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Far north is flying high with transport developments

By John Davidson

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Test flights of a hybrid electric aircraft took place between Kirkwall and Wick this summer.
Test flights of a hybrid electric aircraft took place between Kirkwall and Wick this summer.

Transport infrastructure across the far north is shaping up to provide significant benefits and opportunities to the region, it has been claimed.

Caithness Transport Forum chairwoman Trudy Morris said there was much to be positive about as she looked forward to further improvements in 2022.

Citing the new £18.9 million pier redevelopment at Scrabster Harbour, investment towards a public service obligation to bring scheduled passenger flights back to Wick John O'Groats Airport and the airport's involvement in a pioneering low-carbon hybrid electric test flight, she claimed it had been a successful year for transport developments in the north Highlands.

However, Ms Morris acknowledged ongoing concerns over the condition of some roads in the county and praised the Caithness Roads Recovery campaign group for continuing to pursue the issue.

She said: “Despite all the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing impacts this is having not only on the public purse but across the wider economy, it is clear that this has been a relatively successful year for the north Highlands with regards to transport.

"The region has seen significant investment in its infrastructure, and the redevelopment of the St Ola Pier at Scrabster in particular represents a very significant and long-term investment in the future of the north Highlands.

An aerial view of Scrabster Harbour.
An aerial view of Scrabster Harbour.

“There is no denying that we still face challenges – despite the very significant investment that was made in our roads network it is clear that a substantial amount of work remains to be done here and we applaud the efforts of the Caithness Roads Recovery group to keep this issue at the forefront of everybody’s minds.

“We understand the financial pressures facing Highland Council and the sheer scale of the investment that is required to address this vital issue, but we do need to find solutions as soon as possible to bring the road network up to standard.

"This will remain a focus of the forum alongside other transport needs in 2022.

“However, as we look forward to 2022, we need to remember that, as well as challenges, there are many opportunities for the region. New developments in aerospace, the progression of the ScotWind offshore wind leasing round, and the hopeful return of flights to Wick John O’Groats Airport are all set to bring real benefits to communities across the north Highlands.”

The investment in the St Ola Pier is already beginning to pay dividends, with a memorandum of understanding signed last week between Scrabster Harbour Trust and Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm which paves the way for the site to become the operations and maintenance base for the pioneering development.

Trudy Morris is the chairwoman of Caithness Transport Forum.
Trudy Morris is the chairwoman of Caithness Transport Forum.

The Caithness Transport Forum said the fact that the project was delivered on time and under budget, despite all the work taking place during the pandemic, was testament to the hard work both of the harbour trust and of the local supply chain.

It also said that progress on the PSO for Wick John O’Groats Airport has taken several strides forward over the course of 2021. In February, the Scottish Government confirmed that it would be providing funding of £1 million per annum towards the PSO, and Highland Council confirmed soon after its support of £300,000.

Work continued through a subgroup led by the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, with local partners working alongside Highland Council to shape the service specification.

The tender process has now come to a close and the council will be reviewing bids, with the possibility of services starting in the spring.

Meanwhile, the airport also played a significant role this year in the delivery of the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE). This included supporting Ampaire in the test flights of their Electric EEL hybrid electric aircraft – the first such flights to take place in Scotland.

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