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Shetland Arts Development Agency



Immediate release

7th March 2008

Buncefield fire of 2005 jeopardises the UK’s most northerly arts venue

After 16 years of planning, £750,000 of expenditure and £9 million of fundraising, blanket Health & Safety Executive guidance could stop the island community of Shetland realising its new music, cinema and arts education centre.

The HSE has refused to revisit the particular circumstances of the Lerwick fuel storage site despite repeated requests. They are concerned that the possibility of a Buncefield-style vapour cloud explosion could occur at the Lerwick based fuel storage site. However, common sense suggests that such an explosion is almost impossible in Lerwick.

Alistair Carmichael MP for Orkney and Shetland said: “The HSE simply need to review the position on the ground and tell us if the risk they have identified through their paper exercise is so significant that a large area of Lerwick is at risk. It is crucial that the HSE take up our request to look again at the specific differences between the one tank in Shetland that is an issue and sites like Buncefield and Grangemouth”.

In Shetland a limited amount of fuel is delivered to an onshore tank by a small boat. This operation is overseen by three people: one on the boat, one on the pier and a third by the tank. This is in complete contrast to the Buncefield tank which was filled by an unmanned pipeline which resulted in its overflowing for 41 minutes before the explosion.

The categorisation of the Lerwick fuel tank as high risk is the result of a simple paper exercise that considered the height of the tank, the speed of filling and the type of valves used.

For a vapour cloud to form, a still day is required which is a rare occurrence given the extreme weather experienced in the UK’s most northerly islands.

Shetland is a small community with an international reputation for its culture, particularly its music. A purpose built arts venue for the islands has long been an aspiration, with initial meetings dating back 30 years.

Shetland Arts, a charity taking the lead on this project, faces building inflation costs of £2,000 a day while waiting for the HSE to hear its plea.

Gwilym Gibbons, Director of Shetland Arts, said “It is immensely frustrating that the HSE, sitting in their office hundreds of miles down south, will not reconsider this unique Shetland situation, when so much is at stake. The funds raised by our charity, to realise this dream, will have to be returned if the project is delayed as we cannot raise additional funds at the speed of building inflation. Bureaucratic stubbornness is standing in the way of commonsense”.

Construction of the new venue, called Mareel, is due to begin in June of this year, with the doors opening in spring 2010. The venue is seen as a key part of the development of Shetland’s world-renowned creative community and a promise to Shetland’s future. At present the creative industries in Shetland contribute £25m to the local economy. In a digital age, and at a time that Shetland finds itself linked by fibreoptic cable to the wider world, this industry sector has huge potential for growth and an opportunity to maintain a vibrant, sustainable and forward looking community with Mareel at its centre. Many believe this is vital to the future of Shetland in a rapidly changing world. Gwilym Gibbons said: “Shetland is a creative, confident and connected community. Mareel will build on each of these special characteristics to maintain and grow the population and diversify the economy”.

Alistair Carmichael MP for Orkney and Shetland added: “Mareel will be a vital community asset. In a climate of reducing capital funds from grants and trusts if Mareel cannot progress in coming months such an opportunity may be lost for at least 10 years. With building costs rising by the day, Shetland needs to know now if it can build its venue before the costs exceed the funding package in place”.

An added frustration facing Shetland is that the amount of petrol stored in the tank in question is below the levels required for hazardous substance consent. There is no local power through licensing and the democratic process to control the problem. The consensus in Shetland is that the dangers are not as high as the HSE suggests. The local authority’s Emergency Planning Office, along with a large number of offices and private housing is closer to the fuel site than the proposed site of Mareel. If a Buncefield-style explosion did take place, as the HSE believe possible a large proportion of the islands’ principal town would be demolished. In an apparent contradictory statement in response to a question of how safe the area is now for those living, working and playing in the proximity of the tank, the HSE stated the level of risk is “… extremely low, particularly compared to other risk encountered in daily life”.

Shetland Arts has offered to pay for an HSE Official to come and review the Shetland fuel tank situation and ensure they enjoy the hospitality for which Shetland is famed. As yet that offer has not been taken up. With each passing day there is a growing risk that the huge volunteer effort, along with the funds raised, and the impact of Mareel on Shetland’s future, will be lost.

Gwilym Gibbons said: “Although I understand their reluctance to review a single site in relation to their new guidance as it may set a precedent, I urge the HSE to reconsider and recognise the significant impact of the position they have adopted”.


For further information contact:

Gwilym Gibbons
Director, Shetland Arts
Mobile: 07824 335 502

Alistair Carmichael
Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland
Mobile: 07900 386 930

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