By RYAN TAYLOR
Controversial proposals to convert a former fish processing factory in Scalloway into a new abattoir have been rejected by members of Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee.
Councillors dismissed the advice of their own officials who said plans by Shetland Abattoir Co-operative Limited (SACL) to convert the former No Catch factory, which is situated among houses in East Voe, complied with planning guidelines, and voted against the project.
At a packed meeting in the Town Hall on Wednesday, Scalloway councillor Iris Hawkins said she was “not convinced” residents would be spared the sound of animals as they were taken to the abattoir. She said an increase in traffic would also inconvenience householders in the area.
Moving against the proposal, she said councillors needed to look at the “social wellbeing” of the Scalloway community and added that a new abattoir was “not appropriate activity” for Blydoit.
She said Scalloway Community Council had objected to the change of use, and over 200 residents had signed up against the slaughterhouse.
“I’m not convinced we will not hear the animals. There is a good chance of mess and noise. We’re getting a very clear picture from the Scalloway community and it behoves us to pay attention to that picture,” she said. She was seconded by Gary Robinson.
Bill Manson said that while he had some sympathy for the objectors there was no planning reason for the proposal to be rejected.
He said Mrs Hawkins was moving on the same grounds the community council in Scalloway had put forward, but added there were no reasons under the planning guidelines why the application should be rejected.
The community council had objected partly on the grounds the site was unsuitable, but Mr Manson said the site had been designed in the first place as an industrial estate, meaning it was a suitable place for the processing plant.
He said the abattoir would employ fewer people than it did when it was a No Catch fish processing factory, which would lead to a minimal impact of traffic movement in the area.
He added the only way it would impinge on daylight and privacy was if SACL chose to raise the height of the building, which did not form any part of its plans.
“I’m sure the community council have reflected the majority of views put forward to them, but I don’t think they have refused it on planning grounds.”
Caroline Miller agreed with that view, and said there was a possibility the abattoir could go forward following an appeal process – indeed, SACL may choose to appeal the decision if it is backed by the Full Council next month.
She was against the idea of people having to live so close to the plant. “I wouldn’t want to live next door to a slaughterhouse.
I don’t think anyone would choose to live there, and I’d be doing exactly the same as what you [the protesters] are doing.
“On the other hand, the planning officers have looked at this and I can’t think they could have come to any other conclusion in the long term. If we go against the officers we leave ourselves wide open to an appeal.”
Laura Baisley was largely in favour of the slaughterhouse, although she was also concerned it was too close to the nearby houses.
She wanted clarification over how much noise the “captive bolt” – the preferred method of slaughter – would make, and whether it would be heard by those outside the plant.
She said she did not think there would be a lot of smell, and sought to re-assure those concerned that animal waste might be dripping off trailers or vehicles as beasts are transported to the plant.
“Animals do have to be transported in clean vehicles,” she said.
Head of environmental health Maggie Dunne said the high level industrial insulation which would be used was not like normal house insulation, and it would be strong enough to drown out any noises.
She said the captive bolt was used because it did not cause any distress to the animals.
“The slaughter process must not cause distress. If it does it affects the meat, and the meat deteriorates more quickly.”
Mr Manson moved that the abattoir be approved, but was beaten by five votes to three.
His comments came after objectors were given a chance to voice their concerns before the committee.
In an emotive speech before councillors, Rita Williamson said councillors would “hang their heads in shame” if they gave the proposal the go ahead.
“I’m here representing views of the people from East Voe, who wish to state very clearly their opposition to a slaughterhouse right in the middle of a brand new housing development – only 10 feet away from the bedroom and sitting room windows of some houses.
“Most of the houses have small children. It’s ludicrous. I have a petition with 200 signatures against the plan. “The claim made by the planning department that traffic to the slaughterhouse would be minimal is totally wrong. “There will be many more deliveries and collections by a variety of trucks, tractors and large trailers from all over Shetland. The fact is they would have to drive past the houses and the brand new children’s playing park.
“This is not sensible planning. It’s offensive and degrading, which will leave a legacy long after you have left office. It will be one of the worst decisions the SIC’s planning board has ever made, if this is approved – God forbid!
“Please bear in mind the local community council and two petitions have rejected this application. I hope you have the courage to do the same. If not you should hang your heads in shame.”
Another objector, John Hunter, said the change of use would “almost certainly contribute to the erosion of the residential character of the area”.
He said the application highlighted the flaws of the current local plan, which dates back to 2004.
He added an area originally designated for industrial use had become surrounded by houses, turning the site into a predominantly residential area.
“It is time to redesignate and slowly move the industrial component from Blydoit,” he said. “Other councils have found it unacceptable to site residential units near an abattoir, so why should this council consider this change of use in such an obvious residential area?”
Spokesman for SACL Ronnie Eunson, who himself farms at East Voe, said it was important the matter was dealt with objectively.
“There is a level of concern among residents that has had a degree of misrepresentation to it,” he said.
He added SACL wanted to make the most of an opportunity in the former No Catch site to fill a need within the local agricultural industry.
“We saw a redundant facility, and the agricultural industry is in desperate need of a new factory,” he said.
“We have limited funds but we applied on the basis what we were doing was entirely genuine.”
He said the co-operative had attempted to consult with the local community, despite the level of intense opposition to the new plant.
“A petition was raised containing signatures which we assessed as coming from 30 households in the area. On that basis two thirds of residents appear to have been quiet on the subject.
“We only had nine letters written by objectors in the area, and I hope the heat generated will be allowed to dissipate and a level of objectivity and rationality will follow.”
He said SACL had been involved in abattoirs for the last 10 years and had had “no problems, no question of any closures or threats of closures by environmental health or any other organisation”.
“There have been significant criticisms levelled at us for not looking at other sites, but Blydoit has presented an opportunity the industry can afford and will provide a facility of optimum standards. We’re food producers. We’re not in any way interested in providing bad food, or producing it in a bad way or offending the public.”
Currently, Shetland is served by only two slaughter houses.
The plant in Boddam at the south end is operated by Pure Shetland Lamb Ltd, and is the only abattoir currently capable of processing cattle.
Its maximum daily throughput is 400 sheep, eight cattle and 20 pigs, but it is limited by available hanging space.
The other plant in Laxfirth is run jointly by SACL and SLMG, but its throughput is limited to 200 sheep at a time.
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Conflict of interest complaint
A complaint has been lodged about two SIC councillors who took part and voted in a debate about funding the Shetland Livestock Marketing Group (SLMG), which they are members of.
The Standards Commission will investigate whether Shetland South member Jim Budge and Addie Doull of Shetland North broke the code of conduct designed to prevent public figures abusing their position.
The two councillors and another SLMG member, Bill Manson, declared an interest at the start of the development committee meeting on 22nd January but Mr Manson went further, declaring that as a director of the group until recently, he would take no part in the debate, which was held in public.
Mr Budge, a former chairman of SLMG, went on to take an active part in proceedings, proposing that the group be granted £25,000 to pay for an urgent business review. He was seconded by Mr Doull. The pair won the vote but lost out to a subsequent proposal to half the grant.
No council lawyers were present to offer advice at the meeting but two representatives of the council’s legal and administration division service, which advises councillors on protocol and ensures they follow procedures correctly, did attend. Chairman Josie Simpson did not attempt to intervene to stop Mr Budge and Mr Doull taking part.
The debate was a hot tempered one because of opposition to the proposed slaughterhouse and meat factory in a housing estate in Scalloway.
The anonymous complaint was submitted to the Standards Commission at the end of last month.