A multimillion pound deal is on the brink of being struck to breathe new life into a huge Highland fabrication yard.
Talks over the sale of the former McDermott Yard at Ardersier – which once employed thousands of workers – are at an advanced stage.
The Press and Journal understands that several firms have expressed an interest in the 700-acre site, which has been closed since 2001.
An unnamed bidder is now believed to have had a proposal accepted in principle, and the legal firm handling the sale said last night it was working to “complete the deal”.
Another source confirmed that a preferred bidder had been selected and that work was under way to get the sale “over the line”.
Business chiefs and politicians welcomed the news, hailing the move as having the potential to make a “massive difference to the area”.
The yard, 14 miles east of Inverness, employed 4,500 people at its peak, having operated as McDermott Yard since the early 1970s, constructing offshore oil and gas platforms until it was shut down.
Plans to create 2,500 jobs at the facility at Whiteness, near Nairn, collapsed last year when its previous owners, Port of Ardersier Ltd, went into administration.
It was put up for sale in February and it was specified that offers were being invited to take on the site in its entirety, rather than the land being broken up.
The sale will include 340 acres suitable for development, and a 3,280ft-long deepwater harbour protected by a sand and shingle bank.
Planning permission in principle remains live from 2014 to establish a port for the energy industry, as well as previously-approved planning consent to build 2,000 houses, a hotel, 500-berth marina and retail and leisure facilities.
The sale is being handled by Valad Europe and Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) on behalf of administrators KPMG, who took over the yard in October last year.
The property is now described as “under offer” on JLL’s website.
Jason Hogg, director of residential and development land at JLL, confirmed the progress last night, telling the Press and Journal: “We are working closely with an interested party to complete the deal.”
Drew Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn Badenoch and Strathspey, welcomed the news.
“It’s a really important economic asset for the area and if there is a move to bring it back to productive use it will make a massive difference to the area,” he said.
“If there is a serious bid then that should be good news, but we will obviously have to wait and see what comes forward.”
The deal is among a series of potential developments currently taking shape in the corridor between Inverness and Nairn.
An major expansion of Inverness Airport is under way, along with a looming planning application for a new rail station at the site, while work has begun on building a “new town” at Tornagrain.
The Press and Journal also revealed yesterday that work on another new community of 2,500 homes next to Culloden and Smithton is expected to begin within a year.
Nigg, the other major oil rig fabrication yard in the Moray Firth area, has already been brought back to life after being purchased by Roy MacGregor’s Global Energy Group in 2011.
It is understood that the Inverness and Aberdeen-based company has not moved to acquire the Ardersier site, however.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise was previously been involved in negotiations which led to the awarding of planning permission for the former McDermott Yard.
A spokesman for the economic development agency said last night: “The yard is a tremendous asset to the region with huge potential.”