By Adam CivicoDecember 17th 2021

Shetland is naturally beautiful but is also home to nationally significant energy infrastructure, a nascent space industry and a multi-million-pound aquaculture sector. That makes it an exciting place to live and work as a planner, says team leader Simon Pallant.

Whenever marine planning team leader Simon Pallant is having a tough day, he knows how to unwind – he gets outdoors.

In the summer that might involve a lunchtime walk to the end of the pier in Lerwick hoping to catch mackerel or piltocks, or an evening trip to one of Shetland’s many lochs on the hunt for trout.

Through the winter months, it is more likely his outdoor pursuits involve an invigorating walk around some of the spectacular coastline.

It’s quite the contrast to the time when he was an Edinburgh-based principal planner with the Scottish Government.

Seeking a better work/life balance was one of the driving forces behind Simon’s decision to move back to Shetland with his wife.

He says, “I was working too long hours in a high-pressure environment, working too hard taking too much on and not getting much reward back. The time felt right to move back to Shetland and take up a position where I could make a positive impact on places and people and have a better work and life balance.

“I’ve been back nearly five years now and recently took up the position of the team leader of the coastal and marine planning team, which is a great job given my interest in the sea, aquaculture, flood risk, water… and most importantly fishing!”

While angling – especially fly fishing for trout­ – is Simon’s main passion he also enjoys hill walking, exploring beaches and nature.

“Shetland is absolutely perfect for all these, and they were some of the main reasons for moving from a city to live here. I stay in the main town, Lerwick, but the countryside and many fishing locations are literally just a few minutes away.

“I can go fishing in my lunch break if I so wish. On the mainland it would sometimes take over an hour just to get out of the city and through all the traffic and even then, you would go somewhere that is busy.”

Simon’s first experience of the islands was moving to the North Mainland as a four-year-old in the 1980s when Simon’s father took up work at the Sullom Voe oil terminal.

He still remembers the journey north and his first experience of life in the isles.

“The first night we stayed in Hillswick, and they were holding the Northmavine Up Helly Aa. It was quite an introduction for a four year old, Vikings and burning boats it was awesome.

“We stayed in a small village called North Roe, where I developed my passion for nature and fishing. I remember the great community spirit, and everyone being so friendly in the village.

“Moving back for employment was obviously different as we made the choice, but I can say it’s something I’m so glad that I did.

“A lot of people aspire to the work/life balance, here you can actually achieve it.”

And while that balance may have been an important factor in the decision, it was also a good career move and has presented opportunities that he would simply not have had anywhere else.

We have a wide variety of projects happening here, from large scale and complex planning applications to masterplans, and we are leaders in marine spatial planning and aquaculture.

Simon Pallant
Simon Pallant

Simon is quick to bust the myth that Shetland is a sleepy backwater.

“Many people may have the perspective that very little happens in Shetland as there isn’t much to do, and that you won’t be able to positively develop your career here. That’s simply not the case.

“We have a wide variety of projects happening here, from large scale and complex planning applications to masterplans, and we are leaders in marine spatial planning and aquaculture. Examples include a range of renewable developments, emerging technologies for clean energy, large scale housing, oil related development, aquaculture and decommissioning.”

And when it comes to site visits, there are few places that rival Shetland’s dramatic coastal beauty.

“One of the great parts of a town planning job is being able to get out and either assess applications or do assessments. Given our wide range of environments and islands to visit you will see some spectacular sites.

“You can’t say in many other local authority areas that you will be taking a ferry or sometimes a plane to visit one of your destinations.”

Simon’s employer is Shetland Islands Council and he says the authority is supportive of its staff, both in terms of flexibility but also in backing professional development and career progression.

“Being a smaller local authority means that there will be opportunities to develop your career. If you are a more senior planner, then we would welcome the experience that you would bring.”

And with major developments ranging from nationally significant clean energy schemes to innovative housing masterplans and the development of marine management strategies, Simon believes there will always be plenty of variety in the profession.

Building meaningful relationships with Shetland’s different communities has also been a real positive, he says.

“Working here you will also get the opportunity to work with and build relationships with a number of other council services and communities. Being an island community, I feel that this is much more manageable and therefore rewarding.”

One of his biggest accomplishments in Shetland was developing a “Place Plan” for Scalloway, Shetland’s ancient capital. That was a pilot project and one of the first developments of its kind in Scotland.

“Because it’s a small community you get to know the people and to form relationships with them. It’s more personal.”

Inspired by Simon's story? We have all the information you need to start planning your dream move to Shetland.