Viewforth issue prompted Fox to resign position
Councillor Billy Fox resigned as the SIC deputy leader amid concerns over arrangements allowing construction workers to stay in the old Viewforth care home in Lerwick, it has emerged.
Mr Fox stepped down from his role last week following a private members’ policy forum, citing issues with “policy and process” with which he held concerns.
The Shetland Times understands that Mr Fox held deep concerns about a decision by the council’s asset management to grant a lease to Shetland FM for the Burgh Road property last May.
Shetland FM was seeking to house oil and gas workers in the building, which closed as a care home last year. It now accommodates Morrison Construction workers involved in the new Anderson High School project.
The lease was given on the understanding that a change of use application would be retrospectively submitted to the planning department.
Mr Fox, who became depute leader in May 2014, feared the council’s reputation was at risk because of the decision.
The application, aimed at changing Viewforth from a care home to an accommodation hostel, was subsequently turned down following concerns about access, safety and traffic movement.
The member for Shetland South, who last week said he intended to remain as a back bench councillor, refused to comment when approached by The Shetland Times this week. However, he is understood to be concerned that the lease was granted before a change of use was approved.
Mr Fox is believed to have been arguing the point since last July with council officials, including chief executive Mark Boden.
His concern is also understood to stem from questions over a building warrant and the number of workers staying in the centre – and who would be responsible in the event of unforeseen circumstances, such as a fire.
Calls by this newspaper to Shetland FM operations director, Dave Williams, were yesterday forwarded to the company’s public relations agent, Paul Riddell, who said all inquiries were being handed back to the council, as landlord.
However, planning committee chairman Frank Robertson said it was up to Shetland FM to sort out its affairs. He denied the council had been left in a difficult position.
Mr Robetson said: “The council has leased it to a third party. The instructions infrastructure services got was to off-load, either sell, lease or whatever vacant council properties to get some income.
“It’s leased to the third party. It’s absolutely incumbent on the third party to get consent, be it planning or building control – not the council.
“If you take on a long lease on a property, the council leases are usually lease and maintain. There will be a condition that whoever leases has to maintain the place properly.
“I’m sure that whatever use they are going to make of it, if they require planning, or building warrant, they have to apply back to the council because they are the leasees of the property.”
Mr Robertson said it would be up to Shetland FM to sort out its problem with the planning department. “That is the statutory authority,” he said.
Viewforth closed its doors in February last year after years of providing care and support for some of the community’s most vulnerable people.