Business / Moorfield Hotel to close with loss of nearly 50 jobs

Local councillor Emma Macdonald said it is “terrible news for the staff and whole of the North Mainland”

The Moorfield Hotel at the north entrance of Brae is set to close on 9 September.

THE MOORFIELD Hotel in Brae is to close in September with the loss of 45 jobs.

Its owners BDL Shetland confirmed the news today (23 June).

It said it was “completely unviable” to keep the hotel open after Shetland Gas Plant operators Total decided to move its workers to the 426-room Sella Ness accommodation camp.

The hotel is due to close on 9 September.

North mainland councillor Emma Macdonald. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

North mainland councillor Emma Macdonald said it was “terrible for the staff and the whole of the North Mainland”.

“It wasn’t just a hotel,” she added. “It was also a place well used by locals for excellent meals with fantastic service. It’s a really difficult time for a lot of people just now and this will hit the community hard.”

The news comes just days after the last flights left the nearby Scatsta Airport as it prepares to close.

BDL Shetland’s Stuart McCaffer said the company will “look at alternative uses for the building and would be interested in speaking to anyone with ideas. Ideally there would be some use for the building which could re-employ some of the current hotel team and serve the community.”

He added: “This is devastating news for the fantastic team who have been the heartbeat of the hotel, serving guests, supporting local businesses, and participating in many community and charitable projects since the hotel opened in 2013.

“The hotel’s core function was to provide accommodation to the Shetland Gas Plant workers post construction and the team at the hotel have provided an excellent level of service, day in day out, whatever the circumstances.

“Sadly, Total has not renewed its contract with us, and we have still not been formally advised where the Shetland Gas Plant workers will be moving to.

“Given recent press reports quoting Total we believe that they will be moving to the Sella Ness temporary accommodation camp. Unfortunately, in these challenging economic times, there is virtually zero alternative business to fill the 100 bedrooms at The Moorfield Hotel and remaining open has become completely unviable.”

McCaffer said “our hearts go out to the 45 people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own”.

“They are the ones that have been most harshly impacted by the extension of planning for Sella Ness temporary accommodation camp and Total’s decision to reduce their costs by downgrading from hotel to camp accommodation,” he said.

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

McCaffer said he felt it was “only a matter of time” before Total moved out of the hotel when the owner of the Sella Ness camp successfully appealed a refusal of planning extension, allowing it to stay open through to 2026.

The hotelier added: “Quite simply, we would not have made our investment in building the high-quality permanent hotel in Brae if we had known that the temporary accommodation camp would be allowed to remain.”

He said that BDL remains “incredulous at the Scottish Government reporter’s decision to overturn the local authority decision” to reject the planning extension.

“Since the Scottish Government reporter’s decision in January 2020, we have met with Beatrice Wishart, MSP who has been supportive of our position,” the hotelier added.

“We have written several times to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, but her office has never replied. Beatrice Wishart did secure a reply from Fergus Ewing, Tourism Minister, but constructive help was not forthcoming. We have been in communication with Shetland Islands Council but there has been a lack of engagement.”

McCaffer said the company will continue its legal action against the decision in the Court of Session despite the announcement.

“This may prove too late to save the Moorfield Hotel but if successful in getting the Sella Ness temporary accommodation camp closed and dismantled it may save the few remaining permanently established hotel businesses in the North Mainland of Shetland for the benefit of local communities,” he added.

McCaffer continued: “A large facility such as The Moorfield Hotel is not viable without some form of long-term base business. We have been trying to secure alternative business, but we have been unsuccessful.

“Given the position we now find ourselves in, we have with heavy hearts concluded that The Moorfield Hotel has no option but to close permanently. This is a very sad day for us, our staff and for the local community. We believe that it should not have come to this, and that serious questions need to be asked about how this situation has arisen.”

In June a spokesperson for oil and gas company Total said: “From August, workers at the Shetland Gas Plant who require accommodation when working on the island will stay at the Sella Ness facility rather than the Moorfield Hotel.

“A five year contract for accommodation at Sella Ness has been agreed that will allow for a significant reduction in the cost of worker accommodation, whilst also providing the level of comfort our workforce expects.

“Total remains strongly committed to the West of Shetland and its operations at the Shetland Gas Plant.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021