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The Eday farm from the roadside. Photo: SSF.
The Eday farm from the roadside. Photo: SSF.

Scottish Sea Farms has won planning permission to build six homes in the hamlet of Mill Bay on the remote island of Eday in Orkney. Four of the eco-friendly homes will be for fish farm workers, with the other available to rent by islanders or visitors.

SSF said in a press release that the £750,000 development will help overcome the lack of available accommodation on the island, which has just 76 habitable properties for a population of 129 people, and make it easier to retain staff who currently face a long journey to work.

Two-hour commute

Eday farm manager Phil Boardman said: “We’ve been farming on the island for over seven years now and while the conditions for growing salmon are superb, the remote location has made recruitment difficult.

SSF's green homes

  • Modular-style accommodation designed by Retreat Homes & Lodges, who were featured on More4’s Impossible Builds, and manufactured on the UK mainland to cut down on travel miles during construction
  • Sustainable cedar wood cladding to help insulate and reduce overall energy use
  • Living sedum roofs which help reduce rainwater run-off, minimise erosion and absorb noise, while also providing a habitat for wildlife
  • Packaged sewage treatment system and reed beds to separate and capture waste from water, offering a more ecological alternative to a septic tank
  • Wind-generated power from existing turbines along with air source heat pumps which absorb warmth from the air outside and use it to heat homes.

“Unless employees live on one of the nearby islands such as Sanday, they face a two-hour commute by boat from Orkney mainland, then have to stay over on one of the islands until their next weekend off, leaving little time for family, food shopping or looking after home and garden.

“The result is that we have seen valued employees leave with every crop cycle – they loved the job, just not the logistics that go with it.”

The introduction of a two-week on, two-week off shift pattern was step one in solving the problem. “Step two, and equally critical, will be building these high spec houses for the team to go home to after each shift, sparing them the commute to other islands and ensuring they have a good quality of life,” said Boardman.

The houses are being built together with local landowners Haydn Jones and Nick Lyde of green property company Willowstream.

Boardman said SSF had given the Eday team the choice of multi-bedroomed communal homes or single dwellings.

“The decision was unanimous – they wanted their own space,” said the farm manager. “The bonus of having the two rental homes meanwhile is that there will also be somewhere for visitors, contractors and auditors to stay.”

Phil Boardman: Strong local support for project. Photo: SSF.
Phil Boardman: Strong local support for project. Photo: SSF.

Polytunnels

Architect Leslie Burgher’s graduated design will see the homes stepped into the hillside.

There will also be extensive planting to help absorb CO₂ from the atmosphere, along with polytunnels and a communal outside space with seating made from local stone.

One of the first Scottish Sea Farms’ employees to benefit from the new accommodation will be Charlotte Owen, 28.

‘My own space’

“The two-week on, two-week off shift pattern has already made a huge difference, ensuring there’s sufficient time around work to leave the island, see family and friends, and generally catch up on all things life,” said Owen.

“The only downside is that, during my two weeks on, I’m having to stay in shared accommodation with colleagues, so the days of going home to my own space at the end of each shift can’t come soon enough.”

Groundworks for the development – which will be known as Millhaefen, Old Norse for sheltered inlet – will begin immediately, with a view to the new homes being ready for occupancy in early spring 2020 in time for the next stock of salmon.

Boardman said local support for the project had been strong. “From the architect, Orkney Islands Council planning team and local SEPA office, to the contractors we’re using and our logistics partners Northwards who will help transport the homes to the island, local partnerships have been key to making this project happen. Get it right and this eco-friendly development could be the start of things to come for remote communities such as Eday.”

The floorplan of one of the homes the farm workers will use during their two-week stint on Eday. Image: SSF.
The floorplan of one of the homes the farm workers will use during their two-week stint on Eday. Image: SSF.