The Hjaltland Housing Association has lost its appeal to the government to be allowed to build 38 houses and flats in a field at Veensgarth in Tingwall.
But the decision could have serious implications for house-building policy in Shetland after the reporter ruled that the problem was not the loss of good agricultural land but the siting of an estate in an area without basic services.
In his judgment Richard Hickman said the failing was “a serious breach” of Shetland Islands Council’s structure plan policy “due to the lack of conveniently accessible community services” in Veensgarth.
He said it would be better to build the houses about a mile away in the Strand area where there is land zoned for houses and which is near the local nursery and primary school.
Hjaltland’s property services manager Bryan Leask said today he was “shocked” by the nature of the ruling although the association had actually won its argument that it was within council zoning policy to build the estate on zone 3 agricultural land.
The council had refused the planning application in November last year because of concern about the loss of a grazing field belonging to farmer Cecil Eunson, next to Herrislea House Hotel. Councillors on the planning board had voted 4-3 against the project despite the desperate shortage of public housing for rent in central parts of Shetland.
However Mr Hickman said he considered the lack of services to be a strong reason for refusal but not the loss of a bit of agricultural land. He agreed with Hjaltland that the Veensgarth site was no better quality than other sites in the area which had been suggested as alternatives.
He also ruled that the proposed estate had been carefully designed by architects Redman and Sutherland to “reflect the local character” of the three areas of housing which surround it.
He agreed with objectors that it would be better if the housing estate was built about a mile away in the Strand area where there is land zoned for houses (zone 1) and which is near the local school. If built at Veensgarth the houses would not support any community services, he said, which went against the structure plan.
Mr Leask said that aspect of the ruling could have serious implications which the association would have to discuss with the council.
“We are disappointed but what we are glad about is they have recognised our appeal on the agricultural land use has been successful. We are very surprised about the implications of what they are saying about amenities and the school being the reason for refusal. We are concerned about what the implications of that are going forward for rural communities in Shetland in terms of developing social housing for those areas.”
In his ruling the reporter did have other concerns about Hjaltland’s proposal including possible water supply problems which had not been sorted out with Scottish Water and doubts about the wisdom of building a district heating plant next to houses at Veensgarth.
The outcome of the appeal is a victory for some local residents and crofters, many of whom signed a protest petition against the development. Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council was also opposed. However, it may open the flood gates for developers to dig up zone 3 agricultural land all over Shetland if they can demonstrate that housing developments are in-keeping with the area and would support existing local services.