Why Hunterston is an ideal blue economy location

In this guest post, Heather Jones, CEO of the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre, reflects on how the former coal port’s industrial past means it already has the attributes to help Scotland’s fish farming sector.

I remember when Hunterston was built and there was a great deal made about this industrial complex coming to such a beautiful part of Ayrshire.

Without doubt, the site now has the opportunity go in a different direction as it looks to develop.

There are big opportunities for investing in sectors of the future – particularly aquaculture.

Hunterston has much in its favour if it goes down that route. If the geographical characteristics of that site were good for heavy industries in the past, then they’re good for modern, high-tech food production industries now.

It has fantastic deep-water access for marine vessels going in and out, along with good power supply and road and rail connectivity. The large amount of available land provides space for new developments, and added to its land and sea connections, this means this could be a great place for businesses looking for both these attributes.

Geographically it is well positioned for moving fish to and from sea sites further up the west coast.

The site also draws on a large catchment - if you include a 30-40 mile radius – for potential employees, that takes you down to Ayr and up to Glasgow and beyond. This large employee base on its doorstep is attractive to companies who are looking for new staff.

Depending on the investors and companies which locate at Hunterston, you could have high-tech jobs requiring mechanical engineers, water chemists, and fish biologists, or a range of skilled and semi-skilled jobs working in a fish processing plant, for example.

Its large site is ready for development for a number of potential uses, include marine equipment manufacturing and servicing and a range of aquaculture-related uses.

The business prospects for Hunterston would be strongest with commercial sectors that are profitable. The port has already agreed a 15-year deal with seafood specialists Cumbrae Oysters earlier this year, which could be the first of several aquaculture companies to locate there and invest in North Ayrshire’s blue economy.

Hunterston has the opportunity to market itself as a place where large scale commercial activity needing land and marine access can happen. It’s ripe for development for a west coast location.

SAIC have enjoyed working closely with Peel Ports, providing technical advice on the size, scale and importance of aquaculture, both now and in the future.

Global salmon production is high-tech, high growth, and unlike other land-based farming, is not dependent on state subsidies to make a profit. There’s insufficient supply globally to meet worldwide salmon demand, so opportunity knocks for Scotland to expand its production to meet global market demand.

Many of the producer and supply chain companies in the SAIC consortium want to grow, to bring the benefits of unmet global demand to Scotland. There is scope for newbuild processing plants and hatcheries, both of which would be multi-million pound projects. It is hard to think of many other places on the west coast that offer the land, power, water, transportation, and labour market as well as Hunterston. In addition to food processing plants, there is scope in the supply chain to grow too, in producing boats, nets and anchors for the aquaculture sector.

It’s been five years since Hunterston stopped taking coal. The site has all the potential to be transformed within the next five years, and I’m excited to see what role it’s going to play in the new world of aquaculture.