A green freeport in the Highlands and Islands would bring maximum benefits for the region, for Scotland and for the UK, writes Stuart Black, HIE’s chief executive


As we await the outcome of deliberations as to where Scotland’s two green free ports should be located, it’s virtually impossible to imagine the impacts of such a designation being greater anywhere else than in the Highlands and Islands.

The region has a long proud heritage of fabrication and engineering, going back to the 1970s oil revolution.

Thanks to our natural assets and £300m investment in ports and harbours over the past ten years, we have the geography and the infrastructure to accommodate all that a green freeport needs.

The capacity of the ports clusters competes with other North Sea hubs like the Port of Esbjerg in Denmark and is recognised as the leading location to deliver offshore wind activities.

Not surprisingly, this is attracting interest from many manufacturers.

Green freeport status would help transform the country’s economy and contribute considerably to meeting net-zero targets.

It would attract tens of millions of pounds in UK Government seed funding, create around 20,000 green jobs and trigger many new supply chains.

On a broader level, it would bring housebuilding, better schooling, healthcare and amenities for local people. Wider jobs would be created indirectly across sectors such as hospitality, retail and leisure, teaching and healthcare.

Securing these industries and opportunities in the Highlands and Islands would accelerate economic growth and regeneration in the region, and the rate at which Scotland as a whole would benefit.

We have two strong bids from the Highlands and Islands; Opportunity Cromarty Firth (OCF) and Orkney.

The OCF bid is a collaboration of more than a dozen organisations representing industry, academia and the public sector around the Easter Ross and Inverness area. The aim is to stimulate transformational regeneration through economic activity in manufacturing, and from local and inward investment, innovation, skills development and employment. The OCF area has been highlighted as the main location for the UK to benefit from floating wind manufacturing.

Orkney, meanwhile, has a long history of innovation with marine industries, not least renewable energy. It is home to the European Marine Energy Centre, which has been breaking new grounds in this field for the past 20 years, while the much newer Orkney Research and Innovation Campus is supporting the growth of world-leading marine renewable energy and low carbon industries.

Both bids are located where entrepreneurial growth is already happening, for example close to universities or businesses with strong research, development, innovation and enterprise hubs.

Added to all of this is the region’s contribution to Scotland’s Fair Work agenda - we already have Fair Work conditionality attached to HIE funding. If either bid is successful HIE would aim to ensure there would be maximum collaboration with other ports in our region such as Kishorn, Stornoway, Scrabster and Lerwick.

There are of course several other strong bids from across Scotland, however in meeting the ‘levelling-up’ agenda I am in no doubt that the impacts of a green freeport in the Highlands and Islands region would be proportionately greater than anywhere else.

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