Oil man in battle with council to rebuild derelict house in island off Walls
A Shetland man wants to spend £500,000 renovating a derelict house in a small island in Vaila Sound – last lived in before World War II – to rent out to tourists as the ultimate in eco-friendly accommodation.
But planning officials are recommending that Robert Thomson’s project, which when finished would employ three people, be refused permission by councillors at Wednesday’s planning board because, among other things, it contravenes the Local Plan policy of not normally supporting the re-population of uninhabited islands.
Mr Thomson, who works for the oil industry service company Noble Denton and is based in Houston, Texas, was born and brought up in Walls and his mother still lives in the village.
He recently bought the 20-hectare island of Linga, which lies between Walls and Vaila, and is keen to renovate the main old cottage and outbuildings at North House, one of two houses in the island abandoned in 1934.
The plan envisages creating high quality self-catering accommodation which would not be plugged in to any outside services, relying on sustainable methods such as renewables (wind, solar, heat pumps, combined with high energy efficiency and insulation standards) for electricity, water filtered from a well and captured from rain and purified and filter beds to deal with waste water and sewerage.
An improved slipway and extended breakwater would be built to handle the small modern boat that is proposed to take visitors back and fore. The old noost would be restored to keep traditional Shetland boats for tourists’ use. And some of the old dykes and fences would be rebuilt and an area of land would be cultivated.
In his application Mr Thomson says: “There is nothing comparable in Shetland.”
He adds: “The main reason for people coming to Shetland is to experience the environment, wildlife and heritage. The ability to ‘get away from it all’ and isolation are also important draws …
“The development will be seeking to attract a new market to Shetland of people who wish to have a unique experience of living in an environment from 100 years ago. It could also attract day trippers and education visits.
“The main markets envisaged for the island are likely to be those seeking a little more unusual or adventurous holiday or just ‘getting away from it all’. It could be the traditional ‘grey’ market, island lovers, or family groups, writers or artists or others seeking peace within which to be creative. They could be from the UK or even further afield in Europe or America.”
Mr Thomson argues that his proposal does not constitute the repopulation of an uninhabited island because it is a tourist attraction unlikely to be used the whole year round.
He has won support from the Sandness and Walls Community Council, Walls Development Group, the Crofters Commission and a host of individuals although NHS Shetland is unhappy at the prospect of having to extend its provision to the island.
However, the planning service is recommending refusal because of the Local Plan issue of repopulating uninhabited islands and the council’s interim planning policy of encouraging new development in or adjacent to existing settlements to avoid exacerbating the costs of basic service provision.