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Council / Sella Ness camp could stay open for extra two years

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

SHETLAND Islands Council’s planning service is recommending that the Sella Ness accommodation camp stays open until 2022 to see if there is demand from proposed large projects like the Viking Energy wind farm.

That is four years less than the owners of the facility, which has temporary planning permission in place until November 2020, applied for.

Councillors on Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee will decide the fate of the building at a meeting on Monday.

Papers for the meeting recommend that councillors extend temporary planning permission to 2022 to evaluate whether accommodation is necessary for proposed large construction projects like the 103-turbine Viking wind farm.

The 426-bedroom facility opened in 2011 to serve workers constructing the nearby Shetland Gas Plant, but its owners point to possible renewable developments – as well as continuing oil and gas work – as reasons why demand for beds will be there in the coming years.

Planners admit that the camp is contrary to the Shetland Local Development Plan as it occupies land with development potential for industrial use and “potentially sterilises areas around it”.

It is also contrary to two other policies of the plan as it is residential accommodation.

But they say granting further temporary planning permission would not be “inconsistent with the approach that the council has taken before to support the delivery of major infrastructure and sustainable developments”.

Shetland North Accommodation Providers (SNAP), which represents over 200 guest rooms and more than 150 employees, has reiterated its call for Shetland Islands Council (SIC) to “choose local jobs and local businesses” over the temporary accommodation camp, while community councils also objected to the application.

SNAP warned that hotels or guest houses in the area may be forced out of business if the Sella Ness facility stays open.

It is not just local accommodation providers that have objected, though, with hotels across Shetland – including in Lerwick and Scalloway – expressing concern over Sella Ness’ impact on the sector.

The camp, built on land at the Sella Ness industrial estate owned by Shetland Islands Council, was first granted planning permission in 2010 before it was renewed for a further five years through to the end of November 2020.

Malthus Uniteam, which owns the building, wants the facility to stay open until at least 2026.

It says proposed wind projects in Shetland – like the consented Viking Energy, Mossy Hill and Beaw Field developments, as well as mooted Energy Isles farm in Yell – are expected to involve around 400 workers.

Malthus Uniteam adds that with forecasts for the nearby Sullom Voe Terminal, in addition to the possible renewable energy developments and short-term demand, there may be a need for accommodation for between 700 and 900 workers.

In its report to councillors, the planning service concluded that it “considers that the two periods of temporary use granted were for a specific purpose, and that the special circumstances that were prevalent at that time are similarly predicted, albeit with no degree of certainty, to exist in the near future due to the projects such as the Viking wind farm that are intended to take place”.

All of the proposed wind farm projects will only be able to go ahead if a subsea interconnector cable is laid between Shetland and the Scottish mainland to allow the export of energy to the national grid.

That is likely to get the go-ahead if the Viking Energy farm wins government subsidy later this year.

“A further period of two years from 2020 for the retention of the accommodation facility is therefore recommended in order to evaluate whether or not the accommodation is necessary for such predicted and proposed projects, and whether or not it can continue to be considered as a special circumstance,” planners said.