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Concern over Town Hall antennae plans

The Lerwick Town Hall flag on Monday. Photo: Shetland NewsThe Lerwick Town Hall clock tower. Photo: Shetland News

HISTORIC Environment Scotland has expressed concern over plans from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to install two antennas on the top of Lerwick Town Hall, saying they could have an impact on the building’s character.

The MoD has applied for planning permission to install two 30cm dishes on the A-listed building’s clock tower as part of its “hard to reach sites” project to connect sensitive locations to its main communications network.

In this instance RAF Saxa Vord in Unst requires a secure service from a data centre at Fort Charlotte, using the council-owned Town Hall as a “relay” site. Other relay sites could include BT radio stations.

The MoD wants to install two small circular dishes on the north and west sides of the clock tower. They would be mounted and therefore would be seen over the stonework.

The applicant said: “The antenna should be generally unobtrusive due to its location on the building.

“The antenna and mountings will be colour coded to ensure the building is preserved in accordance with its listing. This proposed development is not designed to support additional commercial antenna and is dedicated wholly to the MoD secure connectivity.”

Public body Historic Environment Scotland, however, has recommended that the MoD pursue alternative options due to the impact the dishes could have on the look of the Town Hall.

“Although the two proposed antennae are relatively small in comparison to the building they will be mounted on, the silhouetting effect of the dishes against the familiar castellated profile of the tower is likely to mean that they would have to have an appreciable impact on the character of Lerwick’s most prominently-sited historic building,” it wrote in response to the application.

“While we acknowledge the strategic and operational importance of this application, we recommend that alternative options are considered which might be provided through a different form of technology or alternative locations in the vicinity.

“If no alternative is available we recommend that its impact and technological alternatives are periodically reviewed and these antennae are removed when they become redundant.”

The organisation said that although planning authorities are expected to treat its comments as a material consideration in decision-making, as the plans “do not raise historic environment issues of national significance” it would not formally object to the application.

The MoD already has planning permission to install a dish on the side of the TA building at Fort Charlotte, which it owns, as part of the hard to reach sites programme.