A planning application is to be made to enlarge the new emergency landing site at the Clickimin.
The council wants permission to increase the diameter of the controversial development to ease the transfer of casualties from the rescue helicopter to waiting ambulances.
It follows talks between the SIC, emergency services and helicopter operators over ways to improve the new landing site.
Chairwoman of the Shetland Emergency Planning Forum, Ingrid Gall, told this newspaper: “The users – the helicopter pilots and the ambulance – have asked that the size of the helipad be increased so that, when moving casualties from the helicopter to the ambulance, they are on tarmac and not on grass.”
The decision to develop the existing 10-metre diameter landing circle came amid plans to build the new Anderson High School and hall of residence at the Clickimin, four years after the original landing pad was opened at a cost of £85,000.
Planning conditions mean the new site cannot be used until construction work on the new school, which last week reached financial closure, begins. It has not yet reached the stage where “construction work” has begun but once work does start, the consent will initially last for two years while noise monitoring is carried out. But it has still caused consternation among some nearby residents.
The move comes after the weekend’s Manson Cup final between Spurs and Whalsay was disrupted to allow the helicopter to land on the pitch.
Long-standing opponent of the landing site, South Lochside resident Sandy McMillan, has described as “a shambles” the incident which saw the Friday fixture delayed by 40 minutes.
However, the outgoing coastguard manager Neville Davis, who retires this month, has made a staunch defence of the emergency landing site at Clickimin, insisting it has made a genuine difference to isles folks in genuine need of emergency treatment.
In a letter to The Shetland Times, Mr McMillan criticised the decision to hold up the match.
“What a shambles! Last Friday, at approximately 6.30pm, at the Clickimin South senior football pitch, Spurs and Whalsay were waiting for their cup final to get under way.
“Then out of the clouds appeared a helicopter, on an approach to land at the park with 25 guys ready for the kick-off. The incident lasted 45 minutes.
“The footballers happily play with their ball, until a coastguard kindly asks them if they could adjourn to another park as our helicopter would like to use your park rather than one of the two designated helipads.”
Mr McMillan said he had been told by the SIC that the old helipad would come back into use at the beginning of August, and questioned why this had not been followed through.
Mr Davis said the old landing site was this week made available for use again. But “dynamic risk assessments” mean the helicopter may have to use the pitch again as disruption caused by the new school’s development builds up.
On Wednesday Mr Davis said: “That landing site is available to us again. We got the okay a couple of days ago, because the works around the paths have now been completed.
“Up until now there have been contractors working on renewing this path, so there was plant, and gravel and bits and pieces. That’s all been cleared now.
“They may introduce tall cranes and things going on through the school, that anyone flying in is going to have to look at and think, yes, I can shoot an approach to that landing site, or no, I’m either going to go back to Tingwall, or Sumburgh, or indeed – if it’s absolutely life threatening – into the middle of the football pitch.”
Interestingly, Mr Davis said he was the closest resident to the landing site on the other side of the Clickimin Loch.
A resident in Westerloch Drive, he said his house was nearest on that side to the landing site. Unless through his involvement through his work, he said he very often did not know that a helicopter had come in until he saw – rather than heard – the aircraft at the landing pad.
“I think the thing that’s often forgotten with this is just how much benefit the Shetland community gets from the landing site. It’s not just French fishermen or offshore workers. The number of medical evacuations we do from Unst, Fetlar, Fair Isle, often with youngsters or elderly people needing immediate medical attention, we are able to get them to that medical attention as quickly as humanly possible.
“It does have an intrinsic benefit to the provision of healthcare to the Shetland community.”
In his letter, Mr McMillan also claims goalposts should have been removed before the helicopter was brought in to land on the pitch during a second incident on Saturday.
“The planning committee’s ruling on parks being used while a helicopter uses the landing site or grass area is that all goalposts should be removed, owing to down blast from the helicopter,” he stated.
“That was totally ignored, and the question is why?”
But Mr Davis said the goalposts would not have needed to be removed if the aircraft was landing in the middle of the pitch.
“It depends where the helicopter is landing and what its approach is. If it’s landing in the middle of a football pitch the goalposts don’t need to be changed because they are not anywhere near the helicopter.
“The down-draught and wash from the helicopter is very localised. They are basically the rotor-disk width and a little astern if they are travelling forward. It wouldn’t always be necessary to do anything with goalposts.”
Since Friday’s match disruption some have questioned why a nearby pitch, which was not in use at the time, could not have been used by the helicopter.
Mr Davis said the decision pertained to getting the patient transferred as quickly and as comfortably as possible.
He said the trolley-cots used by the ambulance service weighed more than eight stone, even without carrying anyone.
“Wheeling that across grass is not easy,” he said.