Local enterprise chiefs in the Highlands have defended their latest upbeat projections about how the far north will weather the rundown of jobs at Dounreay.
The vision set out by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) would see twice as many new jobs coming on stream than were being shed at the nuclear plant by 2027.
Offshore wind, remote servicing of the nuclear industry, and oil and gas are seen as the main growth areas in the diversification of the economy away from its long-time anchor employer.
Together they are predicted to create two thirds of the 1500-plus new jobs in Caithness and north Sutherland over the next six years.
This compares with the 720 jobs which they believe will have have been axed at Dounreay over that time.
Should this come true, HIE say that far from wrestling with ongoing depopulation and burgeoning unemployment, the area could have to deal with pressure on housing, education and other public services.
HIE chief executive Charlotte Wright yesterday stressed the numbers are indicative and variables – not least the fall-out from the pandemic – could throw its programme off course.
But she maintained the projections produced by Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership are firmly grounded.
She said: “That is the ambition that we believe can be realised if all the projects come to fruition.
“We can see the reality of it happening now with the Beatrice (offshore wind) development in Wick.
“If we can get everything right and exploit all the opportunities, that will be the outcome and we’re not making any apologies for being ambitious for Cathness and Sutherland.”
HIE’s far north area manager Eann Sinclair said the jobs forecasts are the best realistic assessment of the development of different sectors of the economy.
He said: “They are based on the suite of opportunities we see in front of us.
“Whether and at what pace they move going forward is not something we are in control of, whether that is in renewables, the space sector, nuclear services or fusion.”
The best opportunity is seen as an expansion of the current servicing from Wick of offshore wind turbines in the Inner Moray Firth. It is projected to create nearly 400 jobs by 2026.
HIE foresees 350 jobs being created from former Dounreay workers redeploying their skills to remotely service the nuclear industry elsewhere in the UK and abroad.
Another 320 is forecast to emerge from opportunities created by Scrabster harbour’s servicing of the new oil and gas fields opening up west of Shetland.
Other growth sectors feature the creation of the new space satellite base near Tongue; tourism, business services and tidal energy.