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Highlands and Islands an ‘ideal’ place for a green freeport


By Rachel Smart


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Port of Cromarty Firth. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Port of Cromarty Firth. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

The Highlands and Islands is an ideal place to host at least one of Scotland’s green free ports, according to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

A green freeport is a large, zoned area designed to boost economic growth through various targeted tax, customs, and other incentives (both reserved and devolved), including planning, regeneration, and innovation.

Its boundary must include at least one rail, sea or airport but can extend 45km beyond.

Last year, eight freeports were identified in England. In March this year, the UK and Scottish Governments published a bidding prospectus to create two green freeports in Scotland, with the UK Government pledging £52m seed funding.

Two bids are expected from the Highlands and Islands: one from Orkney and another from Opportunity Cromarty Firth.

Audrey MacIver, HIE’s director of energy transition and net zero, said creating a green freeport in either of these locations would be an opportunity to go beyond compliance and involve local people in developing a vision for transformational change.

She added: “Competition from locations across Scotland will be fierce, but I’m absolutely convinced that the Highlands and Islands region is in an ideal position to host at least one of Scotland’s green freeports and delighted that there are two bids progressing.

“It would be a game changer for the region, with benefits spread across Scotland and the UK. It would accelerate regeneration and create new green jobs that complement the skills of the workforce. On a broader level it would help transform the country’s economy and make a huge contribution to meeting net zero targets.”

Nearly £300m has been invested in Highlands and Islands ports and harbours since 2010, establishing a network of those, now serving the growth in offshore wind and other marine industries.

Audrey MacIver added:

“Green freeport status would support broader efforts to secure more significant levels of manufacturing in offshore wind and green chemical production. It would accelerate the development of strong industrial clusters, support delivery of future offshore wind capacity, and help strengthen and retain rural populations.

“Over time, better local job prospects would bring housebuilding, better schooling, healthcare and amenities. Jobs would be created indirectly in hospitality, retail and leisure, teaching and healthcare.

“A green freeport would be a very natural fit in the region and we wish both our region’s bids well in their efforts to secure this valuable regeneration asset.”

Orkney, with Scapa Flow at its heart, has a long history of association with marine industries, not least renewable energy. It is home to the European Marine Energy Centre and the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus, which is supporting the growth of the islands’ world-leading marine renewable, energy and low carbon industries.

The Opportunity Cromarty Firth (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 in the region through economic activity in manufacturing for, amongst other sectors, offshore wind, green hydrogen and life sciences, and from local and inward investment, innovation, skills development and employment.

A report commissioned by OCF estimated that the consortium’s proposals could potentially add a further 20,000 jobs to those already expected in the wind farm construction phase alone.


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