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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 April 2006, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Ex-base whisky idea is dram fine
RAF Saxa Vord
The majority at the meeting supported the plans
Plans to turn the former Royal Air Force base on Unst into a leading holiday attraction with a whisky distillery have won local backing.

The RAF ended its near 50-year link with the Shetland community at Saxa Vord after closing its radar base.

More than 200 islanders turned out to a public meeting on Wednesday night where development plans were outlined.

Developers hope to buy the site from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and tempt tourists with a hotel and distillery.

'Crucial moment'

Highland-based entrepreneur Frank Strang and Blackwood Distillers chief executive Caroline Whitfield outlined their plans for the empty base at the meeting in partnership with Shetland Islands Council.

Mr Strang, of Military Asset Management (MAM), has a track record of creating new business opportunities out of disused military bases.

As a businessman you see and taste the opportunities
Frank Strang
Military Asset Management

His plan is to invest several million pounds into converting parts of the base into a whisky distillery.

The rest of the camp would then gradually be turned into an upmarket hotel with tourist facilities and office space.

The proposals were backed by the majority of those at the meeting.

Unst Community Council chairman Gordon Thomson said: "This is a crucial moment for the community. People are behind this proposal, but still find it a wee bit difficult to grasp since it is such a radical chance.

"I think the round of applause after the meeting was a very positive sign.

"We need to get going with things as soon as possible."

Mr Strang said: "We live in an age now where people want to get away from the cities and can afford to come to places like Unst.

"When I came to Unst I fell immediately under the spell of the island. As a businessman you see and taste the opportunities.

Design teams

"Having been involved in tourism a long time ago I know what it is going to take. But this place will sell itself. There is something special about it."

Detailed plans are now being drawn up by design teams with a view to work starting on the new distillery later this year.

Ms Whitfield said: "We are going to attract people who have never thought before of coming to Unst."

The community is expected to meet again within the next few weeks to further discuss the changes on the cards for the island.

More than 100 jobs were lost at the Saxa Vord early warning station after the need for it diminished following the end of the Cold War.

The decision to mothball the base is part of the MoD's modernisation plans for the armed forces.

Last signal for Unst radar base
01 Mar 06 |  Scotland
'No funds' for closing radar base
24 Aug 05 |  Scotland
Delay call over Unst RAF closure
28 Jul 05 |  Scotland
Jobs crisis spurs on Shetlanders
21 Jul 05 |  Scotland

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