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Business / Sella Ness camp owner responds to local concerns

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

THE SELLA Ness accommodation camp is “complementary in meeting the specific and significant accommodation challenges that exist in Shetland” rather than being in competition with local providers, according to the team behind the facility.

A representative said the “continued use of the accommodation facility at Sella Ness provides the most effective and suitable approach” to meeting the need for beds for people working in the oil and gas industry, as well as possible future wind energy projects.

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

However, it was met by strong objection from some sections of the Shetland community, including accommodation providers who felt the camp could put them out of business if it stayed open.

A representative for the camp, which opened in 2011 to serve workers constructing the nearby Shetland Gas Plant, has now written a letter in response to representations received against the planning application.

They downplay the issue of competition and argue that the “additional facilities and services” provided by local hotels and guesthouses – such as public bars and restaurants – provide a “good balance for the commercial offer” and unlike the private camp, are serving the community.

The letter adds that there would be “insufficient availability” to house workers locally during peak periods in the summer, and “any restrictions in the supply of accommodation will also place additional cost and burden on major construction projects that will be important for the Shetland economy”.

It continues to say there are “significant differences” in the position in the market of the camp and local providers, with “very different demand and aspirations between workers’ accommodation and accommodation suitable to attract tourists”.

The letter responds to the idea that floatels could be used instead of the camp, saying that they have “implications” on the towns or villages they are located in, and lead to greater transportation costs and emissions, as well as health and safety concerns.

It argues that additional travelling requirements, such as round trips from floatels in Lerwick to Sullom Voe Terminal, “will also impact on the personal health and wellbeing of the workers”.

The Shetland North Accommodation Providers group, which includes Brae Hotel, Busta House Hotel, Drumquin, and St Magnus Bay Hotel, had called on Shetland Islands Council to “choose local jobs and local businesses” over extending the facility’s planning permission.

It argued that there was “no justification” for the camp to be still open after the gas plant was built.

“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?” the group‘s spokesman and former hotelier Joe Rocks said.

Scalloway Hotel director Caroline McKenzie had also said in a letter of objection 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”.

According to the application, current demand at the Sella Ness facility includes around 120-140 workers employed by Sullom Voe Terminal operators EnQuest, and around 50-80 subcontractors at the terminal.

A further 100 gas plant workers are “currently accommodated elsewhere in the area and may require accommodation”, it said.

The application is expected to go before Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee in the near future.

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