Viewforth issue prompted Fox to resign position

Councillor Billy Fox resigned as the SIC deputy leader amid concerns over arrangements allowing construction workers to stay in the old Viewforth care home in Lerwick, it has emerged.

Mr Fox stepped down from his role last week following a private members’ policy forum, citing issues with “policy and process” with which he held concerns.

The Shetland Times understands that Mr Fox held deep concerns about a decision by the council’s asset management to grant a lease to Shetland FM for the Burgh Road property last May.

Shetland FM was seeking to house oil and gas workers in the building, which closed as a care home last year. It now accommodates Morrison Construction workers involved in the new Anderson High School project.

The lease was given on the understanding that a change of use application would be retrospectively submitted to the planning department.

Mr Fox, who became depute leader in May 2014, feared the council’s reputation was at risk because of the decision.

The application, aimed at changing Viewforth from a care home to an accommodation hostel, was subsequently turned down following concerns about access, safety and traffic movement.

The member for Shetland South, who last week said he intended to remain as a back bench councillor, refused to comment when approached by The Shetland Times this week. However, he is understood to be concerned that the lease was granted before a change of use was approved.

Mr Fox is believed to have been arguing the point since last July with council officials, including chief executive Mark Boden.

His concern is also understood to stem from questions over a building warrant and the number of workers staying in the centre – and who would be responsible in the event of unforeseen circumstances, such as a fire.

Calls by this newspaper to Shetland FM operations director, Dave Williams, were yesterday forwarded to the company’s public relations agent, Paul Riddell, who said all inquiries were being handed back to the council, as landlord.

However, planning committee chairman Frank Robertson said it was up to Shetland FM to sort out its affairs. He denied the council had been left in a difficult position.

Mr Robetson said: “The council has leased it to a third party. The instructions infrastructure services got was to off-load, either sell, lease or whatever vacant council properties to get some income.

“It’s leased to the third party. It’s absolutely incumbent on the third party to get consent, be it planning or building control – not the council.

“If you take on a long lease on a property, the council leases are usually lease and maintain. There will be a condition that whoever leases has to maintain the place properly.

“I’m sure that whatever use they are going to make of it, if they require planning, or building warrant, they have to apply back to the council because they are the leasees of the property.”

Mr Robertson said it would be up to Shetland FM to sort out its problem with the planning department. “That is the statutory authority,” he said.

Viewforth closed its doors in February last year after years of providing care and support for some of the community’s most vulnerable people.


Add Your Comment
  • Michael Garriock

    • March 24th, 2016 20:21

    Welcome to the longstanding world of SIC beaucracy Billy. Ask a question of “officials” they would prefer not to have to answer, and you will “argue” for years while they twist and turn the “argument” around to just about every other conceivable but irrelevant angle (plus numerous red herrings), to avoid acknowledging, never mind addressing the one point put to them.

    Its somewhat heartening (but not much) to see that they avoid any form of “discrimination” in pursuance of their “blind ’em with b/s until they get fed up and go away” policy though, and that one of their “bosses” is treated with the self-same level of contempt as the rest of us plebs.

    You’ve rocked their little boat a tad Billy, and now you’re being stonewalled. This was to be expected, but it desperately needs rocked much more.

    As for the point at hand here, we all already know the final outcome will either be endless bickering over it until the lease expires and it becomes a moot point, or concessions are quietly made in some backroom to appease Planning’s demands, and it will all quietly fall off the radar. In other words, business as usual, a total fudge.

  • john ridland

    • March 25th, 2016 11:54

    Very well put Michael, Its the same auld 2/6 wan rule fir dem an another fir da rest.!!!

  • John Tulloch

    • March 26th, 2016 9:59

    What can we reasonably infer about this affair?

    1. Asset management department is (presumably) charged with “sweating the council’s assets” and is under pressure to maximise income.
    2. Nevertheless, it behoves SIC departments to protect the council’s reputation.
    3. Properly written objectives are usually accompanied by constraints e.g. relevant laws and regulations must be observed and the council’s reputation protected.
    4. In order to satisfy 3. above, the lease conditions should afford the council some control over what goes on at the property in question.
    5. It is surely inconceivable that asset management leased the Viewforth building without asking its intended purpose and without knowing that the proposed change of use would require planning consent from SIC? Failure on these points would suggest incompetence.
    6. Yet the conditions of the lease, apparently, permitted the change of use – people moved in – without planning permission?
    7. The council’s reputation has already been damaged.
    8. Why and how did this happen?

    It appears Councillor Fox’s concerns are justified.

    The full story is unknown but, given the circumstances and the resignation of the SIC’s deputy leader, an inquiry into the circumstances is surely called for?


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