Page last updated at 10:30 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 11:30 UK

Green gold rush could boost roads

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Road journeys from the north were shortened as a result of the oil boom

A green gold rush to harness renewable energy in the Highlands should trigger improvements to transport links, political figures have said.

The Pentland Firth has been opened up for tidal power projects, while efforts are being made to revive Nigg oil yard.

Inverness provost Jimmy Gray said the area should be regarded as critical to national interest as it was during the 1970s oil boom.

SNP MSP Rob Gibson is also hopeful of a boosts to rail, air and sea links.

There have been long-running campaigns to have upgrades carried out on the A82 and A9 roads, as well as railway services through the Highlands.

The Nationalist politician said he had received an encouraging response from First Minister Alex Salmond to his question on whether the Scottish Government would consider making improvements related to the Pentland Firth a national priority.

To get from the far north to Glasgow it would take 10 hours now nearer six
Jimmy Gray
Inverness provost

Earlier this week, Mr Salmond said the firth was the Saudi Arabia of marine power.

Highlands and Islands MSP Mr Gibson said: "In the past infrastructure has lagged behind development, for example in Nigg the houses weren't built in Alness and Invergordon till much later and the firth bridges took even more time to be built.

"Whilst in Kishorn the road was never improved during the life of the oil yard.

"This must not be the same tale for development in the far north."

Mr Gibson also asked if the government's Strategic Transport Projects Review would treat as high priority speedier rail, safer road, enhanced harbours and an all-weather landing scheme for Wick Airport.

The first minister said that he would consider the proposals.

Mr Gray, a Labour councillor who worked at the former oil yards at Ardersier and Nigg, said the North Sea oil and gas boom of the 1970s could be replicated by the rush towards renewables.

He said: "Before the upgrades to roads during the 70s, from Wick and Thurso it would take three-and-a-half to four hours to reach Inverness now it takes about two-and-a-quarter hours.

"To get from the far north to Glasgow it would take 10 hours now it is nearer six."

Fresh work

Mr Gray added: "Before the perception of the Highlands was that it was critical to national interest.

"If that is to be the perception again because the north holds part of the answer to renewable power then there should be upgrades, including to roads."

Mr Gray said reviving the fortunes of Nigg should also be a priority.

Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise commissioned a plan for the Easter Ross site which found fresh work at the yard which could be worth between 60m and 65m a year to the Highlands economy.

Archie McCreevy, of HIE, said "If Nigg was revived as a multi-user facility it be reasonable to consider employment would probably range from 600-700 and 1,200-1,300 at peaks."


SEE ALSO
Unlocking firth energy 'crucial'
29 Sep 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Project aims to harness sea power
29 Sep 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Revived yard 'worth 65m' a year
18 Sep 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Rail trip to be cut by 35 minutes
05 Aug 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Road upgrade group meet minister
01 Sep 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Minister visits A9 road project
21 Aug 08 |  Highlands and Islands

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