By JOHN ROBERTSON
The controversial plan for a slaughterhouse and meat factory in a Scalloway housing scheme caused tempers to flare in the Town Hall yesterday, prompting a claim that an underhand attempt was being made to push the £300,000 project forward.
One of the area’s councillors, Betty Fullerton, was angry that a report had been brought to the development committee about the venture by Shetland Abattoir Co-operative Limited (SACL) when the “whole community” was against it and it did not have planning permission.
In particular she was annoyed that a £25,000 grant was being recommended for the Shetland Livestock Marketing Group (SLMG) to review its “trading position and future options” because it may operate the slaughterhouse if it opens in the former No Catch fish factory at Blydoit.
She said it was “totally wrong” to give the money and it would be wasted because the abattoir would not be allowed – it was simply “not going to happen”. Giving the grant now was “putting the cart before the horse”, she said, because planning permission should come first.
The head of economic development Neil Grant said he needed the report on SLMG by external experts so he had confidence that the group would be a suitable operator.
But after Mrs Fullerton’s protest he said SLMG needed to be looked at anyway, regardless of whether the Scalloway proposal went ahead.
Councillor Gussie Angus believed that given the huge local opposition the issue of planning permission should be resolved first rather than putting pressure on the planning board by presenting it with a project already progressing.
The grant was strongly supported by Shetland South member Jim Budge who had earlier declared an interest as a farmer involved in running SLMG.
But he said he would still take part in the debate. He said there was nothing unusual in a company applying for money to carry out a business review and he wanted to make it “absolutely clear” that the review was not connected with the abattoir co-operative’s application for aid for its Blydoit plan.
North Isles member Robert Henderson called for the grant to be deferred until the next development committee in about six weeks by which time it should be clearer whether the abattoir plan has any future.
Mrs Fullerton claimed that granting the money now was effectively “a way of pushing through the Scalloway plan”. She and Mr Henderson lost out in a 6-5 vote but Mr Budge’s victory was short-lived when councillor Cecil Smith won a 6-5 majority for his desire to see SLMG’s 235 members pay half the £25,000. He said “peerie alarm bells” were ringing about the health of SLMG and he did not see why the group should keep coming forward looking for money if its members would not put their hands in their own pockets.
Mr Budge said the group had been run without a manager for two years and the study was partly to see whether it was in a position to put a manager in place again. Given the apparent division within the ranks of the SLMG, which was alluded to at the meeting, it remains to be seen whether the money is forthcoming.
It emerged during the debate that officials might normally have granted the £25,000 without asking councillors but development chairman Josie Simpson admitted that he was so concerned about the “very, very hot potato” that he insisted his officials bring it forward for a political decision, otherwise, he said, “I think we’d have been crucified”.
A brief preliminary report by Mr Grant noted that the abattoir co-operative had applied to the SIC for cash help to buy and convert the factory and that its business plan is currently under consideration.
He said the council could potentially provide up to half the cost of the venture, to a maximum of 200,000 Euros, without coming up against state aid rules.
A recommendation on the project will be put before a future meeting and in the meantime the council’s assessment of the venture will also consider the abattoir at Laxfirth, run by the SLMG, which could cost £490,000 to upgrade; Pure Shetland Lamb’s abattoir at Boddam, which could cost £520,000 to upgrade; and also the prospects for using the empty Skeld Smokehouse and Ronas Voe fish factory and building a new abattoir at the Marts in Lerwick, which was priced at £3.1m-£4m previously.
Yesterday’s lively debate on the issue was a taster for meatier sessions to come when some of the councillors, who were absent this week, will enter the fray.
It was watched by Rita Williamson from Scalloway who is involved in a petition protesting against the abattoir.
- The long-awaited launch of Shetland bottled water is in serious doubt after the Orcadians got in first with Orkney Water from Eday. The spring water project by local company COPE has been beset by delays and the departure of Cope’s manager Frank Millsopp.
Originally production of the bottled water was due to start over four years ago.
According to a confidential council report the original market opportunity has been missed after the Orkney bottling plant launched last year.
A further blow is the council’s decision to stop providing 18.5 litre water coolers in its offices, which were to have been supplied with Shetland spring water from the Heglibister springs in Weisdale.
Cope is a highly successful social enterprise company which employs many people with disabilities. It runs a soap factory, cafe, recycling scrapstore, plant and tree nursery and other ventures.