The new Moray College UHI campus, which will be built near RAF Lossiemouth, is part of a drive to push a generation of aviation and engineering jobs in the region.
It is hoped that the “aerospace centre of excellence” will create “hundreds” of students’ places and provide more job opportunities for youngsters as part of the £100 million deal backed by the UK and Scottish Governments.
Once complete, the Moray Aerospace, Advanced Technology and Innovation Campus will work with both the RAF and private partners to support the new fleet of Poseidon submarine hunters that arrived back in October.
Last month Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an agreement had been struck in the spending review to reduce the period by five years to ensure the benefits of the deal were felt sooner.
This week at the local authority’s planning committee, Fochabers Lhanbryde councillor Marc Macrae said he believes the new facility emphasises that the region faces a “rosy” future.
Mr Macrae said: “I recently spoke to representatives of UHI and this is a fantastic opportunity with skilled jobs that will bring training and learning.
“This will be much welcomed in the community and an ideal add onto the Poseidon facility on the other side of the base.
“The continued growth of RAF Lossiemouth puts a really positive stamp on things and makes the future of Moray look really rosy indeed.”
Councillor Frank Brown welcomed the project: “It is the real beginning of the Moray Growth Deal which will help revitalise the region.
“It is certainly going to be an extremely useful facility and the location clearly enables access to RAF Lossiemouth so it is really welcomed.
“I would support this project.”
Concerns over prime agricultural land
However Mr Brown quizzed principal planning officer Richard Smith over whether there were any potential challenges over the proposed land for the college being “prime agricultural land”.
Mr Smith said: “The prime agricultural land is protected under the Local Development Plan which does state that we should avoid sterilising significant areas of prime land.
“So it is a balancing act to weigh up the loss of the prime agriculture land against the benefits of the proposal itself.”
While Forres councillor Aaron Maclean insisted it was “really important” that the project’s impact on the land and wildlife was discussed.
Mr Maclean added: “It is good to see things moving forward with the growth deal and opportunities and value to the economic and high-value jobs in the Moray area as well for young people which all will be good things.
“We have to do this as a planning matter so the departure of the plan and impact on prime agricultural land and wildlife and impact on neighbouring properties.”
The UK Government will invest £21m into the aviation college and the remaining £12.3m is expected to be funded by local organisations.