30th October 2020

Following a motion put forward by the Caithness Committee, today Highland Councillors have given their commitment to continue to work to secure the sustainability of Wick John O’Groats Airport and to press for Public Service Obligation (PSO) status as a matter of urgency.

Wick has had commercial services from its airport since the 1970s, with services connecting to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. In its 50 years of operation the Airport has been instrumental in supporting the economic growth of the north, first through Dounreay and the oil and gas industry, and latterly to the decommissioning journey and the positioning of Caithness at the forefront of onshore and offshore wind, wave and tidal energy. It also plays a role in the wider business and tourism sectors.

In her speech, Chair of the Caithness Committee Cllr Nicola Sinclair highlighted the work done to prepare a strong business case and stressed that to be truly focused on socio-economic recovery it is vital that the doors of the Airport remain open.

She said: “Caithness Chamber of Commerce and other local stakeholders took early action and commissioned a detailed, independent feasibility study in 2019 which was then worked up into a full business case. This asks the Scottish Government to consider a dual-route public service obligation to protect our services to Edinburgh and Aberdeen which we believe is a sustainable model.

“A PSO would require an annual subsidy of £3m over four years, but it’s projected to deliver £5.2m in economic benefit and up to 46,000 passengers per year by year four. The Airport is a catalyst for 400-600 local jobs as well as 60 directly employed at the Airport. It’s therefore critical to the economic prosperity of the region that we secure the investment from the Scottish Government for a PSO.”

Transport Scotland has made it clear that any PSO would need to be supported by Highland Council and other stakeholders. For this reason, members of the Caithness Committee today called on Highland Council to identify financial support for the Airport.

Cllr Sinclair explained: “We are asking the Council to continue with its efforts in exploring the resource implications of a successful PSO bid. Any support from the Council would need to go through the usual process of scrutiny and democratic approval with a full business case being presented to a future Highland Council meeting.

“Today we asked for that process to begin in earnest and to reflect the urgency of the situation. In the motion to Caithness Area Committee I made the point that socio-economic recovery and reversing population decline are key priorities for our county, and that cannot be achieved without a show of confidence in Caithness and positive decisive action.

She added: “I am delighted that today we got unanimous support and we can now send a clear a message to the Scottish Government that we are united in our support for Wick John O’Groats Airport and the ongoing prosperity of Caithness and Sutherland.”

Caithness Councillor Struan Mackie who joined Cllr Sinclair in signing the motion presented to full council added: “Over the last number of months it has been refreshing to be part of a cross community campaign, with stakeholders, businesses groups and individuals all seeking a solution in resuming flights from Wick.

“After years of progressive market failure in providing regular and convenient services from the airport, it is clear that the public service obligation is the only option left on the table. The support given by Councillors today is a step forward in seeing this come to fruition.”

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