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Council / Hunter and Morrisons agree to further White House work

The council's headquarters at 8 North Ness. Photo: Shetland News

AS LIFE has returned to the ‘West Wing’ of Shetland’s own White House, the long running saga over the structural integrity of the council headquarters has entered another chapter.

Local building firm Hunter & Morrisons has now agreed to carry out remedial and reconfiguration work at 8 North Ness to allow the building to become fully occupied once again.

Around 200 Shetland Islands Council (SIC) staff were hurriedly evacuated from the building in September 2016 following fears for the building’s structural integrity.

The £7.3 million office block at 8 North Ness, built by Hunter & Morrisons for Shetland Leasing and Property Development Limited (SLAP) and leased from them by the council, was opened in 2012. Earlier this year, the SIC has taken ownership of the building after buying SLAP from the Shetland Charitable Trust.

Following the evacuation, which was initiated by Grangemouth based surveyors IKM, the blame as to who was at fault quickly fell on the local firm.

But in March this year the SIC started moving back into the building after almost two years of surveys and load tests showed that the floors of the building were stronger than required.

Ever since the evacuation Hunter & Morrisons has fought for its professional reputation, including being legally pursued for the cost of the load testing.

After months of negotiations with corporate director Christine Ferguson and head of the council’s capital programme Robert Sinclair, the building firm has now agreed to carry out alterations to the building, but also to repair the substantial damage that has been caused to the building’s east wing by the surveying and load testing work.

Originally designed to house around 140 social work staff, the SIC changed its mind half way through the construction period to make the building its new headquarters with a presence of several departments and 200 staff under one roof.

The design and reconfiguration work now under way is aimed at further increasing the number staff working at 8 North Ness.

When contacted by Shetland News this week, company director Ian Morrison said he couldn’t comment because the new contract also included a non-disclosure clause.

Prior to the gagging order Morrison had described their situation as being trapped “between a rock and a hard place”, knowing that the firm would be best suited to carrying out the work needed while feeling put under pressure through the threat of litigation.

Officially, the council is saying very little on the issue apart from the fact that work to reach an agreement is under way.

But it is known that due to a time bar in which to make a legal claim the SIC felt it had no choice but to lodge legal proceedings against Hunter & Morrisons at the Court of Session to protect its interest.

And there was no comment from councillors in response to a report presented to Wednesday morning’s policy and resources committee by corporate director Christine Ferguson in which she said that plans to reoccupy the building were complete.

“Substantial additional technical and legal resources have been required to safeguard the council’s interests,” she wrote.

“Work on the contractual issues and plans to return the building to full use are ongoing with revised layout for the reception area to improve services once the building has been returned to full use.”