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Council / Church appeals ex-school building planning refusal

The science building at the old Anderson High School. Photo: Shetland News

LOCAL church New Life Shetland has now appealed a council decision last year to refuse planning permission for its proposed conversion of a former school building.

Pastor John Rollo said in appeal documents that the decision from Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) planning committee was “contrary to the clear advice of their planning and roads officers”.

The building in question is the former science block at the old Anderson High School in Lerwick, which New Life Shetland wishes to turn into its new premises.

The prospect of counselling to take place in the repurposed New Life building drew some fierce opposition from local equality campaigners. 

They handed out leaflets outside the council chamber prior to December’s planning committee meeting, but those concerns were not relevant for a planning application.

The whole of the vacant former Anderson High School site, which spans 6.2ha, is set to be redeveloped by the council in phases over a period of at least ten years, with between 120 and 140 new homes a key feature.

But in December the church proposal hit a roadblock when councillors expressed concern about the level of detail around traffic management and parking and turned down the planning application against the recommendation of officers.

There was also worry about the level of construction activity which would potentially be going on around the church building if it went ahead.

Christian church New Life Shetland has now taken the case to the Scottish Government’s planning appeals department in an attempt to overturn the decision.

Rollo said in an appeal statement that council roads officers were “satisfied, after careful work with the appellants, that the parking and travel proposals put forward in support of the application were satisfactory and met their requirements”.

“It is clear that the parking and traffic proposals have been carefully considered by the appropriate officers of the council and found to be satisfactory,” he continued.

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“The application was refused on traffic and parking grounds against the clear and confirmed advice of both the council planning and roads officers.”

Speaking to Shetland News, Rollo said the church had taken time to decide on its next steps.

“Our priority has always been creating a space that can serve the needs of our community,” he said.

“We were pleased that our proposals were recommended for approval by the planning department with the roads department even commending how we had worked through the process.

“The planning committee chose to reject those recommendations and we believe that their reasoning gives us legitimate grounds for appeal as we had clearly demonstrated that our plans were compatible with the site and worked within the development of the masterplan.”

A spokesperson for Shetland Islands Council said the local authority was unable to comment.

It is the third time in recent years that an SIC planning committee decision has been appealed – the first being in 2019 after elected members refused an extension of temporary consent for the Sella Ness accommodation lodge.

In late 2021 the developer of the Viking Energy wind farm also appealed a refusal of plans to re-site a consented concrete batching plant.

Both the Sella Ness and Viking Energy refusals were successfully overturned on appeal.

Shetland Islands Council already agreed to New Life Shetland’s community asset transfer of the old science block in Lerwick in 2021, but it needs change of use planning permission to go ahead.

The church plans to host a place of worship as well as “community hub” facilities like youth rooms and a cafe.

The planning decision had already been deferred due to concerns over parking provision at the redeveloped ex-school site, which Lerwick Community Council had objected to.

Members of the planning committee were told that the roads service had recommended temporary parking provision of at least 35 spaces in the area to reduce the risk of congestion. Permanent parking facilities would then need to be provided.

New Life Shetland currently meets at the Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre, but it is looking to expand.

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