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Business / Hotels could close if accommodation camp stays open, group claims

Sella Ness owner says the facility is ‘for the overall benefit of the Shetland economy’.

A GROUP of accommodation providers in the north of Shetland have teamed together to warn that “several” hotels are likely to close in the area if the Sella Ness workers’ camp is kept open until 2026.

Shetland North Accommodation Providers (SNAP) has called on Shetland Islands Council to “choose local jobs and local businesses” over extending the facility’s planning permission.

The group consists of Brae Hotel, Busta House Hotel, Drumquin, Greystones, Moorfield Hotel, St Magnus Bay Hotel, Toog Properties and Valleyfield.

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

Its managing director Ian Jamieson said that “continued choice and price competition will help ensure the location stays attractive for ongoing and future investment at Sullom Voe and Sella Ness, for the overall benefit of the Shetland economy”.

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.

After letters of objection were sent to council planners, SNAP has now issued a statement expressing its concern over the move.

The group said it provides more than 200 rooms in the north of Shetland and employees 150 people in total.

But the hotels and guest houses say their business has suffered since the Sella Ness camp came into play, and would be likely to take another hit.

It is not just accommodation providers in the north mainland which have been affected by the facility, though, with Scalloway Hotel and Brudolff Hotels – which owns three hotels in Lerwick – also objecting.

SNAP spokesperson and former hotelier Joe Rocks said this week: “The Sella Ness camp was approved in 2010 as a temporary facility for construction workers on the Shetland Gas Plant project. It was meant to be decommissioned in 2015 but this was given an unexpected planning extension to 2020.

“The construction workers have now left and this facility with 426 rooms is trying to stay open until at least 2026. There is no justification for such a facility – deemed as temporary – to stay open for 16 years.

“We are in 2018 and there is no evidence of any new long-term demand for itinerant workers that can’t be met by the permanent providers, so why is it being contemplated to allow Sella Ness to remain open?

“In the past temporary accommodation such as Safe Lancia and Bibby Progress followed a specific project need, and to keep such a facility open in anticipation of unconfirmed work to the detriment of existing local providers, is not good enough.

“At the very least there should be a full planning application subject to a full consultation rather than granting yet another extension which is very unusual and completely inappropriate.”

Rocks warned that extending the permission would “triple the accommodation available in the North Mainland…this will certainly force the closure of several of the hotels which will cause permanent jobs and community facilities to be lost”.

Scalloway Hotel director Caroline McKenzie, meanwhile, said in a letter of objection that the Sella Ness camp had been “poaching business outwith its remit”, such as offshore stopovers from Scatsta Airport.

She said the “impact of this has been nothing short of devastating”.

McKenzie added that “the hard truth is that, should planning consent be granted, and the Sella Ness facility be allowed to operate without restriction until 2026, it is entirely possible that there will be no hotels left for tourists to stay in”.

Malthus Uniteam boss Jamieson said in response: “Our position is not only that these proposals sit well with the local development plan, but that the continued choice and price competition will help ensure the location stays attractive for ongoing and future investment at Sullom Voe and Sella Ness, for the overall benefit of the Shetland economy.

“Sella Ness also feeds back value into the local economy through local employment and business rates, for example.

“We can understand the perspective of those who are concerned. That said, we feel that without the Sella Ness facility, as activity ramps up in the future around proposed wind farms and decommissioning, for example, there may be insufficient bed space available, which could have a negative effect on the tourism offer in Shetland generally, an industry sector in which growth is also being encouraged.”