WITHIN the next three months the UK and Scottish governments will decide the location of Scotland’s two Green Freeports. Increasingly, energy experts are making the case for the Cromarty Firth. It has more natural assets than any other site, it would attract tremendous inward investment, develop highly skilled sustainable jobs and would transform the economic prospects of the Highland region.

If a new ‘Super Wind Hub’ is built there will be beneficial ripple effects throughout extended Scottish and UK supply chains, including Aberdeen’s rightly well-supported existing cluster of global businesses and energy centres of excellence.

Journalists love stories about the Scottish and UK Governments falling out. It makes good copy. When they agree and commit to work together it’s deemed less newsworthy. Perhaps that’s why there’s been so little coverage to date of the two governments’ agreement in February jointly to develop Scotland two Green Freeports.

The priority for both governments is to use the initiative to promote regeneration and create more skilled, well-paid jobs. They see Green Freeports as catalysts for achieving the ambitious Net Zero targets, creating new hubs for global trade and investment and stimulating business innovation, which will be key to our future economic success.

What does this mean in practice? Well, the bid prospectus provides an example of what success might look like.

It describes: “A strategic site adjacent to an established port that builds on existing assets in a capital intensive sector that capitalises on the firm’s location, for example, building components for wind turbines. This Green Freeport could effectively market itself to international investors in the wind energy and related sectors by pointing to its existing industrial strengths, allowing a large firm to establish itself quickly by accessing an existing supply of skilled workers and suitable infrastructure at the port.

"As the site is adjacent to the port, it would lower transport costs, so firms with goods that carry high transport costs may benefit in particular. For the local community, this new and significant demand for their skills should boost wages and create job opportunities in more disadvantaged areas.”

Around the anchor investors a new cluster of interlinked and mutually reinforcing firms would grow, building on local supply chains. A virtuous circle indeed.

Scotland and the UK can realise a once in a generation opportunity to create a new industry capable of taking on the world. And Green Freeports could be the key to unlocking it.

We all know that Scotland has abundant natural resources – none more so than our plentiful wind. The UK Government is committed to achieving a five-fold increase in offshore wind capacity by 2030, with a whopping 5GWs coming from cutting-edge floating wind turbines.

The sheer scale of the task means there is a unique opportunity to create in Scotland an entirely new industry. A domestic industry that doesn’t just assemble the various components (e.g., foundations, tower sections and turbines) for an offshore wind farm, but which also manufactures and integrates them here too. It’s an opportunity we’ve missed in the past – with too many of the components imported from overseas.

But success is not inevitable. Scottish and UK industry faces stiff competition from hubs in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, which established 10 years ago co-located offshore wind manufacturing and assembly facilities.

The prize to be won now is for Scotland and the UK to create for the first time its own ‘Super Wind Hub’ to compete successfully with established European players and create a new export industry.

This is by any measure one of the biggest industrial opportunities Scotland has ever had, with £26 billion being invested in new offshore wind farm developments over the next few years.

There are some demanding requirements if this vision is to be realised. An integrated hub needs available land, deep water, sheltered anchorages, proximity to the wind farm sites, existing facilities and an experienced supply chain with a proven track record in the wind energy sector. Of course Peterhead, Aberdeen, Dundee, Leith or the Clyde can fulfil some of the criteria, but none can fulfil all of them.

There is one cluster of ports that can. That’s why independent experts, and leading industry bodies like the Scottish Offshore Wind Energy Council, have identified Cromarty Firth port cluster of Invergordon, Nigg and Inverness as the most suitable location in Scotland for such a hub. Invergordon and Nigg have already supported more offshore wind projects than any other Scottish ports.

The attractions of the region are already recognised by global manufacturers. The added value of Green Freeport status would make a disproportionately large difference to attracting inward investment to a region like the Highlands. To misquote Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams: “if we build it, they will come”. And what could be more in line with the spirit of ‘levelling up’ than to build it adjacent to one of Scotland’s 20 most deprived areas?

Transformational opportunities don’t come along very often. When they do we need to seize them. That’s why I’m in no doubt: one of Scotland’s two Green Freeports needs to be in the Cromarty Firth.