Work has begun on a natural energy plant in the Highland capital that promises to power Inverness Castle and the city’s nearby Town House.
A UK Government minister has hailed the £20m “levelling-up money” which has funded the air-source heat-pump facility and other city projects during a visit to the city.
Lord Offord, under secretary of state for Scotland, is confident the castle upgrade and region’s wider ambitions for renewable projects will prove to be a springboard to an economic boom that will benefit everyone in the area.
“The UK Government’s put in the thick end of £100m into the Highlands and the Inverness area and you’ve obviously got the city and the region deal,” he said.
“But, specifically here, we’re on the site of the Inverness Castle and that’s a big levelling up project together with the Bught Park and Northern Meeting Park.
“We’re on the site of what’s going to be the sustainable energy centre for the castle. This is levelling up in action bringing a lot of investment into the Highlands. Then you add on top of that the freeport at Nigg, there’s a massive UK investment coming into the Highland area.”
Asked how confident he was that such initiatives would make an impact in a region with high levels of deprivation and fuel poverty, acknowledged in a newly published five-year strategy by the development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise, he said: “The best way to alleviate poverty is to build prosperity.
“And the best way to build prosperity is to be aspirational. And to be aspirational means bringing investment in because that will bring jobs, it’ll bring higher paid jobs.
“So, let’s get all local people here well educated – which they generally are in the Highlands – and access to these great jobs which are going to be higher paid jobs than we’ve seen in the past because of this revolution happening in the digital world, in the renewables space.
“So, there are great opportunities for higher wages here.”
Highland Council city leader Ian Brown said the new projects would “boost the city’s sporting and cultural attractions, preserve key heritage assets, help attract more tourists and assist in achieving net zero carbon targets.”
Work to repurpose the site of a derelict toilet block in the Castle Street car park is scheduled for completion by November next year.
The transformed castle and former courts complex is due to open in 2025.
The £4.8bn levelling up fund replaces EU funding and aims to improve everyday life across the UK including the regeneration of town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets.