A huge temporary accommodation block to house the hundreds of construction workers needed to build oil and gas giant Total’s processing plant at Sullom Voe has received planning approval from the SIC.
The application was unanimously approved by the local authority’s planning board in Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday morning. The two-storey settlement is to be built on council-owned land which is part of the industrial estate at Sella Ness and once completed it will have capacity to house up to 848 workers.
The temporary structure – with five blocks which will essentially clip together – is only designed to be in place for five years. The £500 million plant at Firths Voe is due to be completed in 2014. It is where the Laggan-Tormore gas pipeline will exit Shetland on its way to the UK national gas grid when production starts.
In addition to 424 two-person en suite bedrooms, the development is slated to include a football pitch, gymnasium, dining room, bar, recreation area, reading room, computer room, convenience shop, laundry and prayer room.
Planning board chairman Frank Robertson said after the meeting: “This is a major development for a small place like Shetland. Clearly with something this size we must make sure that proper plans are in place to make sure there is no detrimental impact on the natural or built environment around the site.
“The good thing about this project is that it is so close to the Total gas plant site and it will be on land that already has service. That’s a big improvement from the sites at Firth and Toft in the 1970s, where all the infrastructure had to be put in new.”
Reservations were voiced during the hearing about the potential impact on a neighbouring business and about the pressure the presence of hundreds of additional residents could have on the broadband service for existing internet users in the area.
Representing Total was John Duncan, from the Aberdeen office of architects Archial. He said the company was working to overcome the problem of overloading the area’s broadband service should hundreds of workers go online in the evenings. Patchy phone signal means it is possible that a new mobile phone mast may also prove necessary, he said.
The board heard from a solitary objector, Alan McKimm, who for many years has operated a specialist building trade contractor immediately adjacent to where the accommodation will be sited. He stressed he would be happy to see the project go ahead and even hopes he might be able to attract some work from it, but wants Total to help provide a security fence around his property.
Having lived in the workers’ camp at Toft when the oil terminal at Sullom Voe was being built, he said he knew only too well what the culture was like. He fears being left liable if a resident gets drunk and starts wandering around an industrial estate containing heavy and expensive machinery and boats. There had been good security at Toft too, but it was not possible to handcuff people to the site and Mr McKimm said he knew “what happens when a man gets full of drink”.
Mr Duncan said that while he could not give any guarantees, it was very much Total’s intention to co-exist in harmony with neighbouring properties and he was confident they would be happy to meet Mr McKimm to discuss his concerns.
Planning board members agreed that his fears were “quite justifiable” because the security of his compound was “absolutely essential”. Mr Robertson said he expected Total to liaise with Mr McKimm to ensure his business interests are protected.
Lerwick South councillor Cecil Smith brought up the on-site bar, saying new licensing regulations meant an area for residents to drink would need to be of adequate size; otherwise a limit on the numbers that can use it at any one time may have to be imposed.
North Mainland member Bill Manson accepted that, but pointed out that providing a bar was crucial to avoid watering holes in Brae being “potentially swamped” by hundreds of people in the evenings, a point Mr Smith agreed with.
Mr Smith also pointed out that 15 on-site car parking spaces did not seem to be enough, but he was assured by Mr Duncan that Total is already looking at additional land to provide extra parking.
Earlier this year, Total construction manager Jim McCarroll said the accommodation blocks would be built in sequence as the number of construction workers goes up. Breakfast and evening meals will be provided on site and there will also be a working kitchen for individual use. The workers will carry out 12-hour day shifts on a three weeks on, one week off pattern.