Oil man in battle with council to rebuild derelict house in island off Walls

A Shetland man wants to spend £500,000 renovating a derelict house in a small island in Vaila Sound – last lived in before World War II – to rent out to tourists as the ultimate in eco-friendly accommodation.

But planning officials are recommending that Robert Thomson’s project, which when finished would employ three people, be refused permission by councillors at Wednesday’s planning board because, among other things, it contravenes the Local Plan policy of not normally supporting the re-population of uninhabited islands.

Mr Thomson, who works for the oil industry service company Noble Denton and is based in Houston, Texas, was born and brought up in Walls and his mother still lives in the village.

He recently bought the 20-hectare island of Linga, which lies between Walls and Vaila, and is keen to renovate the main old cottage and outbuildings at North House, one of two houses in the island abandoned in 1934.

The plan envisages creating high quality self-catering accommodation which would not be plugged in to any outside services, relying on sustainable methods such as renewables (wind, solar, heat pumps, combined with high energy efficiency and insulation standards) for electricity, water filtered from a well and captured from rain and purified and filter beds to deal with waste water and sewerage.

An improved slipway and extended breakwater would be built to handle the small modern boat that is proposed to take visitors back and fore. The old noost would be restored to keep traditional Shetland boats for tourists’ use. And some of the old dykes and fences would be rebuilt and an area of land would be cultivated.

In his application Mr Thomson says: “There is nothing comparable in Shetland.”

He adds: “The main reason for people coming to Shetland is to experience the environment, wildlife and heritage. The ability to ‘get away from it all’ and isolation are also important draws …

“The development will be seeking to attract a new market to Shetland of people who wish to have a unique experience of living in an environment from 100 years ago. It could also attract day trippers and education visits.

“The main markets envisaged for the island are likely to be those seeking a little more unusual or adventurous holiday or just ‘getting away from it all’. It could be the traditional ‘grey’ market, island lovers, or family groups, writers or artists or others seeking peace within which to be creative. They could be from the UK or even further afield in Europe or America.”

Mr Thomson argues that his proposal does not constitute the repopulation of an uninhabited island because it is a tourist attraction unlikely to be used the whole year round.

He has won support from the Sandness and Walls Community Council, Walls Development Group, the Crofters Commission and a host of individuals although NHS Shetland is unhappy at the prospect of having to extend its provision to the island.

However, the planning service is recommending refusal because of the Local Plan issue of repopulating uninhabited islands and the council’s interim planning policy of encouraging new development in or adjacent to existing settlements to avoid exacerbating the costs of basic service provision.


Add Your Comment
  • ali inkster

    • April 18th, 2011 17:41

    I’ll take that Alistair Goodlads Holiday home on Hildasay did not get planning permission then.
    Renovated while his brother was chief exec. or is that where the use of the NORMALLY comes into play when explaining away double standards.
    Or is it only granted to folks who get substantial amounts of our cash for their failing business.

  • Alistair Goodlad

    • April 18th, 2011 22:18

    Maybe Ali Inkster should check his facts before making making public statements which are untrue and possibly libelous.

  • fiona johnston

    • April 19th, 2011 22:50

    good luck i hope he gets permission anything that encourages people to the islands SHOULD be allowed
    as far as i can see going by what is above mr. thomson will not be looking for the council to provide services as premises will be self sufficient perhaps it could be written into planning that services will not ever be provided(sure legal dept.could organise)and also grants etc.are NOT available.
    i for one would like to stay there for a few days

  • Colin Hunter

    • April 20th, 2011 10:50

    I agree! It’s an excellent scheme and one our “Towny Based” planning department should be backing to the hilt. It shows true vision of what could be made out of the hundreds of “Vodd” steadings that are scattered across the isles. There’s been hunderds of thousands of pounds of public money spent “saving” so called archtecturally significant buildings like Belmont house for posterity and I hear Brough Lodge in Fetlar is now in line for similar treatment. Why save those and not the houses of the poor folk without whom the “posh” houses would never ahe been built in the first place!

  • Paul Riddell

    • April 26th, 2011 9:23

    From Amanda Rae

    well maybe before everyone shows encouragement they should now that the appeal to the application, is both misleading and untrue, it shows pictures and information about my property ! not owned or in any negotiations with Mr Robert Thomson. He tries to win his argument by being dishonest stating that he shall by buying my property to fulfill the wishes of his first application that was turned down. Indeed when he had tried to purchase it at one time and he pulled out because I refused to knock down some historic traditionally built listed structures, not quite preserving historical buildings that he gives folk the impression he is so impassioned to preserve. His photos and appeal are untrue, he has not and is not about to purchase my land or any of my buildings and i take great offence that he has dragged me into trying to pull the wool over folks eyes !

    Published by the editor for Amanda Rae.


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