The SIC is in the process of buying one of three properties which it says would be “blighted” during the construction phase of the new Anderson High School if it goes ahead at the existing site, The Shetland Times has learned.
It is understood that the house owner in question is to be paid the market rate plus 10 per cent for their home and will move out some time next month.
The council was unable to say whether a deal had been agreed, but several sources have confirmed that the sale is going ahead.
Depending on the outcome of an independent review into the £49 million project, which may well see the lower Staney Hill emerge as the preferred location, it means the council could find itself having needlessly acquired the property for a six-figure sum.
The SIC agreed earlier this year to spend £400,000 buying properties and land which it said would be “blighted”. A confidential document seen by the Shetland Times shows that in March executive director of education Hazel Sutherland told a private meeting of councillors on the services committee that there were three homes which would be affected by the development to the extent that the occupiers could effectively force the council to purchase their property.
She said three properties at the top of Knab Road would be blighted, a matter which had arisen during discussions with residents about the building plans over the past couple of years.
It was agreed that the SIC should accept without protest any notices from the named properties because “contesting such notices can be a lengthy, and potentially costly, process” and that in any case there would be “adequate justification” to acquire the properties and avoid any “unnecessary distractions” to the project.
Under the terms of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, residents would be entitled to force the council to make a purchase.
The offer councillors agreed to make, should residents wish to move, was the market rate plus an additional 10 per cent to compensate the parties for the loss of their home, and the householders were to be advised to seek independent legal and valuation advice.
On Thursday, SIC chief executive David Clark said that he could not comment.
Earlier in the week he said that the Laidler review – comparing the respective merits of the Knab and lower Staney Hill sites – had been completed, on time and well below budget.
At the weekly media briefing on Tuesday, he said the investigation – coordinated by building consultant Andrew Laidler – had been completed at a cost of under £60,000, but he refused to be drawn on any of its findings.
The final report is due to go before the services committee on 3rd September. One of the Knab Road properties is owned and occupied by couple Alan and Caroline Smith who – prior to the commissioning of the review – sent a letter to the SIC saying they intended to serve a blight notice, which would compel the council to buy their home.
Alan has stayed there for 61 years and the couple do not wish to leave, but both said if the proposed development went ahead they felt there would simply be no choice but to move.
“I’ve stayed here all of my life,” said Alan. “It’s my home, my everything – it’s a very, very hard thing to decide even to do [but] if they do go ahead with the school here we have no option.”
The estimated £400,000 price tag – which councillor for the area Jonathan Wills and others noted seemed to be on the low side given property prices in the town – would be absorbed within the overall budget for the new school.
Ms Sutherland’s report noted there could be scope for savings on the project cost if the properties acquired were able to be used for either site accommodation or to house staff from the contractors, while their purchase could also allow for enhanced car parking and disabled access.
It added that there would be the possibility of selling the properties on after construction was completed. Any other “blight notices” outwith an indicated boundary, Ms Sutherland wrote, would have to be contested because they are not considered to be properties which would be blighted.
The committee also agreed to the latter proposal after West Side councillor Gary Robinson could not find a seconder for his motion to the contrary.
But Dr Wills said he believed there would be a case for several other households to ask the council to buy them out as well: “Personally, I can see another five [households] would have had a case. They’re not just houses, they’re homes. It isn’t just a building, it’s part of them. You can’t put a price on that, or on the disruption that would be caused to the folk next door.”
Building work had been due to start in early July before a narrow last-minute decision to commission the review, just three days after planning permission had been granted.
Around £500,000 was spent on preparatory work approved prior to the rethink, taking the overall price tag for the project beyond the £4 million mark.
If there was no alternative site, Dr Wills said, such disruption would “reluctantly be acceptable” but it just crystallises in his mind the superiority of the lower Staney Hill site.
He is now attempting to get the planning permission rescinded on the grounds that the process leading up it its granting was deeply flawed.
He said: “They’ve got a perfectly good site after a really well-conducted feasibility exercise and because of political interference, we’ve wasted time and money on a pig-headed and obstinate attempt to redevelop the existing site. The people who have delayed the project for six years and wasted £4.25 million should resign.”
A residents’ petition opposing the development going ahead at the Knab site, which had gathered over 600 signatures a month ago, and a parents’ petition with well over 1,000 signatures are to be presented to services committee chairman Gussie Angus some time next week.