When the BASF Group, the largest diversified chemical company in the world, was looking to expand its operations, a factory built and owned by HIE on Lewis was instrumental in attracting them. We invested further in this factory in 2017, supporting the company’s ambitions to grow on Lewis, creating more valuable and highly skilled jobs.
This is just one of many examples of the important roles that HIE-owned commercial property plays in regional development.
In my view, global interest in the Highlands and Islands has never been greater. This is of course excellent for the region and something we must continue to convert into inward investment projects that create jobs and strengthen our economy. Success in doing so depends on many factors, one of which is the availability of a range of modern business and industrial premises.
This is an area where the private sector is often unlikely to take a lead in a rural location, due to the commercial risks involved. Before investing in a development, they would usually need to have tenants ready and waiting to take on a lease.
As the regional development agency, our approach is to bridge this by developing and maintaining land and premises ahead of demand as the economy and individual sectors grow. These properties must be flexible and adaptable to suit different types of commercial operations and they must be sited in strategic locations to ensure wider regional growth.
Often this means medium to longer term investments in new facilities that we use to help local businesses grow, to market the region and to attract inward investors who might otherwise be unable to consider locating here.
To that end our property and infrastructure team is represented in all eight of our area offices. This enables us to tap into local knowledge, working with delivery partners and local communities to assess how, where and when we should use our resources to invest in the property market to best effect.
Currently our £40m property portfolio includes 52 industrial units, 42 offices, 11 sites on lease, and more than 70 development plots. There are active projects across the region – from Unst in Shetland to Machrihanish in Argyll and from Elgin in Moray to Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides.
They include the European Marine Science Park near Oban, the Fairmile Building in Dunoon, business units in Benbecula and Unst, the Enterprise Park Forres, Orkney Research and Innovation Campus and Inverness Campus.
As companies strengthen their presence in the region, we continue to sell on properties into private sector ownership and invest the proceeds in new regional development projects.
Some of these projects are of national strategic importance, the most obvious being the new spaceport in Sutherland. Others are carefully geared to local needs and opportunities, such as a new development of starter units in Benbecula and the redevelopment masterplan for Uig in Skye, which is being led by Highland Council.
We are also planning further investment at the European Marine Science Park near Oban and at Enterprise Park Forres, with a number of new projects in Shetland being appraised. At Inverness Campus, a new life sciences building is well underway, we have awarded a contract to build a new public transport bridge over the railway to link with Inverness Shopping and Business Park, and plans for a new centre combining healthcare, research and business development are at an advanced stage.
These projects reflect the extraordinary diversity of the Highlands and Islands, and present opportunities for HIE properties to continue to provide a strong platform for economic growth across the region.
More information on HIE’s commercial property and infrastructure activities is available at www.hie.co.uk/commercial-property