A Cunningsburgh man is appealing against a planning decision that has scotched his move to establish a trial fish curing unit on a nearby croft.
David Polson says that his fledgling firm, Thule Ventus, which is in the business of producing salt cod and other fish, is now on hold.
He blames planning for having hindered his application for months with “petty objections” before finally turning it down on 4th November on the basis that it was too near an existing, unoccupied croft house.
Dried salt cod is very popular in Portugal and some other countries and Mr Polson says he has had enquiries from the UK, Ireland, USA and various European states about his low-volume, high-value products.
In his notice of review for the application submitted to the council, Mr Polson says that the decision was not arrived at within the prescribed time and that the application was “handled by planning services with gross incompetence or wilful and determined maliciousness to prevent this development from proceeding”. The department also had not replied to a freedom of information request regarding the particulars of the case.
He also alleges that the “decision arrived at was based on spurious assumptions and contrivances” and on “information and assumptions that planning officers hide from, or failed to communicate to the applicant.”
Mr Polson lodged his application to temporarily site three 20ft steel containers at Vestinore, just south of Cunningsburgh, on 20th May after making a pre-application enquiry in January, following which “all requirements” were explained and “all issues” raised by officers were addressed before the application went in.
Among the “technical” changes sought by planners before the application was accepted were for a thicker red line to be used delineating the site in the plan, notification of the elevation above sea level and the container dimensions to be expressed in metres.
Mr Polson was then faced on 27th July with a “fait accompli” demand for £150 for the application to be re-advertised as the original had not shown water and electricity lines running from the vod crofthouse and the containers, which were only two metres away.
Their reason was that someone might have objected to the plans had they known that the fish processing containers would be serviced by power and water.
After that, the department “sat” on the application until Mr Polson eventually caved in and paid the extra money.
The final straw came with this month’s refusal on the grounds that the site was too close to the crofthouse which could be re-occupied. Mr Polson has enclosed photos showing the state of the house which he says was “essentially condemned” when the last occupant moved out in 2003.
If anyone did want to move in, the house would need major remedial works before it was inhabitable and, more likely, is really just a house site.
He also says he has the strong backing of the landowner and the crofter who has tenancy of the house, and no intentions of doing anything with. Neither, he says, have been contacted by planning.
He concludes in his notice of appeal: “I have spent hundreds of needless hours jumping through hoops in a forlorn attempt to satisfy planning. When finally, they refuse permission, it is on grounds they have not told me about. That is unforgivable. The strain this has placed on me and my family has been both unacceptable and unnecessary.”
Mr Polson told The Shetland Times: “The most frustrating bit of it is that the reasons they have given for refusal were as relevant in May as they are today. Yes the plans have changed a bit as plans often do, but the distance that the containers were to be away from the crofthouse has not changed.
“If planning was quick enough to tell me of numerous things that need to be changed and updated and added which were really insignificant in the grand scheme of things… and they knew in May it was only two metres away, and if the reason for the result is the proximity of the crofthouse, why did they wait for November to refuse it, especially when there has been dialogue about many other aspects that they weren’t happy about.
“Is it the case that it is incompetence, or is it the case that they are using the local policies and planning laws maliciously to refuse it?
“I cannot figure out why they would refuse somebody trying to better themselves by drying some salt fish in the middle of croft land in a hillside in Cunningsburgh anymore than somebody making pizza at Parkgate.”
Additionally, he says, he only applied for three years planning permission to see if the venture was viable. If so, he would hope to move to a more suitable building to continue his business and the steel containers could be quickly removed.
As far as his freedom of information request went, Mr Polson said that the only answer he had received was that his plans were being assessed against the requirements and they were considering the merits of the case. “But planning would not tell me what the merits of the case were, so how could I respond to them or try to supply them with the information they needed?
“They are operating in stark contrast to the other council departments I am dealing with. I cannot speak highly enough of environmental services, or trading standards or the economic unit. You cannot get away with anything that you should not be doing with environmental services, but they are doing their job professionally and expertly and extremely courteously.”
Mr Polson had not yet heard any date when his appeal might be heard by councillors, to all of whom he has also copied his notice of appeal.
The Shetland Times asked to speak to executive manager of planning Iain McDiarmid but he was unavailable. A statement from the planning department yesterday said: “We acknowledge that we have received the notice of review for appeal of the case and that as the local review body will be looking at the case in due course and as there is an appeal process being followed, it would be inappropriate to comment”.