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Community / Plans for new Fair Isle bird observatory stall after building work proves too costly

A new building will now not be ready before at least 2023

Original plans for the new building. Image: ICA

THERE ARE question marks over the rebuild of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory after a tender for the work proved too expensive – resulting in those leading the project to rethink their plans.

An enhanced building, costed at £7.4 million, has already secured planning permission after the former observatory was destroyed by fire nearly two years ago.

But Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust chairman Douglas Barr said the charity is now looking at other options after a contractor priced the work well above the project’s budget.

“It means therefore at present we will not be reopening in 2021 or 2022 and will aim for doing so in 2023,” he said in an update to local residents at the end of January.

The news comes as David and Susannah Parnaby, the couple who run the observatory, revealed on Tuesday that they were being made redundant, which has disappointed the local community.

Barr revealed that the trust is now looking at whether other methods of building will allow the charity to meet its budget.

The team had decided on a panellised system, but it is now reviewing whether a “modular and perhaps a different model altogether of a building” is a better idea.

Barr said in his update to local residents that this process has started, but may take a number of months to complete.

He added that after the new build secured planning permission last year, the trust put the project out to tender to a shortlist of three companies.

This included DITT, Orkney Builders and Aberdeen’s CHAP, which completed Fair Isle’s electricity project.

He said building on Fair Isle is challenging enough, but the “Covid pandemic and Brexit have simply compounded matters”.

“Ultimately only CHAPS [sic] submitted at tender, which was significantly above our budget,” Barr said.

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“Subsequent discussions with them were unable to reduce the price and so we won’t be proceeding further with their tender.

“This means unfortunately we have been unable to secure at present a builder for Obs 5.”

Barr, however, said that “we are not in any doubt that we will succeed” in delivering a new observatory.

The team want to enhance the ornithological work and guest house experience in the new building.

Barr added that “each and every step of our processes are evaluated through a set of matrices to ensure we obtain transparency, best value for money and compliance with any criteria of potential funders”.

The other element in the mix is that the trust has been fundraising to plug a £650,000 shortfall in funding for the new building.

Over £543,000 has already been raised.

There have been four versions of the bird observatory on Fair Isle since the 1940s.

The last one, which burned down, was built in 2010.

It is a vital part of the remote island’s community, providing guest house beds as well as employment – both permanent and seasonal.

Several directors of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust were contacted for comment over recent days but did not respond in time for publication.

It is, however, understood that they will soon make a public statement with regards to the employment situation of Parnaby family.

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