Hjaltland Housing Association has redoubled its efforts to build new homes at Veensgarth in Tingwall despite a similar development being thrown out by councillors last year.
The association has lodged an application for 38 houses in the area with Shetland Islands Council’s planning department.
The brakes were put on a housing project in the same area 12 months ago following concerns good agricultural land would be put at risk.
Hjaltland subsequently lost an appeal against the SIC’s decision. A senior government planning reporter agreed the houses should have been refused, although he disagreed with the council over the reasons why.
Richard Hickman ruled that, while the houses were planned on good ground, the primary reason for rejection should have been their distance from local services.
Speaking to The Shetland Times this week, Hjaltland’s property services manager said the association was determined to meet demand and bring down Hjaltland’s 700-strong waiting list.
Bryan Leask said the homes were scheduled to be built on “zone three” land – ground zoned for housing which, therefore, complied with the council’s planning policy.
He added the new application should allow the association to provide feedback to the government’s observations over the scheme’s distance from services.
“The council has strict policies in terms of how you are supposed to deal with zone three land,” he said. “Each of these zones have different planning criteria attached to them. As long as you meet these criteria there’s no reason to refuse it.
“At the time we felt we had met those criteria, and planning officials thought we had met that criteria. The council went against its own policy – all we can do is work towards that policy.”
He said Mr Hickman had “surprised” the association by arguing the area lacked amenities.
“He [Mr Hickman] said the only amenities were a bus stop and a post-box. But what about the hotel? What about the garage? What is an amenity? To our mind he was saying all that was in the area was a post-box.
“He said the distance from the school was an issue. But the council says that if children live a certain distance from the school they get bussed, and if they live within that distance – but it’s too dangerous to walk – they get bussed anyway.
“The argument was it was too far from amenities. But he never asked us the question. We just got this report saying because of this we will refuse it. We didn’t get the chance to defend our position on it.”
Mr Leask said concerns were raised about the risk posed once again to arable land at a recent public meeting in Tingwall.
“We tried to say it was not Hjaltland that zoned it. It was zoned by the community through the council,” he said.
Demand for housing shows no sign of abating. As well as the 700 names on Hjaltland’s books there are over 1,000 waiting for homes on the SIC’s list.
Hjaltland doesn’t have any rented properties in Tingwall. Building the new homes there would help meet local demand.
Even if the new homes are given the green light they won’t appear overnight.
Planning still has to consult its statutory consultees, and Mr Leask said his “gut feeling” was that a completion date would be “four or five years down the line”.
Of course all eyes have been on the economic climate and how the spending squeeze might impact on building projects.
Mr Leask said a 35 per cent reduction in housing budget could clearly have an impact on housing.
But he said Hjaltland was “still very busy” on sites in Cullivoe, Aith and Sandwick as well as Quoys in Lerwick.
“There is a reduction in funding but we are still busy, and we still have 60 to 70 houses on site.”
Incidentally, last year’s application was entirely for rented accommodation. The new plans could see some of the homes be sold as part of an innovative low-cost ownership package.