Push to restore ‘derelict’ town

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Huge areas of Stornoway lie derelict and out of use due to planning restrictions on development near the gas works on Sandwick Road.

At last week’s meeting of the Sustainable Development Committee, councillors were told that a report by consultants had looked into ways of reducing the constraints by burying the remaining above-ground gas vessel but this work could cost in the region of £2million.

Several developments such as the new Homeless Hostel on Sandwick Road and the new Nicolson Institute have managed to get through planning despite being in the safety zones, however all such plans have to be referred to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Leader of the Comhairle, Angus Campbell, who represents constituents in this area of Stornoway, said: “We have seen some development which has been able to get through but we have to keep pushing. There are still huge areas of the town lying derelict, they are an eyesore and are not very pleasant to those who live there.”

He said there were large areas of ground in the industrial part of the town which could be used to enhance the town but development was hindered due to the safety zones.

Some of the empty buildings used to be the base of employment for 70 or 80 people, he said, and now proposals for development with much fewer people were being barred.

He added he was ‘very disappointed’ that a more permanent solution had not been found.

The issues surrounding the safeguarding zones imposed by the HSE have been on the agenda of the Stornoway Regeneration Group for some time.

They inherited this from a group set up in the late 1990s to consider this issue in the context of Newton specifically.

As this group looked into the problems, it was realised that this was a bigger issue for the town itself with the long-term suitability of Pier No 2 also to be looked at as the only facility for offloading oil and LPG prior to the storage at James Street Depot and the LPG Plant.

Back in 2004, the Stornoway Bulk Cargo Import Study was undertaken to explore the scope of relocating the import of a range of bulk cargos and storage of Hazardous Substances from the town centre to a site adjacent to Arnish. The stumbling block to this is the costs involved.

Transco, who previously operated the LPG Plant had looked into an option of relocating offloading and storage to the former MoD pier at Holm but an application to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Structural Fund failed and the project was shelved.

Transco then partially buried its two largest gas vessels and after this they were less inclined to move the plant.

The site is now operated by Scotia Gas Networks (SGN) who are still not minded to relocate and any proposal to move would have to be funded by external sources.

The option to mound the remaining vessel would remove some of the restrictions of the current zones but there is still a significant risk associated to the 21 tonne road tanker (LPG) which visits the site.

At last week’s council meeting, Angus Campbell asked whether it was necessary for SGN to continue to use the tanker as they had gas piped to the site.

Keith Bray, Head of Development Services, said this question could be taken back to HSE and to the company themselves.

Chair of Sustainable Development Archie K Campbell said they must continue to push for development: “It would make an enormous difference to not just that area but the whole of Stornoway.”

Leader Angus Campbell added that a solution to this problem would not only inject new life into a derelict part of Stornoway but would also mean they were able to use Brownfield sites for development rather than Greenfield sites.

A report to councillors this week concluded that although a mounding project of Vessel 3 at the LPG site would bring opportunities to ‘regenerate parts of the Newton area’, the Comhairle and partners were facing very challenging economic circumstances and the prospect of early improvement was ‘remote’.

The project could cost up to £2million and this would have to be added to the development cost of any scheme which the Comhairle was to bring forward.