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Weekly Update, 6th February 2012

The Scottish Government’s Energy Advisory Board met this week, and announced the recommendations of the short-life working group on planning and consenting for offshore renewable energy. The working group, co-chaired by the Energy, Enterprise & Tourism Minister and featuring industry, regulatory bodies and The Crown Estate, has made recommendations designed to streamline the scoping, planning and consenting of offshore renewables projects. A copy of the working group’s report can be read at

Business Services:
As progress continues to be made with the procurement of the programme to roll-out superfast broadband connectivity, encouraging signs that local companies in the business services sector continue to win work and grow. Escape Business Technologies, based at the T3UK complex near Thurso, has announced two contracts covering the next three years, with a value of around £1m. The company offers IT servicing support from its Thurso office. Escape’s local manager Anthony Wicks was part of the CNSRP Connectivity subgroup that led early thinking on the potential for enhanced digital connectivity in Caithness and North Sutherland. The company expects to recruit additional staff in the area to help service its new contract work.

Caithness Horizons in Thurso has reached the final stage of a UK-wide “Museums at Night” competition, the prize for which is a visit from leading contemporary artists Bompas & Parr. There are two other venues competing against Caithness Horizons: the SS Great Britain in Bristol and Belgrave Hall Museum in Leicester. You can vote for Caithness Horizons at

Enabling Activities:
The Partnership’s Delivery Group met this week and discussed two potential priority projects for which collective support may be required. I will be bringing partners together to look at these proposals over the coming days. The Group also discussed work commissioned by DSRL to examine possible skills requirements in the operations & maintenance stage of marine energy build-out in the Pentland Firth, and what is required to ensure the area is well-placed to secure economic benefit.

Following recent meetings between Crown Estate and Dounreay Stakeholder Group representatives the Crown Estate has agreed that a member of staff will attend future meetings of the CNSRP Advisory Board so that information on progress and issues can be shared in a clearer manner than has been possible before. Discussions will continue on the best ways for area stakeholders to support the Pentland Firth & Orkney Waters Leadership Forum in its task of leading the delivery of economic benefit from wave and tidal energy. The Crown Estate has recently commissioned consultants ABPmer to develop a regional wave and tidal model for the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters strategic area. The model aims to develop a refined description of the marine energy resource as well as help to better understand cumulative effects from the multiple planned developments in the area. The outputs from the model will be used by The Crown Estate in their award winning MaRS planning tool and, in due course, the information compiled to drive the model will also be made available to support other industry applications. The project is scheduled for completion at the end of this month.

I also met this week with colleagues Frances Gunn and Ronnie Lansley from north Sutherland to hear updates on the encouraging progress being made with key tourism-related activities such as the Mackay Country project and the redevelopment of Strathnaver Museum, as well as the development of social enterprise opportunities. We also discussed the role that enhanced digital connectivity will play in the north Sutherland economy. Frances is a member of the CNSRP Advisory Board, which meets later this month.

As part of an ongoing process of helping communicate progress with the delivery of aspects of our economic transition programme CNSRP’s partners work together to generate news stories for local, regional and national media. I also speak on a regular basis to individuals and organisations across the area to update on progress. This week:

  • The John O’Groat Journal follows up last week’s story on the range of new businesses setting up in Wick town centre with a story on the forthcoming cruise ship season at Scrabster, and its potential economic impact. With 13 scheduled visits this should be a record season for the port, and Highland Council’s confirmation that it will again be supporting the provision of shuttle buses from the port into Thurso is a welcome boost. Scrabster Harbour Trust manager Sandy Mackie, Trudy Morris (Caithness Chamber), David Sutherland (Highland Council) and myself are quoted in the piece (not online).
  • The same newspaper also covers attendance by Caithness companies at last week’s Offshore Wind & Supply Chain Conference in Aberdeen, highlighting opportunities within the supply chain for the offshore wind sector. Companies at the event included Caithness Renewables, Energy Hunt, Wick Harbour Authority (not online).
  • The Northern Times covers Skerray-based photographer Mike Brookes Roper’s photography award from the EEF – the industry body for UK manufacturing companies. Mike will be a familiar face to many in the north, having taken photos for a range of local organisations. His classic shot of Open Hydro’s tidal device dominates the back cover of CNSRP’s vision document. Mike’s winning shot in the “Heroes of Modern Manufacturing” competition was also of a tidal turbine – this time of one being manufactured