CONVENIENCE retailer the Co-op is to open a new £6 million distribution centre on the outskirts of Inverness next month as it ramps up investment and sets the scene for future expansion in the north of Scotland.

The 12,000 sq ft Dalcross distribution centre, at Inverness Airport Business Park (IABP), will service the Co-op's network of stores in the area as the retailer prepares to open 18 new stores across Scotland – with upgrades planned for a further 20 – as part of a £28m expansion and renovation plan. This will take total store numbers to 365.

A new store in Forres will open next February and there are plans for a further two outlets stores in the north of Scotland.

The Co-op's estates/property team is currently looking at a number of potential new sites in the Highlands and Islands. Work is also due to start on a £3m overhaul of the firm's supermarket and petrol station forecourt in Broadford on the Isle of Skye.

Andy Perry, the Co-op’s logistics director, described the new site as a “modern and future-proofed facility which is perfectly placed to support the Co-op’s ever-growing operations in Scotland”.

“Our significant investment in a new distribution centre is also a symbol of our absolute commitment to serving communities in the north of Scotland, as well as a strong indicator of how well our food business is performing in this area,” he said.

“We have ambitious plans to continue to open new stores and Dalcross will ensure we can continue to serve our members and customers in the Highlands and Islands for years to come.”

The centre, which will employ 50 staff, will use double-decker vehicles to cut back on the number of journeys, eliminating 1,800 road miles per day and reducing CO2 emissions.

In January, John McNeill, the Co-op’s divisional managing director, said: “We invested heavily in Scotland in 2017 and we’re delighted to be ramping up activity yet again in 2018 with 18 new stores set to open.”

The Co-op’s investment north of the Border forms part of the retailer’s UK-wide plans to invest £160m in 100 new stores and 150 store makeovers in 2018.

Dalcross is the first occupant of IABP’s phase one site. Chairman James Campbell said: "The delivery of the strategic infrastructure at phase one is now complete and we have serviced land immediately available for development. We hope to make further announcements on new-build developments at IABP in the near future.”