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Stone hits out over £6.5m cost of air traffic control centralisation in Highlands and Islands

By Alan Hendry

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The success of Wick John O'Groats Airport is crucial to the economic future of the far north, Jamie Stone has said.
The success of Wick John O'Groats Airport is crucial to the economic future of the far north, Jamie Stone has said.

North MP Jamie Stone has hit out at the planned centralisation of air traffic control in Inverness after it emerged that Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) has spent more than £6.5 million on the controversial project.

Included in that sum is the £2,626,036 cost of buying New Century House in Inverness and £341,918 spent on consultancy fees.

The figures were obtained after a Freedom of Information request by Shetland journalist Chris Cope, who wanted to know how much money HIAL had committed to its Air Traffic Management Strategy (ATMS).

The revelation that HIAL has spent over £6.5 million on the programme comes as its executives are due to give evidence to Holyrood's public petitions committee this week.

Mr Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: "HIAL, by the very definition of its name, has a responsibility for all the Highlands and Islands – not just Inverness.

"The Scottish Government and the HIAL top brass know that the success of Wick John O'Groats Airport is crucial to the economic future of the far north.

"Without a vibrant airport there, attempts to create new employment as Dounreay decommissions will be seriously hindered.

"For this reason people expect to see HIAL's capital expenditure each year reflect an investment in the outlying airports, rather than simply Inverness.

“Ahead of a forthcoming Holyrood election, I would expect all parliamentary candidates for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross to pledge themselves to lobbying against this centralisation should they be fortunate enough to be elected."

Molly Nolan, the Lib Dem candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross at the Holyrood elections, said: "Highlanders, myself included, are sick of seeing everything centralised in Inverness.

"The fact HIAL was only forced to share its expenditure thanks to a Shetland journalist's Freedom of Information request is shocking. As a public institution, which is supposed to serve us all in the far north, it should be transparent and accountable.

"Instead of consulting local communities to find a way to retain skilled jobs, they march on with a top-down and extremely expensive centralisation plan which everybody knows will be a disaster for our regional airports.

"If the SNP really cares about the success of Wick airport, it needs to exercise its power over HIAL and force it to review this obsession with centralisation."

A spokesperson for HIAL said: “We have undertaken the ATMS project to ensure the long-term sustainability of all our airports, while at the same time securing air services to the Highlands and Islands for generations to come. The ATMS programme is on budget and on schedule.

“HIAL has already invested millions of pounds to improve Wick John O’Groats Airport and is committed to its future success. We will continue to work closely with Highland Council, aviation partners and the local community to help introduce air services that best meet local needs.”

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