TOURISM bosses are welcoming plans at the Port of Cromarty Firth that are expected to boost the Highland economy by more than £124 million over a 10-year period.
People are invited to share their views on the development at a public exhibition on March 27.
The £23m project includes extending Berth 5 at the Invergordon Service Base by 215 metres, which will enable the port to accommodate the largest cruise ships that are currently envisaged.
It will mean that ships carrying up to 6000 passengers are able to dock, and with an average direct spend of £100 per passenger (incorporating passenger, crew, and ship spend) the development will bring a substantial cash injection to the Highlands.
Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional partnerships director, said: "Scotland's cruise ship industry is attracting visitors from around the world looking to explore our rich history and diverse culture and is hugely important for the region.
"Tourism is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy, causing a ripple effect which touches every industry and community, creating employment and economic growth. Our reputation as a quality destination relies on continued investment and innovation and further well-managed investment at the port in Invergordon will help keep the port at the forefront of what cruise visitors are looking for and will bring a welcome economic boost to the Highlands."
The development will further build on the port's reputation as one of the European leaders in oil rig inspection, repair and maintenance (IRM).
Joanne Allday from the Cromarty Firth Port Authority said: "The port is renowned for the oil rigs that come in for weeks or months at a time to have IRM work undertaken, and this work creates jobs locally.
"Currently we have a shortage of berths to accommodate all of the vessels that want to come here. The new berth will relieve some of that congestion and maximise opportunities for local businesses.
"We're excited at the economic and cultural potential of what we're proposing. This is a trust port and we're essentially its guardians. We need input to ensure we're successfully creating our stakeholders' vision and maximising the opportunities for local businesses and employment."
Local councillor Maxine Smith said: "The Port of the Cromarty Firth is one of our largest local employers, with activities at the port creating jobs for one in six people in the Easter Ross area. It is important it is sustained and able to diversify in order to remain successful for those who work there.
"I fully support the new berth, as it means the port will be able to accommodate more vessels and projects, which in turn creates more job opportunities for local people."
As custodian, the Port of Cromarty Firth is excited about running the pre-application consultation, which is also a legal requirement, to show stakeholders the plans, and give them an opportunity to share their views.
"It's their port – we just look after it on behalf of future generations," Joanne Allday added. "Our job is to leave it in a better place than when we took it on. It's only right that we ask stakeholders' opinions and that they get to confidently shape its future."
ScotRail Alliance tourism manager Alasdair Smart said: "Tourism is a massive part of the Highland and wider Scottish economy. We are looking forward to working with the cruise liners, local businesses and stakeholders to continue to grow this popular market."
The public exhibition will be held at the Port of Cromarty Firth Port Office in Invergordon on March 27 between 9am and 8pm. Information will also be shared online at www.pocf.co.uk/home-page-3/doing-business-at-the-port/development-plans
Consultation designed to share:
• What the new quayside will look like
• Why it's being proposed
• Environmental impacts
• Economic benefits
• Opportunities for local people and businesses
• Pre-application consultation March 27
• Application to be submitted for marine licence May 2018
• Building work proposed to start November 2018
• Between 2020 and 2030 the build is expected to bring an additional £124m to the Highland economy