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Thurso ‘masterplan’ to be completed this year as Highland Council unveils ambitious transformation bid

By Scott Maclennan

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The Highland Investment Plan will see Thurso develop a masterplan by the end of 2024.
The Highland Investment Plan will see Thurso develop a masterplan by the end of 2024.

Thurso is at the heart of ambitious proposals unveiled by Highland Council aimed at boosting investment in roads, schools, housing and other services - as well as generating money from renewables.

Separate but overlapping policies - the Highland Investment Plan; the Highland Housing Challenge and the Social Values Charter from Renewables - aim to regenerate education and commerce while also ensuring sufficient provision of housing and services by bringing together the public and private sectors.

As well as the renewed investment in roads, the key element of the £2 billion Highland Investment Plan for Thurso is that, alongside Dingwall, it will see an “initial master-planning process” completed this year to allow for community and stakeholder consultation for Points of Delivery or PODs.

Looking at the town’s needs as a whole, the idea is to potentially bring together statutory organisations including the council, NHS, Police Scotland and the ambulance service in shared facilities, cutting the overall bill to taxpayers.

Options for development are currently broad enough, though, that they may also include the likes of libraries, community cafes, family centres and similar facilities as well.

In Thurso, up to £100 million has been earmarked as part of the plan that includes replacing the dilapidated Thurso High School along with three feeder primaries.

The Highland Housing Challenge looks to face up to the multibillion-pound problem of providing sufficient housing for the thousands of people on waiting lists for social housing across the region as well as those who want to buy.

Related news:

Thurso in line for new high school and primaries as part of £2bn investment plan

£100m investment plan for Thurso schools gets go-ahead

Thurso and Wick high schools show dramatic drop in predicted pupil rolls

The council is projecting it will need more than 24,000 new homes - costing between £2.8 billion over the next decade or £1.7 billion over the next 14 years - to meet demand.

The new Green Freeport is expected to create around 8400 new direct jobs, with 8600 households already on the Highland Housing Register.

Thurso High School is in line for replacement. Picture: Matthew Reiss
Thurso High School is in line for replacement. Picture: Matthew Reiss

More than the council can cope with on its own - costs, according to the local authority, have risen 44 per cent since Covid and now stand at about £227,000 per home at a time when it also faces historic debt repayments of £26 million a year - council leader Raymond Bremner is seeking a partial write-off of that debt to free up funds, from whoever forms the next UK government.

The freeport will provide a council funding boost through non-domestic rates, with other options being looked at to boost the kitty including private equity.

However, a potential new funding stream is also being investigated in the form of contributions from renewable energy developers through a new Social Values Charter, which is targeting half a billion pounds worth of revenue.

The proposal would aim to “make the most of the financial and environmental opportunities arising from the huge renewable energy potential in the Highlands”.

Currently, local communities receive approximately £9.1 million annually in community benefits from various renewables schemes, against Crown Estate guidance that that figure should be closer to £13.9 million.

The council itself believes that potential income available from operational, planned and repowered onshore wind farm sites could be £17.5 million per year in 2030, or £20.7 million a year by 2050.

The council said: “A core aim of the Charter is to ensure that all communities across Highland are able to benefit from renewables investment. Sharing community benefits is a core component of Community Wealth Building.

“It is proposed that in addition to direct community benefit funding of £5000 per MW, investors will contribute a further £7500 per MW for each renewable energy development to a central fund which will support and enable economic development, increase prosperity and achieve equity for communities across Highland.”

A full meeting of Highland Council is due to debate all of the proposals on Thursday.

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