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Council / Tour company appeals Eshaness steps planning decision

AN APPEAL has been lodged against the refusal of retrospective planning permission for a set of steps near the Eshaness Lighthouse which were installed last year to help tourists on bus tours.

Tour company Island Vista, which installed the concrete steps and metal handrail, said in its review application that it can address design issues raised by Shetland Islands Council planners, as well as carry out monthly checks in addition to undertaking any required maintenance.

The set of steps, located at a passing place near the Eshaness Lighthouse, was refused retrospective planning permission in August.

The steps in Eshaness after they were taped off to the public.

Officials ruled that the steps “serve to compromise the public’s health and safety” and do not respect the character of the surroundings.

The installation only features four steps and are sited on a small incline at a passing place near to the Eshaness Lighthouse, surrounded by land.

The council’s health and safety manager also said that there was a “significant risk” of people being injured by slipping, tripping or falling.

Local tour company Island Vista has now formally applied for a review of the decision.

The steps, which have been criticised by the Northmaven Community Council, were installed to give visitors arriving at Eshaness on tour buses easier access up and down the hill to see the landscape.

Island Vista’s Jolene Garriock said the company thought it had permission from the landowner, but it turned out the land was owned by the council.

She said in the company’s appeal application that after a meeting with the council it was advised to apply for retrospective planning permission.

After concerns were raised  through the planning process over health and safety, Island Vista “responded to each of these concerns and asked for further advice” – only to have its application refused.

“We realise that the steps in their current form are not compliant, however, looking at the concerns raised, it would not take much for the steps to be made compliant if we were only given the chance to do so,” Garriock said.

Setting out how the steps could be made more rule-abiding, Garriock said non-slip paint could be used to provide slip resistance.

She said high visibility or bright coloured strips could be added to make it clear where there are edges of steps.

It was also suggested that concrete could be used to ensure the handrails do not move, amid worries that they are “not suitably anchored to the ground or steps”.

More generally, Garriock said the tour guides could also add an additional disclaimer to health and safety instructions at Eshaness saying that steps and handrails are to be used at people’s own risk.

Referencing the issue over not respecting the character of the site, Garriock questioned why a passing place sign was acceptable and the steps were not.

The tour company said the steps were “essential for ensuring the safety of our guests as they return from their optional guide cliff top walk”.

Tourists have continued to use the handrail for assistance despite the steps being taped off by the council after the planning decision.

“Tourism is rapidly increasing at the moment, which overall is a good thing for Shetland, especially with the downturn in the oil and gas industry,” Garriock wrote.

“However, we are well aware that with more tourists comes more problems and we are looking for ways to mitigate that situation. Ensuring the safety of our guests will always be our number one concern.”

Garriock added that if Island Vista was to stop bus tours to the north mainland, there would be a detrimental effect on local businesses such as the Braewick Cafe, Tangwick Haa and St Magnus Bay Hotel.

The Tangwick Haa museum, located in Eshaness, said it was “very appreciative” of the custom brought by tours.

“While it is regrettable that Island Vista erected the steps without applying for planning permission we hope that an acceptable solution can be found to satisfy all parties – whether it be steps or some other method of improving access at the point in question,” museum trust convener Ruby Brown said in a statement to planning officials.

Garriock concluded the planning review submission by saying: “We hope that the council will be happy with our proposed amendments to the steps and that you will see fit to approve our application for planning permission.”