the oil and gas workers before 2010.

Northmavine Community Development Company chairwoman Margaret Roberts said the group’s board is opposing the application.

She said the camp is now being used to “take away overnight stays which would have previously been the preserve of established local hotels and bed and breakfasts”.

“It is targeting and damaging the local economy,” Roberts said.

The group suggested that any future extra accommodation demand during peak periods could be served by “truly temporary” floating units, as it has been in the past.

Its letter also points to the Sella Ness camp being sited in an industrial estate “not zoned for accommodation”, and that the provision of takeaway food from the facility is “another source of damage to local businesses, and may contravene current licensing agreements”.

The Northmaven Community Council echoed the development company’s concerns with a similar letter.

The Hillswick Shop, meanwhile, also opposed the renewal and said that a reduction in workers staying at village’s hotel has “seriously affected the custom at the shop”.

“In addition, the closure of the hotel over the winter will have a devastating effect on the business we do with hotel management,” Hillswick Shop Ltd chairman John Alex Cromarty wrote.

The Sella Ness camp’s application for extension said that competition between the facility and accommodation providers in the North Mainland “is not a planning matter, but the continued choice and price competition will assist in ensuring that the location remains attractive for continued and future investment at Sullom Voe and Sella Ness to the benefit of the local economy”.

“All of these facilities, including the accommodation facility, feed value back into the local community through local employment and business rates,” it adds.

The application also says that “there can be conflicts in the peak season between the demand for tourist accommodation and for workers accommodation and where insufficient bed spaces are available this would have a negative effect on the tourism offer in Lerwick”.

Malthus Uniteam said that accommodation demand which could potentially be created by building proposed wind farms in Shetland – as well as the mooted space centre in Unst – could be served by the Sella Ness camp.

“In review, it is considered that the retention of the facility complies with the development plan and that there are wider economic benefits for the retention of the facility,” the company concluded in its application.