Aerial image of the Forth Bridge looking upstream to Rosyth

After British Freeports come rail connected Scottish Green Freeports

Aerial image of the Forth Bridge looking upstream to Rosyth. Pic Peter DevlinPicture Peter Devlin

The mouthful of “Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport”, and the rather easier on the ear “Forth Green Freeport” have been jointly selected by the Scottish and UK governments to become Scotland’s first green freeports. The concept offers similar tax and trading benefits as do the freeports recently established in England, but make greater emphasis and requirements for businesses operating within the green freeports to adopt certain environmental and socially responsible protocols. Worth noting is the Scottish government’s stringent decarbonisation programme, and that both locations are served by existing or dormant rail freight infrastructure.
After the announcement of the eight freeport locations in England, the Scottish government’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon took the opportunity of a prime ministerial visit to announce their own version – the Green Freeports. The announcement was made while Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, made his first official visit to Scotland since his appointment by the Conservative Party. Appropriately enough, the joint statement was made while the leaders of the Holyrood and Westminster governments were in the Scottish Highlands.

Edinburgh raises eyebrows

Doing things a little differently may be construed as slightly contrary, and there are plenty of those willing to question that necessity. The government in Edinburgh says their way better answers the needs of the Scottish economy. Whatever. It’s taken somewhat longer to arrive at the successful applicants north of the border. The Highland (Cromarty) location came as no surprise, but the Edinburgh (Forth) did raise some eyebrows as perhaps not the most economically disadvantaged area of Scotland. Intermodal train crossing Culloden Viaduct

An intermodal train crosses Culloden Viaduct heading south out of Inverness, on the capacity constrained Highland Main Line (Image ScotRail – Scotland’s Railway)In common, both sites share existing rail freight infrastructure. The Cromarty site is potentially served by the Far North line, although additional capacity is at a premium – particularly on the main line south (the much criticised Highland Main Line).

The Forth Green Freeport is spread over a wide area, including both banks of the river. That could signal a return of more frequent freight over the iconic Forth Bridge, and a frequent grinding of the rusty rails in the port of Leith for the first time in several years.

Rusty freight rails to be polished up

The Inverness and Cromarty Firth bid aims to build a world-beating floating offshore wind manufacturing sector, with sites in the Cromarty Firth, Invergordon, Nigg, and Inverness. It expects to create up to 25,000 new jobs and attract 2.6 billion pounds (3.1 billion euro) in inward investment. In addition to offshore wind manufacturing, it will focus on green hydrogen and creating a new innovation cluster.

The overgrown railway line to Leith docks
Dormant rail connections, like this one to Leith Docks from the East Coast Main Line, could be revived under Scottish freeport measures (Geograph UK)

The Forth Green Freeport submitted a very ambitious bid to deliver up to an additional 50,000 jobs across the UK, and generate six billion pounds (7.1 billion euro) in investment. The promoters say it will contribute over four billion pounds (4.5 billion euro) in gross value added, across sites at Rosyth and Burntisland on the north side of the Firth of Forth, and Grangemouth, Leith, and Edinburgh Airport on the south bank.

Government pledges a support fund

Grangemouth has recently been extensively redeveloped to modernise its intermodal handling capacity, helping the bid make the finishing line. Edinburgh Airport is an anomaly. Only East Midlands airport near Nottingham has similar status, and it stands adjacent to East Midlands Gateway rail terminal. The airport was once slated for a direct heavy rail connection to the network with an underground passenger facility, but it makes do with a tram terminus instead – not really ideal for freight logistics.

The Forth Green Freeport will focus on renewables, advanced manufacturing, alternative fuels, carbon capture utilisation and storage, shipbuilding, logistics and the creative industries. The Scottish government says that both the Cromarty and Forth green freeport operations will be supported by a total fund of up to 52 million pounds (62 million euro) in start-up funding and will benefit from tax reliefs and other incentives through a combination of devolved and reserved powers.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.