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Council / Planning appeal turned down

The location of the proposed new house. © Google 2020

AN APPEAL against a decision to refuse planning permission in principle for a new house off the A970 near Girlsta has been turned down by councillors.

Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee met on Monday afternoon to discuss the application.

While there was some sympathy shown for the applicant, the committee agreed that the refusal of permission was in line with planning policy.

The application had initially been turned down by the planning service, with officers believing another house would be out of character for the area at the Laxfirth junction.

Councillors were shown a video of the site in question as a visit in person was ruled out in light of coronavirus restrictions.

The proposed house would sit adjacent to an existing home, while there is an abandoned house not too far away.

Planning officer Sheila Bernard told councillors that part of the reason behind the rejection was that the house would only adjoin one other domestic building.

The meeting was told that dwellings should be sited within or adjoining a group of at least two or more buildings of domestic scale.

The existing home, Rockhaven, was given planning permission in 1993 under an exception on the basis that it was on land belonging to an elderly member of a family who required assistance to manage the nearby farm.

The planning service’s original decision on the proposed new house also said that it would not “respect the character and local distinctiveness of its surroundings”.

It said the proposal was contrary to two policies in the Shetland local development plan.

Lerwick councillor Cecil Smith opened the debate by saying that in his mind there was some confusion over “how we get from one to two” and build a settlement while the planning policy is in place.

He also expressed concern that blocking the development would be contrary to the aim to encourage people to live and work in Shetland.

“This is going against that plan,” he said, adding that he had “real issues” with the planning refusal.

Smith later said he was not suggesting the committee should “bend the rules” and go against planning policy, but said there was a “message in there”.

Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall agreed, saying that a shortage of housing is something which is a key barrier to some people moving to the isles.

She also said she believed a house in the proposed location would not be intrusive.

Lyall, a vocal critic of the Viking Energy wind farm currently being constructed, added that there are other developments taking place in Shetland which do not fit in the characteristics of the islands.

Fellow central councillor Davie Sandison, however, said the committee was bound by existing planning policy – something elected members had put in place.

“It’s really, really impossible to operate as a planning committee unless we adhere to our own policy,” he warned.

Sandison, though, suggested members could look to review the policy in the future.

Lerwick member Malcolm Bell backed Sandison, saying the planning officers made the right decision in line with guidance.

“As the policy stands just now, this application doesn’t fit,” he said.

“I don’t think we can just willy nilly ignore policies we’ve set.”

A motion from Bell to upheld the planning officers’ decision was seconded by Shetland South member Robbie McGregor.