Council / Church hopes to progress with science block proposal after government planning decision

While the council ‘carefully considers’ the findings one elected member calls it a ‘humiliation’

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

THE LOCAL New Life church says it hopes it can now move forward with the asset transfer of the science block at the former Anderson High School in Lerwick after the Scottish Government ruled it did not need planning permission to change its use.

Meanwhile chair of Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) planning committee Robbie McGregor said the local authority is “carefully considering” the government reporter’s findings and their “implications”.

But one councillor – Shetland North member Tom Morton – said it is a “mess and humiliation” for the SIC and called for an inquiry.

On Wednesday the Scottish Government’s planning appeals division ruled that New Life Shetland did not actually need planning permission to change the use of the building.

It came after planning consent was requested by the church, and subsequently rejected last year by the SIC’s planning committee primarily over traffic management worries.

The rejection was then appealed to the government by New Life Shetland.


But planning appeals reporter Chris Norman said in his findings that there was no appeal to be considered because permission was not needed in the first place.

He said this was the case because “provision of education and a use for, or in connection with, the purposes of public worship or religious instruction, or the social or recreational activities of a religious body” both fall within class 10 ‘non-residential institutions’.

The building is currently designated for class 10.

Norman also disagreed with a view from the council that the building – which has not been used since the new Anderson opened in 2017 – was “abandoned” in planning terms.

In appeal documents New Life said it had advice that it did not need to apply for change of use permission, but did so to “conform to the wishes and view of the council and its officers with whom they wished to co-operate”.

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The SIC said in response that “planning officers confirmed to the appellant during pre-application discussions that, in their opinion, the previous Class 10 use of the building was, in planning terms, ‘abandoned’ following the closure of the High School in October 2017, hence the need for a formal planning application to regularise matters”.

The SIC had already previously granted New Life Shetland’s asset transfer request.

The Christian church, which currently meets at Sandveien in Lerwick, intended to turn the building into a place of worship as well as a community hub with café facilities, counselling rooms and soft play for children.

Speaking after the decision, New Life Shetland pastor John Rollo said: “We welcome the decision of the Scottish Government regarding our planning appeal and respect that the Shetland Islands Council (SIC) has the community’s best interests at heart in all decisions.


“At New Life Shetland Church, we share the goal of fostering the wellbeing of the Shetland community. We are grateful for the opportunity to have addressed traffic management concerns.

“It is our hope that we can now move forward with the asset transfer and work together with the SIC and the community to see the plans become a reality and serve the people of Shetland.”

Shetland North councillor Morton has not been shy in voicing his concern at the way the issue has been handled.

He said the “cost of this shambles to the council will be considerable, and the possibility of further legal action against the SIC may have to be faced”.

“The church presumably applied for planning permission having been advised by the SIC planning department they had to do so,” Morton said.

“Planning officials subsequently advised approval, but councillors on the planning committee decided to refuse permission on the grounds of inadequate parking while frenzied, very public if isolated moral opposition clouded the issue.


“And our legal department should have surely been able to identify what the reporter did – that planning permission wasn’t required in the first place.”

The entire former Anderson High School site is due to be redeveloped – with the science block just one of a handful of buildings set to be retained.

Meanwhile it is the fourth time in as many years that the Scottish Government’s planning appeal’s division has gone against the view of the SIC.

In 2019 elected members refused an extension of temporary consent for the Sella Ness accommodation lodge, but it was overturned on appeal.

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

Earlier this year the government refused permission for a new house near the Clickimin Broch despite the planning committee going with officers’ advice to approve.

The government was notified of the committee’s decision in that case because of an objection from Historic Environment Scotland.

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