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Council / Eshaness steps saga comes to an end as councillors reject planning appeal

The controversial Eshaness steps with the lighthouse in the background. Photos: Shetland News

A SET of steps near the Eshaness Lighthouse which were installed last year to help people on bus tours are set to be removed after the tour company failed in its bid to overturn its refusal of planning permission.

Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee ruled on Monday to uphold officials’ initial decision and reject the appeal.

Jolene Garriock of tour company Island Vista, which installed the cement steps last year, said she was “obviously disappointed” with the decision from councillors.

“The steps will have to come out in their current format,” she confirmed – adding that the company is currently unsure over whether to submit a new application for different steps.

The steps and metal handrails, located at a passing place near to the lighthouse, were 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 council’s health and safety manager also said that there was a “significant risk” of people being injured by slipping, tripping or falling.

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

The steps were installed last year to give visitors with physical difficulties arriving at the beauty spot 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 managed by the council.

In light of health and safety concerns raised through the process, Island Vista said it “responded to each of these concerns and asked for further advice”.

When its application was refused, the company said it would address any design issues raised by the council.

The steps, meanwhile, drew criticism from the Northmaven Community Council, which said they “set an unacceptable precedent”.

It recommended that the steps should be removed and that “something more appropriate” is put in place in consultation with the community.

Garriock told councillors on the planning committee on Monday that in the last two seasons around 7,500 people would have used the steps.

She said without the steps the tour buses would have to park at the lighthouse car park, adding on extra time to an already short 30-minute visit and reducing the enjoyment for guests.

Garriock warned that the company could stop providing guided tours in the area in future years if the steps were removed, creating a “detrimental effect” on some businesses up north.

Tourists have been using the handrail even when the steps had been taped off by council officials, she said, showing that they are needed.

Garriock admitted that the steps were not compliant with regulations, but she said they were installed in good faith at the time.

She also conceded the mistake in the identity of the landowner was “just ignorance on our part”.

Answering a question from Shetland Central member Davie Sandison, Garriock said pursuing the application and not submitting a new one for modified steps was a “timing and a cost issue”.

Photo: Shetland News

She said the company had already taken advice from the SIC’s roads department on compliance with regulations, while it also sourced quotes for different handrails and looked into health and safety advice.

“As far as I’m aware, what we have suggested would meet the criteria,” Garriock said.

But when it came to debate among councillors, there was a clear siding with the recommendation of planning staff.

Lerwick member Malcolm Bell said he had “no doubt” the steps were installed with the best intention, but there remained issues over compliance, health and safety and the location.

“As a planning body, it really would be perverse for us in these circumstances to approve,” he said.

Fellow town councillor Cecil Smith said his “big concern” was the lack of consultation Island Vista had with the local community council.

South mainland member George Smith said he had a “lot of sympathy for Island Vista” – as well as those looking for further Shetland’s tourism industry – but he sided with Bell’s views.

“As things stand, I canna ignore the health and safety concerns that have been raised,” he said.

Sandison said that although it is “imperative that we support the local tourist industry and businesses in the area”, planning guidance should be adhered to.

Bell’s motion to reject the application was then seconded without opposition – meaning that the Eshaness steps are set to be removed.