The UK Government has snubbed a meeting with the team behind a carbon capture project that promises to deliver thousands of north-east jobs.
In a letter seen by The Press and Journal, the Treasury declined a cross-party offer to discuss the proposals, which includes the Acorn Project in Aberdeenshire.
The project team had asked north-east MPs to push for a meeting with Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi earlier this summer.
David Duguid, Tory MP for Banff and Buchan, wrote to Mr Zahawi on July 26 on behalf of the group of MPs, asking him to meet with “key representatives” of the project.
But in a response sent four weeks later on August 31, Treasury minister Alan Mak said the government was “not in a position to offer a meeting with representatives of the Acorn project at this stage”.
Second snub for project
Richard Thomson, SNP MP for Gordon, described the decision to decline the meeting as a “thoroughly dismal and inadequate outcome”.
He said it must be “reversed at the “earliest opportunity”.
It is the second snub for the Scottish Cluster – as the project is known – after the UK Government chose to reject the bid during the first round of funding earlier this year.
Mr Thomson added: “After so many let-downs by the UK Government over carbon capture in the north-east, this apparent lack of willingness by UK ministers to engage with MPs – even apparently those from their own party – is deeply concerning.
“There’s no transition to net zero without the north-east, and the Acorn project is a crucial piece in that jigsaw.”
Mr Duguid hit back at the SNP who he claimed had “reverted to type, despite being given the opportunity to help in a positive way”.
He added: “They would rather foster a false, negative narrative about Acorn and UK Government support, which doesn’t reflect the cluster’s Track 1 reserve status, the £41 million funding it has received from Westminster, or the project’s own ambitions to keep going.
“I have been engaging with UK ministers around this project since the beginning and will continue to do so — in spite of the SNP’s apparent attitude against the project.
“I have also engaged actively with both party leadership candidates on this and will raise again with the new Chancellor.”
The heart of the cluster is known as Acorn, which takes in key facilities across the north-east including the port and the St Fergus gas terminal in Peterhead, as well as former oil and gas pipelines in the North Sea.
Carbon capture and storage involves trapping emissions and transporting them, either by pipeline or shipping, for permanent storage underground.
A report published earlier this summer said the technology can deliver a huge economic boost, and create or secure thousands of green jobs across the north and north-east.
The developers of the project say they hope the scheme can be operational by 2027 but they still await further news on essential government funding.
The scheme – currently on the reserve list – is understood to be a top choice for the upcoming “track 2 process” but key backers are concerned that any delays will set the sector back considerably.
‘Government has engaged’
Asked for a response, a UK Treasury spokesman pointed to remarks made by Mr Mak in his letter to north-east MPs.
The junior minister said: “The government has engaged with the cluster since the announcement and throughout phase-2 of the sequencing process to help it to continue its development and planning.
“The cluster has been allocated over £40m in development funding by the government in recent years.
“We want to make sure the cluster can get maximum value from this support going forward.
“We remain committed to industrial decarbonisation across all nations and regions of the UK as we work toward net zero and are clear that carbon capture usage and storage will continue to play a key role in this process.”
A spokesman for Acorn said the team is “thankful for the invaluable cross-party support” it receives from north-east MPs.
He added: “The Scottish Cluster is key to achieving Scotland’s net zero targets and is ready to be one of the four UK CCUS clusters deployed by 2030.
“It can deliver about a quarter of the UK Government’s 2030 CO2 capture target and remains Scotland’s only viable solution for industrial decarbonisation.
“The projects in the Scottish Cluster present a huge opportunity for a new, green, industrial revolution and we hope that the new Chancellor will reaffirm the government’s commitment to achieving CCS in Scotland at the earliest opportunity.”