Councillors have rejected the advice of their officials and sanctioned a £500,000 project to build a high-class, eco-friendly house for renting out to tourists in a small island in Vaila Sound.
The planning department had argued that Shetland man Robert Thomson’s proposal to renovate the old North House and outbuildings in Linga, off Walls, would be in breach of the Local Plan which states that the council would not normally assist in the repopulation of uninhabited islands.
But councillors on the planning board today voted to approve the development in principle.
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 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 said: “There is nothing comparable in Shetland.”
He added: “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 argued that his proposal did not constitute the repopulation of an uninhabited island because it was a tourist attraction unlikely to be used the whole year round.
He won support from the Sandness and Walls Community Council, Walls Development Group, the Crofters Commission and a host of individuals although NHS Shetland was unhappy at the prospect of having to extend its provision to the island.
Gary Robinson moved approval of the plan and accepted a move from Bill Manson and Caroline Miller to stipulate that the council’s responsibility for services to the island should end at Walls.
An amendment by Josie Simpson, seconded by Iris Hawkins, that the approval should be specified for holiday use of the accommodation, was defeated by seven votes to three.
Councillor Robinson said the development offered a great opportunity and considerable economic and social benefits for the Walls area.
Meanwhile, the board rejected planning permission for a new pharmacy in Scalloway next to the Kiln Bar amid concerns about parking availability and a development of houses by Hjaltland Housing in Tingwall.