A Cunningsburgh couple are celebrating after being granted planning permission to open a farm shop in the area.
Kenneth and Hazel Mackenzie have been working on their new venture for three years, hoping to sell local produce and create a cafe just north of Cunningsburgh.
But they were recently refused permission to build because the premises would create a junction onto the main road between Lerwick and Sumburgh. This is against the local development plan, and was deemed by planners to be unsafe.
However councillors at Wednesday’s planning committee meeting unanimously supported the application by the Mackenzies, which would also include space for other businesses to occupy.
Chairman Frank Robertson said it was an “interesting and innovative proposal” that could be a welcome development in a rural area. However he said that it must be compatible with the local development plan, and in granting permission, against current policy, additional road safety aspects must be considered.
Addressing the meeting, Mr Mackenzie said he was “vexed” he had to be there at all, when the proposal had the backing of local residents, the community council and the isles’ politicians. The idea of the farm shop and its associated buildings even had the support of prime minister David Cameron, who had met the couple in his visit in July.
Mr Mackenzie said: “All we are trying to do is sell our produce direct from our croft, adjacent to an existing access, in an area which was deemed suitable for the safe herding of livestock across the main road and is the only piece of land in our ownership suitable for an enterprise such as a farm shop.”
The shop would also sell goods from other producers, as is done in farm shops on the mainland, and would be a boon for locals and tourists. It would also benefit the community because there is no shop in Cunningsburgh.
The Mackenzies already operate an “honesty” system – it started with an honesty box when the couple had a surplus of eggs, and expanded into a trailer.
Their original application had a single entrance and exit junction to the main A970, and when plans were initially rejected, the Mackenzies changed this to two junctions. But Wednesday’s meeting heard this would actually be less safe. Roads engineer Colin Gair said two access points would create confusion, and a single access was more desirable.
Councillor Drew Ratter said it was a “very interesting” case, and he supported rural developments. It would be “very regrettable” if it could not go ahead because of road traffic concerns – there were good visibility splays at the area and it was used by local bus operators.
He added that he did not expect trade to be “excessively” high.
The meeting was told that the cost of creating an entrance to the proposed development from the Fladdabister loop road via the existing Aithsetter junction would be prohibitive.
Mr Ratter was seconded by councillor Billy Fox, who said that pedestrian access should be appropriately defined if permission could be granted. The development would be in an area of no street lights or pavements.
Speaking afterwards, Mrs Mackenzie said she was “fairly delighted” the project would finally go ahead. It had first gone to planning in January.
Funding, and building warrants, still had to be obtained, but Mr Mackenzie said he was hopeful the premises would be built in “months” rather than years. He added: “We’re both quite elated,” and thanked all the officials and councillors, as well as the locals who had turned out to support the couple.
Mrs Mackenzie said the farm shop would be sure to sell everyday necessities, as well as farm produce – the will supply their own meat, vegetables and eggs – plus locally made craft and gift items. It would “fill the gap” left by the closing of the local shop, and would enable them to expand “hugely” from their honesty trailer, which only operates on Fridays.
The additional units in the plans would be let to “like-minded” people – Mrs Mackenzie cited a hairdresser and an architect. “Anything to make the place into a community hub.” She wanted it to be a “social interaction type of place”.
Mr Mackenzie said at present tourists have “nowhere to go” to eat within 10 miles of Cunningsburgh, and the development would address this. He added that the area was expanding, with 52 new builds in the last 10 years and 11 planned for next year.