Birmingham-based demolition specialist DSM has bought 800 acres of land adjacent to the yard from Dow Chemicals for just over £2 million and is understood to be in advanced talks to buy out majority shipyard owner KBR to amalgamate the sites.
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If it can also get control of the remaining shipyard land owned by local landowner the Wakelyn Trust, DSM proposes to spend £10m upgrading the site for renewables manufacturing and decommissioning ships and oil rigs.
The development has been cautiously welcomed by local politicians, who want the focus to be on renewables in line with Highland Council’s industrial master-plan. But there are concerns that the site could become a scrapyard for hazardous materials that could cause environmental and health problems.
If the plan succeeds, it will be the latest twist in a rollercoaster ride between hope and disappointment for local communities. Three weeks ago, local KBR management and the public authorities believed themselves to be on the verge of securing a £30m deal to build the foundations for offshore wind turbines at the yard, creating 400 jobs and being the first step towards developing a renewables manufacturing cluster in the area. But senior management at the Texan group unexpectedly rejected the proposals at the last minute, despite a trip by Enterprise Minister Jim Mather to Houston to meet the board. The decision was said to be based on fears it would be a move too far from the core business.
This raised concerns that the eastern Highlands might miss out on the much-vaunted offshore wind boom. While Nigg employed over 5,000 as a fabricator of oil and gas rigs in the 1970s, the enforced departure of the site’s remaining employer with 250 staff last month means it is currently lying empty.
DSM has been quietly pushing for involvement in the site for several years.
Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Ross, head of Highland’s planning, environmental and development committee, said: “Our preference is for developments related to renewables, which is at the centre of our masterplan and links in to the wider Scottish strategy.
“If people come forward with alternative proposals, they can pursue them through our planning process.”
Councillor Drew Hendry of the opposition SNP said: “Decommissioning would not rule out other activities, and marine structures like oil and gas platforms have been handled there in the past. What I would say is that hazardous materials would be looked at in a poor light.”
DSM is understood to be unveiling its proposals on Wednesday.
Its 20-year plan is expected to propose creating around 200 decommissioning jobs within one to three years, while actively marketing the vast site to let to renewables manufacturers. KBR was offered around £10m by the authorities in regional development assistance; DSM is expected to say money should be offered to manufacturers that it attracts rather than the company itself.
It envisages that there would be 1,000 workers at Nigg within between five and 10 years, half the number that KBR suggested would be employed there within 10 years under its proposals.
The plan is complicated by the Wakelyn Trust’s ownership of a third of the yard, including the all-important dock area, which it leases to KBR. While KBR now looks very likely to sell its interest, Wakelyn’s position is far less certain. A compulsory purchase order (CPO) might be needed to unify the site.
Jamie Stone, LibDem MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “There’s a great prize in offshore wind available for our area, but we have to move fast. It would keep us at the forefront of engineering developments and use local skills like fabrication and welding, which is of course very different to using a blowtorch to break things up.”
DSM did not return calls in time for publication.