It was heartening that councillors on the planning board this week approved plans by a man who was born and brought up in Walls before leaving Shetland to do well in the oil industry. He wants to “put something back” by renovating a derelict croft in Linga and renting it out as high-class, eco-friendly accommodation to tourists.
But firstly, it should be made clear that there should be no criticism of council planning officials, who simply interpreted various pieces of local planning guidance and declared their view that, among other things, the development should not progress because it would involve the repopulation of an uninhabited island. This is indeed a policy in the council’s Local Plan. Yet politicians should always have discretion, and the councillors exercised theirs sensibly on Wednesday.
Given the high cost of travelling to Shetland, it is evident that the islands are never likely to be a mass tourism destination, mercifully. But we do need more developments of the sort proposed by Robert Thomson; anyone who has taken a trip to Skye or Harris, for example, will recognise the trend: very comfortable accommodation that attracts tourists with high spending power are not difficult to come by; and, what’s more, they are regularly full.
On the issue of not repopulating islands, it makes good sense at a time of cuts in public finances when services are stretched. Common sense has prevailed here, however, in that it was recognised a project designed to be self-sufficient as far as possible and only operating for part of the year would be a plus for the islands.