North Ness evacuation defended after ‘reassuring’ new tests
Tests at the council’s vacant North Ness premises have “been reassuring” – raising the prospect that staff may soon return to the headquarters which were evacuated due to safety fears.
Initial findings of tests conducted this month suggest the amount of work needed on the building, known as the White House, will be less than may have been anticipated.
In September 2016 the council’s flagship building was evacuated amid fears over a “sudden collapse” of the floors.
Since the £7.3 million building was vacated council officials have remained tight-lipped about the progress of investigations, pointing vaguely to issues such as “sagging” floors and “deflections”.
But the findings of this month’s load test, which comes nearly a year-and-a-half after the offices were initially evacuated, suggest that the situation is not as bad as initially feared.
The council’s director of corporate services, Christine Ferguson, told The Shetland Times the council was right to evacuate the building as they were advised to by their landlords Shetland Leasing and Property (Slap).
She said: “We were advised to evacuate by our landlord. I think we were right to move on their advice.”
The council official would not be drawn on claims, made by a well-placed source, that the load test – which is understood to have involved placing water-filled tanks in various positions – showed the floors to actually be stronger than expected.
“I don’t know where that’s come from”, she said.
An email circulated to council staff by Ms Ferguson, however, said: “The load test has now been completed and initial results have been reassuring with regard to the condition of the building.
“This should mean that the extent of the works that will be required before we can move back into the building should not be as great as it might have been.”
The email also revealed that a timescale for moving staff back into the building will be available once a final “detailed analysis” of the load test is made available.
Last year The Shetland Times revealed, through a Freedom of Information request, that the SIC continued to pay rent to Slap despite the building sitting vacant. The lease was to cost the council £467,000 per annum when they took occupancy in 2012, with upwards adjustments for inflation.
The Shetland Times has attempted to contact a Slap director but has been unable to get a response.
• In-depth report in Friday’s Shetland Times