By RYAN TAYLOR
SCALLOWAY residents voiced their opposition to plans for a new £2.4 million abattoir at the former No Catch factory in Blydoit this week.
A public meeting at the village hall on Wednesday night saw up to 70 folk turn out for an emotive and often heated debate on proposals to convert the old fish processing plant into a fully modernised slaughterhouse capable of processing both sheep, cattle and pigs.
Members of Shetland Abattoir Co-operative Ltd (SACL) had invited them to share concerns before the abattoir goes to the council’s planning department early next year.
Many feared the new slaughterhouse would have a detrimental impact on the new housing scheme which has been built up around the area in recent years.
SACL spokesman Ronnie Eunson put up a robust defence of the organisation’s plans, amid calls for another site to be selected instead of Blydoit.
He said the new processing plant would cause less disruption than the old No Catch factory that operated there until the fish farming business went into receivership.
Earlier this year the council had to row back from plans it had to build a £4.2 million abattoir after a complaint was submitted by Boddam slaughterhouse operator Magnie Smith, meaning it can only provide matched funding for any new facility.
As The Shetland Times went to press, there were unconfirmed reports a new complaint over state aid had been submitted to the EU, although an EU spokesman said no such complaint had been received.
Yesterday Mr Smith said he had been behind a previous complaint, and he was “sitting on the fence” with another.
“If the offer of money is outside de minimis regulations we would certainly file another claim.”
However head of business development Douglas Irvine said the council had not yet provided any money for the project.
SACL set its sights on the plant after a council report into the two existing slaughterhouses at Laxfirth and Boddam found both needed major investment just to bring them up to the minimum standard expected by the industry.
Following the introduction of new European legislation, both processing plants had to be re-licensed.
The changes mean Laxfirth can only process sheep at a time when the industry says viable abattoirs should be able to handle other beasts as well.
Chairman of Scalloway Community Council Arnold Duncan said some residents were concerned over how easily livestock trucks would be able to turn when delivering to the abattoir.
He was also worried animals, sensing death, might struggle and break free before running amok in a residential area.
“What provision is there for holding cattle pre-slaughter? I’m told animals sense death, might panic and break lose.”
Mr Eunson said the low through-put of the plant meant only a small number of vehicles would be passing through.
“We’ve been very careful in the way we’ve been looking at it to ensure that any livestock will be unloaded directly into the building. The lairage internally has no means of exit other than the existing doors.
“It’s unlikely there’s going to be articulated lorries coming to the plant. What we’re proposing is a low through-put abattoir with a maximum kill of six to 10 kye in a day, or a couple of hundred lambs.
“You would be talking about pick-ups and Land-Rovers with Ifor Williams trailers.”
One woman was also concerned the value of her house might plummet.
Fears were also raised many of the Hjaltland Housing homes had so far been unallocated, and their new residents would find themselves living next to a slaughterhouse without having the chance to object.
Mr Eunson said housing was “a fact of life” and acknowledged Hjaltand Housing Association may well have issues with the planning application.
He said there was no evidence to suggest house values would suffer, and highlighted Inverurie and Dornoch as communities that happily co-exist with abattoirs on their doorstep. “We don’t want to devalue the community. We want to enhance it.”
Bobby Hunter, of Hjaltland Housing Association, said the association would not comment on the plans before it goes before the planning board.
“We’ve no view on it whatsoever. No planning application has been made for us to make a comment on.”
The safety of children playing in the area also came into question.
One man said bairns would be susceptible to nasty bugs like e-coli if effluent was released by the animals and falls from trailers on the way to the plant.
But Mr Eunson said it was not in the interest of farmers and crofters to carry disease-infested animals.
“We’re in the business of producing food as farmers and crofters. What we do, we do to the best of our abilities. If we take animals to the slaughterhouse covered in muck, we’re not going to have a business for very long.”
That prompted a comment from resident David Leask that he did not want his grandchildren growing up close to a slaughterhouse.
He said his own daughter had been so distressed as a youngster knowing he was carrying out home kills on his animals she had turned vegetarian.
Others said they did not like the idea of the slaughterhouse simply because they knew what went on there.
Mr Eunson said that was “part of the reason folk are so disengaged from food production nowadays”, but assured residents children would not be alarmed by what went on there.
“You shouldn’t have bairns where you are working with livestock. It’s not something I’d want any of my bairns to be part of.”
Other concerns were over the possibility of containers dripping liquid as they carted offal waste to Lerwick for dumping, and whether the sewage system would cope.
Some people wanted the existing plants at Boddam or Laxfirth to be upgraded instead.
The meeting heard that carrying out the minimum amount of work required to bring Laxfirth up to scratch was £50,000, while enabling it to handle multi-species slaughters could cost up to £360,000.
Mr Eunson said: “What we’re getting here is a facility that is first class. Whatever we do up the road [in Laxfirth] it’s very different to what we would be getting here.”
Similarly, he said the Boddam plant would require a quarter of a million pounds of investment to get it to minimum standard.
Speaking after the meeting one resident, who did not wish to be named, said his mind had been changed by the meeting.
“When I came in I was against the plans. Having no knowledge about the plans I would have opposed the abattoir, but having listened to the arguments I don’t have any objection to the abattoir going in.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Duncan said Mr Eunson had put over “a comprehensive case for the industry”.
“I think from their point of view (SACL) they have been doing the right thing by holding a public meeting prior to entering an application for change of use to the planning department.
“It has to come to the community council first, and the planning department, and we will have to reflect on the interest of our area.”
Chairwoman of the Shetland branch of NFUS Hazel Mackenzie said the meeting was important to allow residents to put across their concerns.
“It was a meeting for Scalloway folk to speak about the planning issues. But the NFU is still of the opinion they are in favour of improved slaughtering facilities in Shetland.”