The new University of the Highland and Islands campus in Inverness

There are compelling reasons why 2017 should be chosen as the time to get the Gills Harbour Inner Basin works under way.

The first, and most obvious one, is that borrowing rates remain at a historic low — but for how long?

The second is that European Union funds may not be available after 2017/18 to provide finance-reducing capital grants for what can correctly be seen as the UK’s most important — albeit modestly costing — tidal-stream electricity infrastructure support project, bar none.

Nowhere else in the country will a contract of this small scale impact so directly and decisively on a tidal stream project — and future ones in Scotland’s most promising sea area — as will this one for enhancing the infrastructure of Gills Harbour Inner Basin.

Much has been made in recent times about the scarcity of taxpayers’ money available to the Scottish and UK Governments — but this seems to relate mainly, if not wholly, to “revenue” (i.e. running cost) expenditure, not to capital projects.

This is demonstrated locally by the multi-million price of the complete new schools project, the Caithness House Council office-block and the UK Nuclear Archive Centre, all on-going or recently completed in Wick, Caithness, and by the multi-million-pound expenditure on the new University of the Highland and Islands campus in Inverness.

There are major other public schemes there, such as converting its castle from a court-room to tourist attraction, erecting a proposed statue of a non-existent creature (the Loch Ness Monster), a new prison for the Highlands, the River Ness flood-protection scheme involving several miles of riverside pedestrian walkways in Inverness, etc.

The AR 1500 turbine is designed for simplicity to achieve extended intervals operating underwater without intervention

The proposed work-boat usage figures for Gills will provide clues to the way forward, but it is possible that there will be an income gap needing to be bridged from outside sources, to ensure that Gills Inner Basin project gets off the ground.

Clearly Highlands and Islands Enterprise exists to part-fund necessary capital projects and it is arguable that it ought to be giving a degree of priority to a scheme in a remote area, suffering from the population “drain” that was highlighted in the D & C “Socio-Economic Report”. Yet this is an area that is in the front-line of one of the world’s most promising tidal-stream electricity locations.

Normally, if say a valuable mineral existed on the Inner Sound seabed, the corporation planning to extract it would be expected to pay, perhaps by providing bankable “usage guarantees”.

But the fact the tidal stream electricity still requires some taxpayers’ money whilst it is in its proving stage, means that this is impracticable in this small-scale infrastructure project here.

GHL office-bearers have no practical experience in this funding field. The last Gills Harbour capital grant came in 1986, not from the Inverness-based HIDB or HIE, but from the Scottish Development Agency (SDA) now Scottish Enterprise, then and now with a HQ in Glasgow.

At that time, the SDA was the state agency that assisted with “Environmental Improvement” infrastructure projects that would provide useful employment opportunities.

The scheme was for assisting in constructing Gills Harbour’s South Quay and leaving available suitable foundations at the same level to (later) carry a public road.

This project was a most important key to Gills Harbour having a future role as ferry base — and the Glasgow agency judged it significant enough to send up its Director of Property Development and Environment (1983-1987), the late Alan Dale, to conduct its opening ceremony.

The directors of Gills Harbour Ltd are determined to see the Inner Basin workboat base goes ahead.

They hope that the facts contained herein, “distilled” from many sources, may help them achieve this necessary cost-reduction small project, thus helping to secure the future of Pentland Firth tidal stream electricity at the earliest-reasonable date.

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