My weekly CNSRP updates are intended to be short and informative – the same applies to this handy review of 2018 as it relates to the work of CNSRP!
Our focus this year has remained on those key opportunities we feel will bring us maximum economic and socio-economic returns. And, amidst wider economic uncertainties, we continue to see good progress.
The first half of the year saw encouraging signs from the offshore wind sector, with both Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (BOWL) and its key contractor Siemens Gamesa advertising employment opportunities relating to the long term operation and maintenance of its field off the east coast of Caithness. We were delighted to see BOWL, Siemens and Wick Harbour Authority exhibiting at the annual Jobs and How to Get Them event in February, and to see how popular their stands were amongst the hundreds to attendees.
As the year has gone on it has been great to see the progress being made with both offshore and onshore construction of the BOWL development. The project achieved a key milestone in July with the first of its turbines installed and generating power: by December over 50% of its turbines were installed and connected. Onshore, the project’s operations base in the 200 year old Thomas Telford buildings at Wick harbour continued to take shape, and custom pontoons were completed for the fleets of crew transfer vessels taking up to 100 people per day from Wick out to the field.
Around the same time BOWL became grid connected, the UK Space Agency announced the award of funding for the development of a facility near Melness in north Sutherland to launch small scale satellites. This was closely followed by CNSRP partner Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) announcing its own funding and confirming its intention to progress the planned development in close discussion with landowner Melness Crofters’ Trust and the wider community. Autumn and early winter saw the first in an ongoing series of community information events in Melness and Tongue, with staff present from industry partners Lockheed Martin and Orbex Space. 2019 will see these events continue, as discussions with the Trust and others also continue in the run up to an expected planning application later in the year. November saw staff from Lockheed Martin participate in local engineering industry events, highlighting future employment and apprenticeship opportunities.
Summer also brought the team from Sykes @ Home to Caithness. This global company ran recruitment event in Thurso as it began a search in the Highlands and islands for people interested in homeworking – the strongest response came from those in Caithness and Sutherland, bringing a different opportunity to those seeking employment.
Infrastructure issues have also progressed. The much anticipated Berriedale Braes improvement scheme entered competitive dialogue stage this year with four companies bidding (RJ McLeod (Contractors) Ltd, Morrison Construction, Roadbridge UK and Wills Bros Civil Engineering Ltd.) This competition is currently in its “stand-still” phase before the successful tenderer starts work. And the Princess Royal formally opened the NDA Archive in Wick, which is now home to both the NDA and Caithness archives, and giving employment to nearly 30 people. The major consultation into the proposed redesign of Health and social care services in Caithness was also completed at the end of November, so we look forward to progress on this important programme in 2019.
And CNSRP itself has seen changes this year. In June CNSRP’s independent chair Sir Anthony Cleaver stepped down after ten years, to be replaced by Ian Ross. Sir Anthony’s many industry and political connections have been important to the Partnership over the years, and Ian’s extensive experience and local, regional and national connections will bring a renewed sense of momentum as the Partnership enters 2019. Following Roy Kirk’s move to become director of the UKVL project in September, I became Acting Area manager for HIE, and then in November I became Area Manager. My role as Programme Manager will be advertised in early 2019 – a vote of confidence from CNSRP partners in the value of joint working.