Published in the Inverness Courier. October 2nd 2018.

Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce

I recently attended an event at Kishorn Port to showcase the refurbished dry dock which is now ready to accept major North Sea decommissioning projects.

The port, which is a member of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, has invested massively in this facility, the only one of its kind in the UK, and it puts the Highlands at the forefront for oil and gas decommissioning and offshore wind sub-structure manufacture.

Kishorn is a sleeping giant facility, its name synonymous with the oil boom in the 1970s and 80s when it and other yards like Nigg and Ardersier created thousands of jobs, often supporting fragile rural communities.

We may not return to those peak levels, but the burgeoning decommissioning and renewables markets have the potential to generate hundreds of new posts in this area.

Kishorn Port, which has been receiving help from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, has secured supplementary funding from the Scottish Government’s Decommissioning Challenge Fund (DCF) towards its infrastructure upgrades.  It has been proposed that new steel could be made from metal recycled from decommissioned offshore structures in a tie up with Liberty Steel, part of a group that owns the Fort William aluminium smelter.

The yard’s potential is enormous and exciting. Re-awakening the facility would not only provide a huge economic boost for the Highlands and beyond, it would help in making a strong case for the region to be a centre of excellence in this significant sector.

The DCF has also awarded funding to Stornoway Port Authority to support several projects it is undertaking at Arnish, the Lyness Oil and Gas decommissioning base in Orkney, the Shetland Specialist Decommissioning service and Lerwick Engineering and Fabrication Ltd.

The support for these projects underlines the facilities that exist in the Highlands and Islands which can only increase our competitiveness in a busy market.

We are also well placed to be regarded as a specialist hub for development of the offshore renewables sector, with Kishorn and Arnish among those seeking work, along with others, including the Nigg Energy Park on the Cromarty Firth. The cluster effect of these and other facilities would make the region an ideal location to be designated a specialist hub.

When the oil boom arrived in the north of Scotland, the impact permeated the whole region, the effects of investment and large-scale employment cascading down through communities many miles from the fabrication yards.

There is an opportunity now to re-create something similar, if not quite on the same scale, from this new generation of work.  All agencies should work together to ensure we capitalise on this and make sure the Highlands is once again to go-to place for this industry.