Weekly Update, 6th June 2011

Energy:

Meygen, the company behind the proposed 400MW tidal energy site between Stroma and the Caithness coast, has begun its consenting phase of work. I met with Meygen’s Environment & Consents Manager, who has been helped this week by colleagues at DSRL to circulate information on the company’s forthcoming public open days to gather comments on environmental impacts that might arise from the development. The events will be held at Caithness Horizons, Thurso (Thursday 30th June & Friday 1st July, both 10am-7pm) and Mey Village Hall (Saturday 2nd July, 10am-4pm). Further information can be found at www.meygen.com or through Meygen’s enquiries line on 0207 193 1397.

 I also attended an exhibition held in Mey Village Hall by Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution to publicise its proposals for the electricity transmission network in the Gills area. As previously reported, in order to connect marine renewable sites in the Pentland Firth to the national transmission grid a series of enhanced and new grid lines will be necessary. SSE is proposing a phased programme of work to deliver a 132kV AC substation around Gills Bay, and new overhead lines between the Gills Bay area and Dounreay and Spittal. A second phase of work to deliver buried DC cable from a new HVDC Converter station at Gills Bay to a proposed HVDC switching station north of Wick, from where subsea cables would connect across to Peterhead. If connection quotes are accepted by developers then it is expected that phase 1 will be completed in phases between 2014-16. Further progress information on this project will soon be available at www.sse.com/gillsbay

 Tourism, Food & Drink

I had a very constructive meeting with Tom Campbell, recently-appointed Chief Executive of The North Highland Initiative. NHI has been examining its future direction and business model, and is looking forward with some confidence to playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of economic benefit to the north. Its involvement in tourism (through North Highland Tourism Ltd) and food & drink (through North Highland Products), as well as the ongoing work in culture and the built environment (through North Highland Connections) represents a significant private and voluntary sector input to the overall economy. We agreed that its role in helping deliver aspects of economic diversification was potentially significant.

 Enabling activities:

HIE announced today the start of the procurement process for the delivery of next generation broadband across the area. The ambitious multi-million pound programme will be delivered in phases, with contracts expected to be signed with the successful tenderer by July 2012. Press coverage can be read at http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/HIE-to-take-first-steps-in-superfast-broadband-plan-09062011.htm

Communications:

As part of an ongoing process of helping communicate progress with the delivery of aspects of our economic transition programme CNSRP’s partners work together to generate news stories for local, regional and national media. I also speak on a regular basis to individuals and organisations across the area to update on progress. This week:

  • Following the meetings of the Partnership’s Advisory and Executive Boards last week CNSRP issued a short press statement from CNSRP Chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver summarising the points made during the joint discussion session between the two Boards. You can view this statement at http://www.cnsrp.org.uk/files/downloads/download1825.pdf
  • The Engineering, Technology and Energy Centre (ETEC) building at the rear of North Highland College has now completed its construction phase, and is on course to accept its first student intake later this summer. The building was one of the Partnership’s early priorities, and Jim McLaughlin from key funder the NDA visited the site with DSRL and College staff during his recent visit to Caithness. The press article on this can be viewed at http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/8m-college-centre-close-to-completion-10062011.htm
  • The redevelopment of John O’ Groats as a tourism icon was another early priority identified by the Partnership, and the latest phase of activity at John O’ Groats was announced this week by HIE, as a series of arts projects led by Highlands & Islands artists was unveiled. The projects will be based around the soon-to-be transformed hotel site at John O’ Groats and you can read more at http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/Arts-project-will-celebrate-Groats-heritage-10062011.htm and from further afield at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jun/07/john-o-groats-makeover
  • I also attended the meeting of the Thurso & Wick Trades Council, which brings together trades union representatives from across the area. I attend each meeting of the Trades Council, and we had a very constructive debate about a range of issues from the Partnership and the local economy to health. Trades Council members also shared some of the key messages on Caithness and North Sutherland that they will be taking to this weekend’s STUC Highlands and Islands Conference.