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Community / Council legal team not too happy with community garden extension

No permission had been sought from landowner SIC for the Park Lane garden extension

AN EXTENSION to the Park Lane Community Garden in Lerwick is under threat after landowner Shetland Islands Council (SIC) said there is no consent in place for the development.

One of the new areas of the Park Lane Community Garden in Lerwick.

The extension, on the north side of Pitt Lane, is the work of local resident Frank Johnson, who was a driving force behind the main Park Lane garden.

The SIC’s legal team has now given Johnson 30 days to “remove the raised flower beds, plants and all other items placed, laid, planted or installed by you (…) and to restore the relevant plot to its previous condition prior to your unauthorised garden development”.

Johnson acknowledges there was no formal permission in place to extend the garden, but he hopes to meet with the legal department and find some “common ground” on the matter.

The main Park Lane Community Garden, which started life around six years ago, has proved to be a popular sanctuary in the centre of Lerwick. It has the necessary permissions in place.

The council’s legal team made it clear that should Johnson not comply within 30 days the unauthorised garden extension would be removed by council workers at his cost.

The extended parts include a memorial marking the 75th anniversary of VJ Day and a heart-shaped garden area.

Johnson said the extension, on a piece of waste ground, took four and half months to make.

“I felt it was a very positive thing to do given the world changing events, and the constant barrage of media coverage on mostly Covid,” he said.

“I could see as I was tidying up the original garden that people were using the garden. People were saying how lovely it was to come to a place where they could see nature.”

He said the creation of the extension was “not a clandestine operation” – with no complaints coming while the work was being done.

“Suddenly one day I received a letter to say demolish in 30 days, or else we’ll demolish it for you and bill you for the privilege,” Johnson said.

The letter from the SIC said the local authority, as the “heritable proprietor, has not given and does not consent to your garden development” on the plot.

Frank Johnson.

No planning permission had been sought for the extension, and there is no public liability insurance cover.

But Johnson said the original garden has public insurance cover and he believes it could be extended.

He also posed a wider question over permissions for developing a social amenity on a piece of waste land.

“In terms of ownership, who does the ground belong to?” he said.

“Does it belong to the council or does it belong to the people of Shetland?”

Johnson added that the five-year tenancy on the original community garden – a rare area of its type near to Commercial Street – is “now up”.

“My fear is that there will be a second letter saying demolish the original garden, so that’s always hanging over us.”

Council convener Malcolm Bell, who is one of three councillors for the area, said in relation to the extension due process should be followed.

He agreed a next step would be for Johnson to speak with the legal team.

“What I would encourage him to do is make contact with the relevant department and see if he can find a way forward that’s acceptable to all,” Bell said on Monday.