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Tide could be turning for troubled former Underwater Centre site

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The site of the former Underwater Centre could be salvaged through a new “concept” thanks to efforts by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The development agency said today that the troubled site at Loch Linnhe could be reimagined as the facility’s assets are now being marketed by administrators, with what is believed to be considerable interest from private sector firms.

Last month, the The Underwater Centre was placed into administration, with 48 jobs lost at the site.

The Fort William-based centre, one of only two in the world that offered closed bell training to divers, said it had been forced to cease trading.

HIE said it had developed a concept for an international, multi-use, offshore test and demonstration campus with support from Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Funding Council and industry bodies.

The agency said the concept is to be disseminated to potential investors in a bid to establish a commercially viable business that serves the oil and gas, offshore renewables, aquaculture, defence and other subsea sectors adding there was “considerable interest from private sector firms”.

Audrey MacIver, HIE’s director of energy and low carbon, said: “There is huge potential in Loch Linnhe, not only to serve the subsea sector, but enhance the contribution it makes to Scotland’s economy. We have been working alongside the Scottish Government, our agency partners and industry to make the most of that opportunity.

“A world class facility that meets the changing and future requirements of industries would build on the foundations and reputation the area has, thanks to the Underwater Centre. Not surprisingly, there appears to be a lot of interest in the centre’s assets.

“We are now able to present potential investors with the concept for a subsea campus. This would have strong links across industry, academia and the public sector, in a way that meets the changing needs of the subsea sectors.”

The underwater engineering market is expected to diversify and grow significantly with annual global spend forecast to increase from £20 billion in 2017 to around £100 billion by 2035.

Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK said he “welcomed” today’s announcement, adding: “It’s crucial that our industry continues to have access to world-leading underwater training and testing.

“The centre is of critical importance to the North Sea as one of only two in the world which provides closed bell diver training and its value to the UK subsea sector cannot be underestimated.

“We hope that this concept and the considerable interest from private firms can be turned into a sustainable underwater campus which will continue to provide the highest standards of training and test facilities, vital to safe and effective underwater operations in oil and gas, offshore renewables, defence and ocean science.”

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