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Michael Gove says he is 'incredibly impressed' after visit to Nigg checking Green Freeport progress

By Scott Maclennan

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Roy MacGregor Global Energy, Councillor Raymond Bremner, Calum MacPherson CEO of Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP and Jamie Stone MP. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Roy MacGregor Global Energy, Councillor Raymond Bremner, Calum MacPherson CEO of Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP and Jamie Stone MP. Picture: Callum Mackay..

Michael Gove says he has been “incredibly impressed” after a visit to Nigg in his role as Levelling Up Secretary checking progress on the Green Freeport today but says failure to dual the A9 may limit “the full economic and social benefits.”

The Levelling Up Secretary Mr Gove met with the bosses of the Green Freeport including new CEO Calum MacPherson, Global Energy's Roy MacGregor as well as Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner.

Also there was Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone who called on the Scottish Government to extend the A9 dualling as far as the Nigg roundabout to tie together the Cromarty Firth and Inverness sections of the freeport.

Mr Stone could not have been clearer stating: "Transport links are part of the equation."

When asked about potential road transport issues affecting the freeport, Mr Gove said: “I think Jamie’s been a brilliant campaigner and I think he's absolutely right.

“We do need to dual the A9 and if we're thinking about dualling the A9 then we need to get it to go north of Inverness because the whole potential of the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Freeport depends not just on Inverness city itself but also in Ardersier but critically Invergordon and Nigg that we get the full economic and social benefits.

“Now, obviously, it's the Scottish Government that decides because transport is a devolved matter but one of the reasons I'm here is that we believe that this is an area that the UK government can play a role in supporting both economically and socially.”

A9 dualling potential issue for the Green Freeport

Mr Gove was also clear if the delays to the dualling of the A9 may hinder efforts to maximise the benefits of the Green Freeport, he said: “Completely."

He said: “So transport is a critical part of Levelling-Up and again we initiated work earlier this parliament to look at how the UK government could help and support the devolved administrations when it comes to improving transport links and there have been individual interventions that we've been responsible for, including providing a new ferry service in Shetland for Fair Isle.

“And so, we stand ready to do whatever we can to help the Scottish government. Now, we work in partnership. The freeport was a partnership endeavour between the UK and Scottish governments, and also the private sector and Highland Council. So I can't force the Scottish government to act.

“But when you've got Jamie Stone and Fergus Ewing together making clear that we need that additional investment then I hope the Scottish Government will listen.”

There is also the possibility that Levelling-Up funds could be used to help finance improving the A9 between Tore and the Nigg roundabout – but only if that was backed by the Scottish Government and Highland Council.

“Well, for Levelling-Up fund bids, the assessment process can include transport bids as well as economic development and cultural bids. The important thing is to make sure that the local authority concerned or local authorities concerned have the backing of local MPs and the backing ideally of the Scottish Government.

“So it's UK government money that is there to help but the bid needs to come from the local council and, of course, local councils will have different priorities at different times but we would look favourably on any way in which the UK government can help to deliver the transport things that the Highlands need.”

Green Freeport progress

Mr Gove is content with the progress he has seen but admitted most of the work lies ahead but says the cooperation between the public and private sector has been impressive.

“There's a lot done but there's a lot still to do and I know that the outline business case is being prepared at the moment," he said.

"I know that the team here have the ambition and their skills necessary in order to deliver.

“I've been incredibly impressed by the way in which the Global Energy Group, Highland Council and other players are all working very effectively together because you've got a geographically dispersed set of assets with Inverness, Invergordon, Arsersier and Nigg.

“But together you have the potential to turn this part of the world into a green energy hub the likes of which will be leading in Europe and the world."

The Highland economy

Mr Gove also echoed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's sentiments at the announcement of the winning bids – the Green Freeport means jobs for the Highlands.

“I think it's absolutely critical that we think about the economy of the Highlands together," he said. "So one of the things about the success of the Freeport is that it's also driving investment, for example, in onshore wind in Wester Ross and in the central Highlands. So we have to think of an integrated way and to my mind it's not about competition – it's about effective collaboration in the interest of the Highlands and that's what we’ve seen exhibited so far.

“It's already the case that we are getting investment decisions that are being made on the basis of the commitment that we've made and just talking to Roy McGregor and others here it is clear that there is the potential for a significant number of additional jobs.

“As we know Highlands throughout its history has suffered from talented people, born and raised here, moving on to jobs elsewhere, we want to make sure that there are high-quality jobs here.

“There have been efforts in the past, of course, in Invergordon and elsewhere to make sure that manufacturing is part of the Highlands future but the vision that Roy MacGregor and others have shown means that you can have investment from companies like Sumitomo and others providing high quality jobs for generations to come.

“One message that I got loud and clear is that we need extra investment in the grid. Obviously that's something that the UK government does in partnership with organisations like SSE.

“So I'll be taking the message back to the Prime Minister and to Grant Shapps that if we're going to double down on the success that we're already seeing here. We do need to improve grid capacity.”

Cross party support for the freeport

Mr Stone said it is not important which party someone belongs to so long as he is able to put his constituents first, saying: "At all times, the people I represent must come first.

"That's why I am grateful to the UK and Scottish governments for choosing the Cromarty Firth as a Green Freeport site. It means jobs for now and for the future – and I said exactly that when I welcomed Michael Gove to the Nigg yard, somewhere I myself used to work.

“I strongly support Mr Gove’s comments regarding the Scottish Government’s need to upgrade the A9 north of Inverness. Speaking in the yard today he was very clear that this work is essential if the Cromarty Firth is to achieve its full potential. Transport links are part of the equation.

“For my own part, I made the point to Michael Gove and his officials that the future provision of additional adequate housing around the Cromarty Firth is also part and parcel of what we are trying to achieve. This is an action point for the Scottish Government too."

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