A new collaborative centre, designed to host research and education and attract investment and jobs to the Highlands and Islands, is being discussed by two of the region’s foremost organisations.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) are proposing to build shared premises at Inverness Campus, the 215-acre site which HIE is developing as a location for business, learning and community activities in the east of the city.
The partners have placed a notice on the Scottish Government's Public Contracts Scotland website and the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), inviting architects to express interest in tendering to design the new building.
The OJEU procurement process takes six months, after which designs will be submitted to the Highland Council for consideration.
Details are still being developed. However, the concept behind the joint venture includes shared office accommodation, teaching, research and laboratory facilities, and a space to showcase the region’s pioneering role in some of Scotland’s key economic sectors, including renewable energy and life sciences.
If the plans go ahead, around 150 posts currently based in HIE's Inverness and Dingwall offices will be relocated to the Campus.
University of the Highlands and Islands will locate several new activities at the centre which will complement the new Inverness College UHI already under construction at Inverness Campus. Centre staff will undertake a range of activities which also complement the university’s existing work.
Other organisations with staff currently co-located alongside HIE in Cowan House at Inverness Retail and Business Park, will also make the move. These include Scottish Development International, the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service, and business/academia liaison service Interface.
Earlier this year, HIE announced it would be quitting Cowan House, having successfully attracted business services provider Capgemini to base 500 new jobs there.
Capgemini has already begun its move into the Retail Park premises, and expects to take over the whole building in summer 2014.
With the proposed Campus premises expected to be ready the following year, HIE is currently considering other potential sites in the city as an interim base.
HIE Chief Executive Alex Paterson said staff in both organisations were very excited at the prospect of closer collaborative working.
“This is a really innovative venture for the Highlands and Islands," said Mr Paterson. "We don't believe there's anywhere else in the UK where a university and an economic development agency have the chance to collaborate so closely, on a daily basis in shared premises.
"HIE has been a strong supporter of UHI since its inception, and continues to support the university as one of the region's prime economic drivers – providing jobs, opportunities for research and development and commercialisation, and attracting young people to study here.
"Our plans for these new premises combine ambitions to broaden the region's research base in new directions, provide HIE with a new HQ in the city, and create a new marketing centre to promote inward investment opportunities across the whole of the Highlands and Islands.
"Collaboration between businesses, research and learning institutions, and economic development providers is at the heart of the Inverness Campus ethos, which is another reason we believe this joint venture would find its ideal home there."
James Fraser, the university's Principal and Vice-Chancellor, said: "We welcome this fantastic opportunity to co-locate some of our services with HIE, a longtime supporter of the university."
"It is entirely appropriate that a development agency and university are placed closely together to capitalise on the opportunities for business and the communities of our area.
"This new centre will present a focus on the Inverness Campus for all 13 of our academic partners from across the Highlands and Islands to showcase our distinctive and innovative partnership.
"The building will also allow us to develop opportunities for research in new and existing areas of expertise.
"In addition to the new Inverness College UHI building, this facility will help further establish Inverness as a university city."
The Invitation to tender is being published on Highlands and Islands Enterprise's profile page on the Public Contracts Scotland website on Thursday 19 September, 2013. You can find this here.