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YOUR VIEWS: Is Inverness and Cromarty Firth Freeport really a good idea?

By Gregor White

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The Port of Cromarty Firth is just part of the area covered by the new freeport.
The Port of Cromarty Firth is just part of the area covered by the new freeport.

Is Freeport a good idea for the Highlands?

Today the economy and infrastructure committee of Highland Council meets to decide whether to recommend approval of the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Freeport’s [ICFF] Final Business Case. The Highland Council is the authorising body which must decide whether to approve this Freeport - the full council will vote on June 27.

I write to alert your readership to some problems with this UK Freeport policy in general and for Highland region in particular. Bear in mind that the ICFF covers the economic heartland of the Highlands, from Brora in the north, south to include Inverness, and from Contin in the west, eastwards into Nairn county. It is not a “port”, is it?

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Alarm bells should have rung with the Highland Council [and Scottish Government] if they had been told that neither the EU nor EFTA allow member countries which have this particular type of freeport because of the dangers caused by lack of regulation – the “host” country cannot control or police the activities of the Freeport owners. The Tyne Freeport is an example of these dangers.

We are told that laws, regulations, taxes and customs duties, have been “relaxed” for the ICFF. No tax has been paid since early April. Which other laws etc have been “relaxed” and to what extent?

I emailed nearly every councillor asking them what the council could do to protect our Common Good properties and assets in the ICFF zone. Not one has answered me. I suspect that they either don’t know or realise that they cannot protect our property if the ICFF wants it.

We are told that these Freeports will bring thousands of additional jobs to the region. But this has not happened elsewhere and the reason is obvious. The existing businesses have to pay taxes and abide by all kinds of regulations. How can they compete with Freeport-owned businesses that pay no tax and are free of regulations? The result is that the existing economy is disrupted and employment just moves to the Freeport consortium. And remember that the windfarm isn’t coming because of the Freeport – the Freeport is coming to take advantage for their investors of our windfarm plans.

What can we do?

I have written to the chair of the E&I committee, Cllr Ken Gowans, and the 17 other members asking them to postpone their decision until they have obtained full information on the many unanswered questions so that the full implications are understood before a vote is taken. And I have asked that the council issue a postal ballot asking we voters for our decision. Such a ballot by Strathclyde Regional Council in 1994 on whether to privatise Scottish water resulted in a 97 per cent No – this is why England’s water supply is in private hands but Scotland’s is publicly owned.

If your readers agree that too little is known as yet and/or that we should have a vote, please contact the E&I committee councillors [the list is on the council website] and the chair [Ken.Gowans.cllr@highland.gov.uk] asking them to delay their decision.

S R Mackenzie


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