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Business / Hoteliers and community groups maintain objections to Sella Ness camp

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

OBJECTORS to the Sella Ness accommodation camp have reaffirmed their opposition to the 426-bedroom facility as its planning appeal process continues.

Camp owner Malthus Uniteam launched an appeal last month after Shetland councillors rejected an application for further temporary planning permission through to 2026.

Their decision meant that the accommodation block, which was opened in the Sella Ness industrial estate in 2011 to house workers building the nearby Shetland Gas Plant, is due to close by the end of November 2020.

Members of Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee ruled in May that it was contrary to the islands’ Local Development Plan, while they believed that forecasted demand at the facility was “speculative”.

In papers lodged with the Scottish Government’s planning appeals division, objectors to the initial application have reaffirmed their disapproval of the camp.

Malthus Uniteam, however, continues to point to possible future demand from wind farm projects – as well as interest from the oil and gas sector – as to why the building should remain open until 2026.

An agent acting on behalf of the company said that while average annual occupancy in 2018 was 44 per cent (190 bedrooms), a contractor recently enquired about seeking accommodation for 130 workers from April 2020 to September 2023.

It added that the “facility is not in conflict with the surrounding land uses, nor do we consider it to be in conflict with the provisions of the development plan which position is supported by previous planning decisions of SIC”.

The reporter appointed to the appeal case, Karen Heywood, will be carrying out a site inspection on 17 October.

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

It has received strong opposition from accommodation providers not just in the north mainland but across Shetland, who feel it is damaging local business.

Shetland North Accommodation Providers (SNAP), which represents Brae Hotel, Busta House Hotel, Drumquin, Greystones, Moorfield Hotel, St Magnus Bay Hotel, Toog Properties and Valleyfield, said it wished to maintain its objection.

It said the continued use of the block in an industrial estate was “significantly contrary to the spatial strategy and policy of the adopted LDP [local development plan], is not based on sufficient demand/need to prevent significant impact on local businesses and the economy, and is generally the wrong use in the wrong location”.

“If this proposed development is granted a further planning permission until 2026 then it will likely result in the closure of permanent, high quality hotel provision that serves the tourism sector as well as worker accommodation, resulting in the loss of jobs and harming the long-term economy of the area,” the group added.

SNAP also referred to news that the proposed Viking Energy wind farm – as well as smaller ones in Yell and outside Lerwick – recently failed to win government support in the Contracts for Difference auction, casting doubt on their viability.

The accommodation providers also commissioned hotel development experts Avison Young to review and comment on a report previously provided by Biggar Economics on worker accommodation demand and supply to support Malthus Uniteam’s initial application.

Avison Young said it “questions the overall conclusions in the report for a number of reasons”, including current usage and future demand being based on “broad assumptions not supported by primary research”.

Managing director of Brudolff Hotels Group Robert Smith, whose company runs three hotels in Lerwick, said the purpose of the original temporary planning permission has now “passed”.

Northmavine Community Development Company, meanwhile, reiterated its opposition by pointing to the “failure of the applicant to provide any letters of support from their supposed future clients”, as well as that a new hotel in Lerwick has been given planning permission.

Northmaven Community Council also reaffirmed its backing to the councillors’ decision, adding that recent job cuts at Sullom Voe Terminal put doubt on projected worker demand.

General Election - 12 December 2019