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Highland Council 'needs to fully understand fiscal implications' of Wick airport pledge

By Alan Hendry

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Up to £4 million will be made available to Highland Council over the next four financial years to restore services to and from Wick John O'Groats Airport.
Up to £4 million will be made available to Highland Council over the next four financial years to restore services to and from Wick John O'Groats Airport.

A senior Highland councillor has described the Scottish Government's £4 million support for Caithness air links as "a positive step forward" while adding that the implications for the local authority have still to be clarified.

The money will be made available to the council over the next four financial years to bring back services to and from Wick John O'Groats Airport.

Announcing the package on Thursday, the Scottish Government said the investment would help the local authority take forward plans for public service obligation (PSO) routes in consultation with communities and businesses.

Councillor Trish Robertson, chairperson of the council’s economy and infrastructure committee, said: “We have been highlighting to the Scottish Government the pressing need for an ambitious new approach to protecting vital regional aviation links, particularly in relation to Wick John O’Groats Airport, so this is a positive step forward.

"However, we really do need to fully understand the fiscal implications both for the council and other partners before making a decision."

Councillor Robertson, who represents the Culloden and Ardersier ward, added: “We need to ensure that a sustainable funding model can be put together to deliver a long-term future for Wick John O’Groats Airport. This will require continuing engagement with all of the local partners and the Scottish Government.”

Caithness was left without scheduled flights after the loss of the Wick/Edinburgh and Wick/Aberdeen routes last year. A PSO business case was submitted to the government by Caithness Chamber of Commerce.

Scotland's transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “We recognise the issues faced by the Caithness area with the loss of the flights to and from Edinburgh and Aberdeen, so we are pleased to announce significant funding to help reintroduce flights to Wick.

“This will allow Highland Council, in partnership with key stakeholders, to take forward plans for public service obligation routes. I am in no doubt they are best placed to determine the services that are required by their communities.

“My officials in Transport Scotland would also be happy to provide advice on the PSO process, as they do with other local authorities which contract air services.

“This offer underlines our strong support for restoring air connectivity to the Caithness and Sutherland area and we look forward to working with Highland Council to bring flights back to Wick.”

The Scottish Government says it will provide up to £1 million annually to Highland Council in 2021/22 and 2022/23 to support scheduled air services from Wick John O'Groats Airport, with a further £1 million in each of 2023/24 and 2024/25 subject to growth in passengers in years one and two.

It says the contribution in the first year will be determined by the start date of the flights, with £83,000 being available for each full month of operation. In addition, the Scottish Government will continue to meet the full costs of the airport, which in 2019/20 equated to £2.035 million, through its subsidy of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited.

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