Nigg Energy Park’s owners are preparing to take the trust port that controls the Cromarty Firth to court over new rates they say will see a 25% hike in fees for rigs and vessels using the facility.
The revised rates and charges regime will come into operation from January 1, after the Port of Comarty Firth drew a consultation with its stakeholders to a close this week.
Roy MacGregor, chairman of Nigg’s owners, Global Energy Group, said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the conclusion to the process, which the company had been led to believe was still ongoing.
Mr MacGregor said he believed that the energy park and other businesses operating on the firth were being “penalised” and that the new charges would effect the local economy and jobs at a time when the oil and sector was “on its knees.”
He said there was “every likelihood” of Global mounting a legal challenge, adding: “These are not the actions of a trust port operating in the best interests of their stakeholders at a time when the marketplace is so difficult.”
At least one other major local company is known to have challenged the new charging regime, after being informed about it by the port on Thursday afternoon.
Yesterday, Port of Cromarty Firth chief executive, Bob Buskie, said the new pricing structure modernised and simplified charges with the aim of making the port more competitive, protecting jobs and stimulating the local economy.
He said all the trust port’s clients would be paying the same or less form January 1, except in “exceptional circumstances.”
The Invergordon-based trust port issued proposals to companies using its facilities and the waters of the firth earlier this year, with a consultation period of around three months, closing on December 15.
Global replied with a response detailing how they believed the proposed structure was “complex” and would “disadvantage” operations at Nigg. The company met Mr Buskie and other port executives on December 14 to discuss revisions to the original proposals.
The company says that at the meeting they were given a verbal assurance that the plans would not be implemented until all stakeholder concern had been addressed by the port.
They received notification of the new charges coming into operation from January 1 on Thursday as they were preparing to submit a further response.
Mr MacGregor said the new structure introduced a “differential” in charges between Nigg and and the port facilities at Invergordon for the first time .
He said: “They gave stakeholders a chance to make representations. We did that and they told us a week ago they wouldn’t do anything until all that was considered.
“We had only just completed our latest representations when they put the rates up.
“They are penalising stakeholders with an increase in rates that’s going to put customers off at a time when the oil and gas business is on its knees.
“It will effect the local economy and, in turn, it will effect jobs.”
Tain-based company Bannermans, which owns Admiralty Pier in Invergordon and was until recently involved with the Port of Cromarty Firth in the Cruise Highland joint-venture are also challenging the new structure.
The company is understood to have contacted the trust port yesterday “strongly objecting” to its implementation.
In a statement, Mr Buskie said: “Following a period of consultation, the board has decided to implement a new pricing structure to modernise and simplify and make us more competitive as a port.
” As part of the consultation process, some local stakeholders raised questions and we met or spoke with them to address their concerns and to clarify the new pricing structure.
“All of our clients will be paying the same or less from January 1st, except in exceptional circumstances, which is good news for them.”
“The new pricing is in line with our overall objectives – to attract as many vessels as possible to the port, to protect jobs, to remain competitive and to stimulate the local economy, which is particularly important in the current downturn. The board of the port are confident our users will benefit from this review.”