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If the Cromarty Firth misses out on a green freeport it could cost the country thousands of jobs and billions of pounds with all three Highland MPs say it would halt the economic decline in the north

By Scott Maclennan

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WindFloat traverses the Cromarty Firth before berthing at Queen's Dock, Port of Cromarty Firth.
WindFloat traverses the Cromarty Firth before berthing at Queen's Dock, Port of Cromarty Firth.

Not just the Highlands but the whole country would lose out on billions of pounds of investment and revenue as well as tens of thousands of jobs if the Cromarty Firth miss out on green freeport status.

That is according to one of the leading figures behind the consortium trying to deliver the free trade industrial zone to the north, Joanne Allday from the Port of Cromarty Firth who said: “If it doesn’t come here, it’s going abroad.”

Chief among the concerns is that politicians making the decision – in this case from the UK Conservative government and the SNP Scottish government – might put political advantage before the interests of the country.

We have asked the three Highland MPs what they have been doing to lobby those in government and what they have been doing to advance the cause of the green freeport, which is widely seen as “transformative” for the region.

MP Jamie Stone.
MP Jamie Stone.

Jamie Stone, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross

MP Jamie Stone’s constituency – covering Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross – is the location of the majority of the main sites where the big money investment would flow: the ports of Nigg and Invergordon.

Mr Stone raised the issue at Boris Johnson’s last Prime Minister’s Questions, asking him whether he agreed that Cromarty Firth was the best location for a green freeport drawing an uncommitted answer.

But the veteran Lib Dem MP says he too is concerned that “political priorities in Edinburgh and London will ultimately trump the merits of all the Scottish bids,” warning the people of the Highlands “will take note of the decision that the SNP and the Conservatives make”.

“I wholeheartedly support Opportunity Cromarty Firth’s bid for green freeport status,” he said. “I recently hosted a parliamentary reception to raise Opportunity Cromarty Firth’s profile among parliamentarians in Westminster, and throughout the process I have been in regular contact with the secretary of state for Scotland to lobby for the Cromarty Firth bid. With no slight intended towards the other Scottish bids, I do truly believe that Opportunity Cromarty Firth’s green freeport bid comes top of the pack. The economic potential alone has significant merit.

“When this is combined with the transformational socioeconomic impact the green freeport could have on the Highlands, an area that has been struggling with the same chronic development problems for over 100 years, there really is no question that Opportunity Cromarty Firth should be awarded green freeport status. Given this context, for the Cromarty Firth to be overlooked for this opportunity would confirm to many Highlanders what they have experienced their entire lives: governments which simply don’t understand, or indeed care about, the unique challenges that we face in our region. The cynic in me is quite certain that political priorities in Edinburgh and London will ultimately trump the merits of all the Scottish bids. All I will say is this: the people of the Highlands are watching this process very closely, and they will take note of the decision that the SNP and the Conservatives make.”

MP Drew Hendry.
MP Drew Hendry.

Drew Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey

With the Inverness area also set to play a key role in the project not just through its own port but also the airport, local SNP MP Drew Hendry said he is backing it, adding: “I have been working with the green freeport partners to see this bid delivered for Inverness and the wider Highlands, uniquely, this area has more to offer in terms of delivering major benefits than the other bids by some considerable distance, in my view.

“I have raised the fact that the Cromarty Firth and Nigg is the only suitable base for both servicing and manufacturing the floating wind power towers that could boost Scotland’s renewable energy output by a massive 30GW both on the floor of the House of Commons with UK government ministers and in other meetings with the UK government ministers responsible amongst others.

“As an energy exporting country already, at around 150 per cent of our energy production, if realised, Scotland would have the opportunity for much greater export values of an increasingly valuable commodity.

“This would be in addition to new manufacturing that has the potential for a great many new, high-quality jobs. We are starting from a strong position already as the Cromarty Firth area is already attracting significant investment, but the deal could be a transformative boost and if the UK government is serious about both maximising opportunity and meeting their climate change obligation targets then this bid surely must be agreed.

“It would be wrong-headed for raw politics to play a part in deciding the eventual winner, the UK government effectively has control of the decision-making process as they can outvote Scottish Government ministers but the bid from Opportunity Cromarty Firth is so strong, so clear that we must hope that common sense prevails.”

MP Ian Blackford.
MP Ian Blackford.

Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster leader and MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber

Between the two is the Ross, Skye and Lochaber, the constituency of MP Ian Blackford who is also the SNP Westminster leader. He, like his colleagues, has backed the bid for a green freeport. “I believe the case for Cromarty Firth – as a natural port - is very strong,” he said.

“The Highlands has a track record for producing green energy – including wind, tidal, and hydro – and a green freeport at Cromarty would provide a real boost, while delivering a wealth of benefits, not just for the Highlands but Scotland as a whole.

“The SNP has a long history of supporting the industrial future of the Highlands. We need manufacturing jobs in order to diversify the economy and ensure well-paid employment so that young people can remain in the Highlands and reverse the socio-economic decline of some of our communities.”

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