Highland councillors have backed a £3bn green freeport aimed at tackling both depopulation and global warming.
It is hoped the creation of an estimated 16,000 jobs at the new Inverness and Cromarty Firth green port will help retain the lifeblood of the Highlands and Islands.
Around 2,500 young people are currently leaving the region each year, however it is hoped the promise of jobs will allow some of the talent to remain in the area.
The venture, primarily to tackle carbon emissions, has gathered pace.
Nine months after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited the Cromarty Firth to confirm “green freeport” status for renewable energy sites in Highland and the River Forth, a milestone has been reached.
Councillors have given their unanimous blessing for the project at a special meeting in Inverness.
Speaking afterwards, the head of the SNP-led administration Raymond Bremner said: “Depopulation and the pressure on our infrastructure, pressure on our housing, there’s lots of challenges that we face here in the Highlands.
“But I think this project is one of the biggest potentials that we’ve ever been able to realise. It should be absolutely transformational. It should also feed into the ability for us to understand how much we can attract investment.”
Freeport status means tax incentives and lower tariffs to boost the local economy. It has been welcomed in an area with an ageing and decreasing population.
Highland Council opposition leader, Liberal Democrat Alasdair Christie, said: “The council’s working with other people locally, with the chamber of commerce, with UHI, with NHS Highland, in order to provide opportunities for people in Highland. But this really will be the game-changer to actually deliver it.”
Planners highlighted a figure of 2,500 young people leaving the Highlands each year.
Jo De Sylva of the business organisation Visit Inverness Loch Ness said: “Whilst the freeport itself will generate jobs there is a knock-on effect of the people who are working at the freeport coming into Inverness, using all the businesses around Inverness.
“So, anything that brings jobs to the area is a huge bonus to the Highlands.”
Architects of the freeport envisage 16,000 new jobs – most in Highland – from a projected £3bn of investment over 25 years.
An outline business case for Inverness and the firth will be submitted by a consortium of business and agency partners in the coming months.
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