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Council / Councillors support demolition of historic Yell building over safety risk

However the government will make the final decision due to an objection from Historic Environment Scotland

Photo: SSD Group

COUNCILLORS have backed the demolition of a building in Yell dating back to the 1700s which is said to be a safety risk.

They went against planning officers’ recommendation to refuse the demolition of the C-listed Linkshouse in Mid Yell.

Convener Andrea Manson said it was “not so much if it falls down, it is a case of when it falls down”.

The matter went in front of Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee today (Wednesday).

However, as Historic Environment Scotland formally objected to the demolition proposal, Scottish ministers will be notified of the council’s decision.

The meeting was told that this means Scottish ministers have the final say.

Planning officers had recommended that the application for demolition be refused.

They felt that there was “insufficient justification” to support the complete demolition of the C-listed building, and that information provided does not demonstrate that every effort has been made to retain it.

During the planning process both Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (AHSS) objected to the demolition.

Yell Community Council said it was in support of demolition given the safety concern.

A report to councillors highlighted that Linkshouse is an “important early building, typical of Shetland” which “make a positive contribution to the architectural and historic resource of Yell and Shetland more generally”.

But application agent Stewart Douglas said structural reports and investigations “conclude demolition is the only viable option”.

There was a fire inside the building in the early 1990s, leaving the building with no roof, internal walls or floors. The windows and doors are also not present.

Last year concern was raised that that part of the front wall appeared to lean inwards more than it did previously.

Douglas previously said the applicant currently has no plans for future development on the site and the decision to demolish is based on safety grounds.

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Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, building owner Lindsay Laurenson said the public safety risk of Linkshouse “weighed heavily” on him.

He said the waterfront building sits next to a road which provides access to around 12 properties.

The owner noted that the condition of Linkshouse has deteriorated in recent years.

He said it was “clear as night and day that the building is falling to pieces”.

Applicant agent Stewart Douglas, who works in the construction industry, said the building was “living on borrowed time”.

He said structural surveys suggested that in certain wind speeds the building could begin to fall apart.

Whilst it is a “sad day” when buildings of historic significance come down, “safety must take precedence”, Douglas said.

Planning officer Marianna Porter had earlier told the meeting that demolition fell foul of planning legislation.

The report to councillors also highlighted that Historic Environment Scotland believes the building remains of special interest.

Porter added that no evidence had been provided to demonstrate that the building has been marketed for a new owner who could restore it.

However Laurenson said over the years the building has been offered to groups, but nothing ultimately materialised.

The meeting heard from planning staff that there could potentially be flexibility on design if the building was to be restored.

However, planning development management leader John Holden said the proximity to the sea may pose a problem for future residential use.

There were also questions about whether the council would be liable if the building was allowed to stand and injury or damage was caused by the property.

But that was played down by the council’s legal team, with councillors told there would be a “very remote” possibility of “comeback” against the local authority in this circumstance.

In debate SIC convener Manson acknowledged people are often sad when an old building is taken down.

“I think in this instance I don’t think we have a great deal of choice other than to go against our officers’ recommendations,” she said.

Manson suggested that “if the building wasn’t listed, we wouldn’t be sitting here because they would be delighted that it was going to be demolished and therefore the risk to anybody walking past or driving past would be removed”.

“We can clearly see that it is well beyond easy economic repair,” the Shetland North councillor said.

Manson also said it would be “high unlikely” that funding would be available to support its restoration.

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