A busy harbour has been described as the “ideal” spot for the north-east’s first free port – over Aberdeen.
The Press and Journal previously revealed Boris Johnson is considering proposals to establish a free port in the region, potentially creating thousands of jobs and pulling international investment.
Peterhead and Aberdeen have both been identified as potentials following Brexit.
But yesterday, on his first visit to Peterhead’s fish market, Scottish Office minister Colin Clark made clear he thought it would be the best choice.
A free port is a zone within a country that is treated, for customs purposes, as an independent jurisdiction. This means goods can be manufactured, imported and exported in the zone without barriers such as tariffs and customs duties.
Gordon Tory MP Mr Clark yesterday revealed he believed Peterhead was the natural fit, and had many advantages over Aberdeen.
He said: “It is ideal for the fishing industry, the processing side, as well as oil and gas which is now going in the direction of renewables.
“We’re at very early stages with regards to the free port idea for Peterhead.
“It’s for the port itself to apply and present their best business case but I think Peterhead has a very strong position. With it geographically based on the north-east coast and integration the oil and gas, which is transforming, it is becoming the key European fishing port.
“Logistically there’s also a great deal of land around that which can be developed in this area unlike Aberdeen harbour which is surrounded already.”
However, Mr Clark acknowledged that for some businesses – including hauliers – the infrastructure is not ideal.
When asked about transport links in relation to the potential of a free port, Mr Clark said: “I would like to see the main arteries – the A52 up to Fraserburgh, the A90 to Peterhead, the A947 up to the coast and the coastal road upgraded as well as the A96.
“As we saw with the AWPR, it changes the economic viability of the different rural locations.
“We need to take a breath and recognise if you want economic change for the north-east and include safer lives while connecting coastal towns then a number of roads need to see major upgrades.”
Fellow Conservative Ross Thomson, who represents Aberdeen South, however, insisted he would be campaigning to ensure the city is at the “front of the queue” to benefit from free port status.
He said: “Aberdeen is perfectly placed to be one of the 10 free ports planned by this UK Government.
“The city harbour is already a hub for the North Sea oil and gas industry, but the expansion into the Bay of Nigg provides new opportunities for growth in the decommissioning and tourism sectors.
“Adding free port status could turbo-charge the economic potential of the harbour, providing thousands of jobs and millions in new investment.
“I will certainly be making the case for Aberdeen to be at the front of the queue.”
Last night, Aberdeen councillor Christian Allard – a former North East MSP – said the region lacked the European import traffic needed to make a free port successful.
He said: “Aberdeen is very limited in capacity due to oil and gas and the new addition to the harbour will allow for a boost in tourism so still limited space.
“Peterhead on the other hand has a thriving fishing industry but would it have the right amount of traffic for a free port to be beneficial?
“I am prepared to be proved wrong about either but we’ve not been told what the north-east would be importing to make a free port worthwhile nor where the traffic would be coming from.”
Jimmy Buchan, head of the Scottish Seafood Association, said he would support either harbour benefiting from the status.
He said: “Any opportunity needs to be fully embraced and supported especially if it creates more jobs and attracts businesses.
“Of course I would like to see if in Peterhead and am supportive of the whole idea if it can bring growth to our area going forward.”