Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF) may spend up to £330 million on upgrading its facilities to take advantage of myriad opportunities on the horizon.
Chief executive Bob Buskie said investment of £110 million is “the minimum we need to be doing” in order to “create as many jobs as we can” for a fifth phase of developing the Invergordon port.
But potential expansion of phase five could see the total investment balloon to treble that figure, he said.
“We are currently talking to various players about how this can be funded,” he added.
Tens of millions of pounds already spent on port upgrades
A bid has been made for government funding and the trust port’s management team hopes to find out about the outcome early next year, he said.
PoCF unveiled its ambitious expansion plans, which would see a doubling of the size of its existing capacity, last year.
An investment figure of £150m was cited at the time, with Mr Buskie saying the project would create “thousands” of jobs.
Tens of millions of pounds have already been spent on equipping the port for playing a key role in Scotland’s “green energy revolution”, while also attracting more cruise ships.
Mr Buskie, speaking in advance of PoCF’s annual meeting in Invergordon tonight, also revealed another record cruise season. The port has welcomed 130 of these vessels in 2023, beating last year’s record of 109, he said.
And with the global cruise market growing at about 10% annually, this revenue stream should only get better, he predicted.
Asked if Aberdeen’s ambitions to attract many more cruise ships – after a major investment in the Granite City’s new south harbour – was any kind of a threat to this business at PoCF, Mr Buskie said there was lots of Scottish quayside “across the piece”.
Next steps for green freeport status
Inverness and Cromarty Firth were announced as one of Scotland’s two new green freeports earlier this year.
A business case summing up how “everything we said we’d do in our bid can be realised” is due to be submitted to the UK and Scottish governments early in October.
Fully fledged green freeport status “and everything that comes with it” could be granted before the end of the year, Mr Buskie said.
New projects at PoCF, small at first but getting bigger as time goes on and manufacturing facilities start to take shape, will likely take off from next spring, he added.
A resurgence of cruise business and shipping growth drove an increase in turnover and profits at PoCF in 2022, its latest annual report shows.
Bosses said the port continued to show resilience from the effects of the Covid pandemic, as well as focusing on future clean energy opportunities.
Turnover grew to £9.8m, up from £9.2m in 2021. Pre-tax profits increased to £2.2m, up from £1.1m the year before.
Oil and gas still the biggest contributor to turnover in 2022
Cruise ships accounted for 31% of revenue, while oil and gas continued to provide important income at 37%. Renewables contributed 21% and is expected to grow substantially following the award of a multi-million-pound contract to support the construction of the Moray West offshore wind farm.
As a trust port, PoCF reinvests any trading surpluses back into the business.
The 2022 figures were boosted by a £50m investment in Quay West, a key piece of infrastructure to support Scotland’s drive towards becoming a carbon neutral nation.
This 970,000 sq ft laydown area, including a 4,000 ft-plus quayside, two new deep-water berths and sheltered anchorages helped PoCF almost triple its shipping tonnage.
There were 557 shipping arrivals, weighing in at around 9.7 million gross tons.
The port also invested in a second custom-built pilot boat, Balblair, which arrived in April of last year to join the Dalmore. This took the total investment in its pilotage service over the past three years to around £1.5m.
Help for the birds
In consultation with environmental charities, the port spent £117,000 deploying a purpose-built tern raft to enhance safe nesting areas for common terns visiting the Cromarty Firth from May to September.
Another £14,000 was donated to local good causes through PoCF’s community sponsorship programme.
Mr Buskie said: “The Port has once again delivered a fantastic set of results, thanks to the hard work, enthusiasm and dedication of its employees and trust board members.
“These results were achieved while still under the shadow of Covid-19 for much of the year.”