Cromarty Firth Port Authority on brink of bank deal

Sandy Cumming, chairman of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA).
Sandy Cumming, chairman of the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA).
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A £20 MILLION project to ­allow one of Scotland’s deepest ports to handle offshore wind turbines is close to ­securing bank finance.

An announcement is expected that Cromarty Firth Port Authority has arranged borrowings of about £9m to complete the package ­required to push ahead on an expansion that will create up to 400 jobs.

The port is reclaiming nine acres of land from the sea to provide berthing facilities to support the construction of the Beatrice and Moray offshore wind farms.

It is understood that the level of confidence in the project is such that the port has attracted interest from a number of banks keen to support it.

Sandy Cumming, the port’s chairman, said that recently signed memorandums of understanding, backed by Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE), would support owners and operators to secure consents, market opportunities, attract investments and enable further development.

“This is an exciting time. The banks are supportive and we have offers from more than one,” he said.

The port is also dipping into its own cash reserves and is looking to attract grants.

Ken Gray, chief executive, said tenders would be issued in the late summer and a contract awarded before the end of the year with the intention that work on site would start early next year. The plan is to have the facilities ready for the start of work on installing the turbines in 2015.

Gray said: “This will allow the Cromarty Firth to play a significant role in the offshore wind industry.”

But the development has also created a problem as the area tackles the potential explosion of jobs without the necessary skills available to fill them.

Easter Ross has an unemployment rate higher than the Scottish average and many of the jobless will need to be re-trained if they are to take advantage of the new ­positions on offer.

The port is now working closely with training agencies in an attempt to prepare the next generation for the work that will be provided and ­reduce the dependency on imported labour. An academy has been set up at Nigg at the mouth of the firth.

“We have two years before these jobs are available and so we have to work quickly,” said Cumming, a former chief executive of HIE. He said the opportunities being created may appeal to those currently working abroad.

“There are a lot of Highlanders working overseas because they cannot get work locally,” he said. “Many of them still have homes in the area and it is possible many of them would come back.”

In the past year, the port reported a £2.2m profit on turnover of £6m, 70 per cent of which comes from work for the oil and gas industry. Other income is derived from general cargo and the cruise liner business, which brings 74,000 visitors to the Highlands.

“We have had a very successful period as a port authority and the outlook for the Cromarty Firth is higher than for many years,” said Cumming.