4th August 2020
With lockdown easing and many sectors of our economy reopening in some fashion, the past few weeks have brought both welcome relief and new challenges to businesses in the north Highlands. The easing of restrictions and a gradual return to something approaching normality have also afforded us a little space to start looking beyond the immediate challenges of the past few months and to think about what the future might hold for the region.
Change is certainly in the air, with the recent announcement by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) that it is bringing operations at the Dounreay site back in under its direct oversight. It is too early to say what the opportunities of this might be for the region, but the Chamber will be engaging closely with the NDA over the coming months to ensure that the needs and concerns of our local supply chain are considered as part of the process.
In the longer term, we also need to be aware that the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to a net-zero carbon economy will mean significant changes for all of us. Every aspect of life in the north Highlands, from employment to education, transport to tourism, will be affected by this process.
As with any change, this has real potential to bring both significant benefits and significant challenges for businesses in the region. Most obviously in terms of benefits are the proposed investments in renewable energy, such as the recently opened ScotWind offshore wind leasing round. With access to a skilled local supply chain and a strong transport infrastructure, as well as a proven track record in the sector, the north Highlands is well positioned to benefit from these developments.
An obvious area where we will face challenges with the move to net-zero carbon is in transport. It is important that work is done now to understand and begin to address the challenges that will face rural regions, as the strategies which will work for dense, urban environments will not work in areas like the north Highlands.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to a net-zero carbon economy will mean significant changes for all of us.
As a Chamber, we have already begun some of this work with our business case for a public service obligation from Wick John O’Groats Airport, which explicitly lays out the requirement not just for viable air services to and from the region but for a clear forward plan for net-zero aviation.
This is an area where, with the right support from government, we have an opportunity to take a challenge and develop it into an opportunity for the region. There is clear worldwide demand for low and zero-carbon aviation, and by investing and supporting innovation now we can make the north Highlands a world leader in this area.
Innovation in low-carbon aviation is already happening elsewhere in the north of Scotland, with Orkney set to host a trial flight of a hydrogen-electric aircraft later this year. With the north Highlands set to be generating a surfeit of renewable energy in the next decade, there is a clear opportunity here for the region to lead in production of green hydrogen using cheap, clean electricity. Not only would this make low-carbon aviation a real possibility in the near future, it could bring significant additional investment and benefit into the region.
It is clear that the future, both immediately and in the longer term, holds challenges for businesses in the north Highlands. As a Chamber, we will continue to work closely with our members to understand their hopes and concerns, and work with local partners to lobby for investment in innovative solutions that will ensure a bright future for the region.