A PROJECT aiming to invest £10 million into the Highlands every year by bringing together two key industries could be “transformative”.

Highland Renewables, which counts SNP MSP Kate Forbes (below) among its ambassadors, is looking to help the tourism and renewable sectors work together to the benefit of both – and the wider community.

“There's been a degree of perception that there is conflict between having renewable energy generation in this part of the world and it still being an attractive place for people to come,” Forbes’s fellow ambassador Angus MacLeod told the National. “But actually there is lots of potential for making that work more effectively and productively.

“The synergy between the two has the potential to be a really powerful thing.”

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The Highland Renewables partnership between the tourism and energy industries is looking to invest £1m in private sector resources into the region in 2024, ramping up to £10m annually by 2026.

A study from international tourism expert Professor Terry Stevens suggested that this level of annual investment could “generate an additional annual £400m net positive income for the region annually”.

“This is based on a 5% growth rate, which is just a third of the compound annual growth rate forecast for this market segment over the next five years,” Stevens added.

The National: File photograph of former finance secretary Kate Forbes

Yvonne Crook, Highland Renewables’ chair, said the funding would ultimately encompass public and private contributions to “significantly benefit the Highland economy, communities and environment”.

“There's potential for income streams coming into communities,” MacLeod said, “some of which there are good examples on the horizon already.

“Whether that's helping with infrastructure challenges – and there are plenty of those around – or it might be shared ownership or community assets that can then be used both for tourists and also for the local communities themselves.”

MacLeod (below), a partner and the head of legal firm Wright, Johnston and Mackenzie’s Inverness office, joined Highland Renewables as an ambassador earlier in December.

The National:

He told the National that connections his firm had already forged with both industries could lead to further progress.

“It’s all about bringing people together, because there's a huge amount of activity and there's also a huge amount of potential and a lot of interest,” he said.

“It sounds like a completely transformative effect. I think that's why I was interested in this, in supporting this initiative. It's ambitious. And it's about joining things up, which I think is always of a benefit. There's great benefit in bringing people together to make sure that they're working in a joined up way.”

MacLeod added that bringing two key sectors for the Highland economy together can prove that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”.

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Forbes told the National that the Highlands had a “unique opportunity” to link up its renewables and tourism sectors.

The SNP MSP said: “Tourism is a key industry in the Highlands, and is rightly on a journey to become more sustainable and reduce its carbon emissions. The Highlands is also the source of much of Scotland’s green energy, so there is a unique opportunity for collaboration between tourism and renewables.

“If you consider food and drink, which is a foundation-stone of tourism, it is very energy intensive. I know that food and drink businesses are already investing in decarbonising, working closely with energy companies based in the Highlands.

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“There is a great opportunity here for communities too, who are desperate for more affordable homes, better services and greater investment in infrastructure.

“If we can unlock the potential of renewables and tourism then it could transform the rural economy.”

However, she added: “Any progress must be through consultation with communities, understanding their distinctive needs and listening. This isn’t a blank cheque for new energy developments everywhere. In fact the answer is more community ownership, not private development.”