A church minister looking to settle among his flock following his retirement has narrowly won the backing of the council’s planning committee following an appeal over an outline application for a new house.
Rev Derek Conabeer and his wife Hillary initially saw their plans for a house turned down – largely because the proposed development lies between two areas of housing, with Southerhouse lying to the north and Toogs to the south.
But councillors voted three to two in favour of upholding his appeal.
Addressing elected members at a town hall hearing, planning officer Janet Barclay-Smith said the proposal went against the local development plan.
She highlighted a report which showed the site lying within a national scenic area, which had been designated due to the variety of contrasting landscapes. She said council policy required no developments take place in areas outwith existing area settlements.
Mr Conabeer said he had been happy living in Burra during his time as Baptist minister in the isle. With his retirement edging forward, he wanted to find somewhere nearby to build a house which would allow him to remain in the community he had served.
“The availability of housing in Burra is unfortunately very limited. Houses for sale tend to be snapped up very quickly, sometimes because of word of mouth they don’t even come on the market.” REV DEREK CONABEER
“We have found ourselves surrounded by a very warm and welcoming community whose needs I have tried to serve as well.
“My official retirement is due in November 2016 and we would very much like to retire in Burra among the community we have come to love.
“At present my housing is linked to the job, and I will have to vacate it on my retirement.
“The availability of housing in Burra is unfortunately very limited. Houses for sale tend to be snapped up very quickly, sometimes because of word of mouth they don’t even come on the market.”
He said a site had been identified on the boundary of croft-land owned by local Isabelle Laurenson, who had “kindly agreed to sell”.
Mr Conabeer was supported by the community council in Burra. Speaking on its behalf, SIC member Vaila Wishart highlighted Scottish government planning policy favoured the building of single houses in remote and rural areas in certain circumstances. She said sites in Burra were like “hens’ teeth”.
“The community council doesn’t consider that this is in an isolated position, and they believe it is in keeping with the settlement pattern in the area,” she told committee members.
Peter Campbell moved that the appeal be granted.
“We’ve heard a considerable amount about a couple who are looking to stay in the community where they have lived for a number of years. I feel I’d be quite happy to move that we grant permission in this instance.”
However, he was held back by planning manager, Iain McDiarmid, who warned any motion should contain details of “material planning considerations”.
“One of the reasons we have a [local development] plan is for guidance. It’s not the case that we have to follow it doggedly. PETER CAMPBELL
Moving an amendment, Billy Fox was in favour of turning down the appeal. He said the plans were contrary to planning policies, adding that a single house would “impinge” on the landscape, and create a risk of two distinct areas becoming conjoined. He highlighted findings which showed two other potential sites, although one had already been developed. But he added a high proportion of sites in the isles were “windfall sites”.
“In this instance, regretfully, I’d support the officer’s recommendation to refuse,” he said.
He was supported by planning chairman, Frank Robertson.
However, Mr Campbell insisted there was no need to “doggedly” follow guidelines.
“One of the reasons we have a [local development] plan is for guidance. It’s not the case that we have to follow it doggedly. They are there as guidance for us to base our decisions on.
“There is a need, in particular in rural areas of Shetland where we can have difficulties in securing house sites, we have to have a flexible approach. We have a shortage of sites.”