OHT Hawk arrives on the Cromarty Firth carrying wind turbine jackets for the Moray Offshore Wind Facility to Nigg Energy Park.

AN ambitious new initiative is being launched to create a Free Trade Zone in the Cromarty Firth – securing a sustainable 50-year pipeline of work and jobs.

Opportunity Cromarty Firth is backed by the Port of Cromarty Firth along with partners from industry, academia and the public sector including Global Energy Group, The Highland Council, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, and the University of the Highlands & Islands.

Project leaders believe the creation of a Free Trade Zone will help secure much-needed post-Brexit supply chain opportunities and provide skilled employment in the Highlands for the next half a century.

The ambitions of the project are to stimulate economic activity and employment, attract inward investment in innovative renewable energy technologies of the future, and equip local people and businesses with the necessary skills in these sectors to bring transformational regeneration to the north of Scotland.

Bob Buskie, Port of Cromarty Firth chief executive, said: “The creation of Free Trade Zones, also referred to as Free Ports, are part of the UK Government’s economic growth strategy post-Brexit – and there are plans to create up to 10 across the UK.

“We believe Cromarty Firth is the ideal location to establish one of these Free Trade Zones, and we hope those who come to the virtual public event will be as excited as we are at the opportunities a Free Trade Zone could bring to our area.

“Cromarty Firth is steeped in industrial history, having supported North Sea oil and gas activity since the 1970s, and is now playing a critical role in the Scottish offshore wind sector.

“The Firth hosts a number of leading supply chain companies as well as a locally skilled workforce with essential engineering experience. This is coupled with first-class port infrastructure and manufacturing facilities, which have benefited from over £110m of industry-led investments.”

James Gibbs, HIE Area Manager for the Inner Moray Firth, said: “This ambitious initiative could bring many potential benefits to manufacturing and the wider supply chain companies in the region, particularly those in the energy sector.

“There will be strong links to Scotland’s green recovery and the drive towards an economy based on net-zero emissions. We look forward to working with all partners involved with a view to securing those benefits for the wider region and for Scotland.”

Roy MacGregor, Global Energy Group chairman, said: “We are delighted to be working with the Port of Cromarty Firth and other stakeholders in this opportunity that would, if successful, present numerous opportunities for the area and wider Highland region. 

“It is our continuing desire to support the development of the Cromarty Firth and turn the Port of Nigg facility into an all-round Energy HUB. The investment that has been made into Nigg since our purchase in 2011 has meant that we have been able to develop an extensive track record in the delivery of renewables project both in manufacturing and as a staging port for two major Offshore Wind projects.

“Our world class facility, people and companies are ideally placed to support the future of the energy industry and would welcome the additional prospects that the Free Trade Zone status will inevitably present. It is our hope that the Cromarty Firth, with its enviable location will put the Highlands on the map and ensure a sustainable future for the region and beyond.”