Businesses and communities in Caithness, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides look set to benefit from investment in major infrastructure projects approved today (Monday 22 November) by HIE.
The HIE Board has approved grants totalling more than £13m to develop three major projects.
In Caithness, Scrabster Harbour Trust has been awarded £5m to help develop the harbour as a key component of Scotland's renewable energy infrastructure.
In Orkney, HIE plans to invest £2.95m to create six new industrial units at Hatston Industrial Estate in Kirkwall. This would meet the needs of tidal energy developers using the European Marine Energy Centre test site at Eday.
In South Uist, community landowner Sealladh na Beinne Moire will receive £5m of HIE investment towards a £9.9m project to create new marine leisure and fisheries facilities, and provide access to land for community and commercial development.
Alex Paterson, HIE Chief Executive, said:
"These are three highly ambitious projects which HIE believes have the potential both to transform their local economies and make a significant contribution to the region's growth.
"This is a very challenging time for all of us in the public sector in Scotland. Everyone knows resources are tight, but HIE remains fully committed to our objectives to stimulate sustainable economic growth in every part of the Highlands and Islands.
"The renewable energy potential of the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters forms a major opportunity which the investments in Scrabster and Kirkwall will help to realise.
"The Lochboisdale Port of Entry project will produce powerful social and economic impacts in a fragile part of the Highlands and Islands.
"That combination of economic and community development has been a hallmark of HIE's approach for many years, and continues to lie at the heart of everything we do."
Willy Roe, Chair of HIE, said:
"Investment in these three projects will not only produce benefits for Caithness, Orkney and South Uist. It will enable each of these areas to contribute further to Scotland's economic recovery and growth.
"As a major local infrastructure project, each one should also come as a welcome boost for the Highlands and Islands construction industry, creating opportunities for local contractors in particular."
Further detail on each of the three projects follows.
Scrabster Harbour occupies a strategically important location next to the Pentland Firth, the first area in the UK to be made available for commercial-scale development of wave and tidal energy.
Developing the huge potential of marine renewable energy in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters will require major investment in infrastructure and services over the coming years.
HIE and its partners in the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership believe marine renewable energy can play a key role in the local economy.
A growing marine energy industry would help offset an impending employment gap created by the decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear facility, retaining highly skilled engineering jobs in the region.
The creation of a modern, multi-purpose pier would be a major step towards achieving that vision.
Hatston Industrial Units
HIE plans to invest £2.95m, including £1.18m European Regional Development Fund support, to create six new industrial units on vacant industrial sites next to Hatston Pier, Kirkwall.
Each unit will provide workshop, storage and office accommodation to meet the needs of tidal energy developers using the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) test site at Eday.
Established with HIE's backing in 2003, EMEC is helping establish Orkney as a world centre for marine energy research and development.
The Hatston project aims to fill a present gap in the provision of suitable premises for renewable energy developers in the Kirkwall area.
Hatston Pier is a natural base for servicing marine energy activity at EMEC.
The site is owned by Orkney Islands Council, and has already been earmarked for use in developing marine energy.
HIE plans to take out a 99-year lease on the 2.5 acre site. EMEC itself plans to lease one of the units, and is already attracting interest in the others from developers.
When fully occupied, the six units are expected to support up to 35 jobs. A further six jobs will be supported during the construction phase, which is scheduled to start early in 2011.
Each unit is being designed flexibly, so it can be adapted to the needs of individual occupants.
Lochboisdale Port of Entry
HIE has awarded a grant of just over £5m to community landowner Sealladh na Beinne Moire to support the planned £9.9m development of Lochboisdale Harbour in South Uist.
Sealladh na Beinne Moire is a social enterprise which HIE assisted to take over the ownership of the 93,000-acre South Uist Estate, including Eriskay and parts of Benbecula as well as South Uist itself, in 2006.
The new project aims to create jobs and stimulate economic and community growth in one of the Highlands and Islands' most rural and fragile areas.
It will open up access to land for business development and community housing, as well as creating infrastructure for the fisheries and aquaculture industries and the marine tourism market.
In addition to its financial backing, HIE plans to support the project with a dedicated team of specialist staff and advisers.
A new business, Lochboisdale Development Ltd, will be formed to drive the project forward.
HIE estimates the development could create 126 full-time equivalent jobs, helping the local economy to grow and diversify.
Specific elements include a 1.26km road, including two causeways to link Gasaigh island with Lochboisdale through the Rubha Bhuailt peninsula.
This will open up sites for community housing on Rubha Bhuailt, commercial development near the centre of Lochboisdale village, and industrial development on Gasaigh.