MINISTERS are expected to confirm later today that the headquarters of Scottish Natural Heritage are to be relocated from Edinburgh to Inverness, and around 270 jobs are to be transferred to the Highland capital.

Perth was second choice for the new location, ahead of

Stirling and West Lothian.

There has been stiff resistance by the headquarters' staff against any move, with a reported 75% being opposed to a move to Inverness.

However, it is understood that Jack McConnell, first minister, has been persuaded of the need for the executive to continue to demonstrate its commitment to the dispersal of public jobs, and he has endorsed the Inverness decision.

Staff were being informed of the decision by e-mail last night. One staff member who had not yet been notified, told The Herald: ''It might not be too bad for some, but others of us who have lived and worked in Edinburgh for years and have families here will be bitterly disappointed. A lot were very much against any move.

''It might not have been too bad had it been Perth, because you could almost commute, but you can't to Inverness.''

However, the executive is aware of the strong views held by many staff and is likely to plan the relocation over a fairly lengthy period, offering early retirement, and voluntary redundancy as well as attractive relocation packages.

The first call for SNH to be relocated to the Highlands and Islands was made five years ago by Jim Hunter, the historian, when he was chairman of Skye and Lochalsh Enterprise.

Now he chairs Highlands and Islands Enterprise and that body, along with Highland Council, launched a campaign to win the SNH's headquarters last year. Despite the claims of more rural areas, the two bodies selected Inverness as the only location capable of supporting such a significant development.

They narrowed it down to five possible sites: Milton of Leys just on the southern periphery of the city; Inverness Retail and Business Park to the east; the old Craig Dunain hospital buildings on the south west above the Fort William road; Cradlehall Business Park near Raigmore Hospital; and the old swimming pool site on Glebe Street, beside the River Ness.

Their favoured option was the last named: ''An impressive headquarters building of up to 5000 sqm could be accommodated on the Glebe Street site.

''It would provide a superb outlook over the river, the Beauly Firth and towards the hills beyond. Glebe Street and the Highland option offer the opportunity to provide a showcase for Scottish Natural Heritage to demonstrate how its own sustainable development policy can be applied in


Already, 1000 public sector jobs are being dispersed through major public bodies such as the Foods Standards Agency being located in Aberdeen and the Scottish Water HQ in Dunfermline.

However, none had come to the Highlands and Islands where the first calls for relocation were made.