One possible reason for the reference to large, level sites immediately next to the South Harbour could be the notion that Aberdeen should become one of the UK freeports, which had developed from an idea of Rishi Sunak’s in 2016, and floated enthusiastically by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister in June 2019: his way of “turbo charging the economy” of the north east of Scotland.
There were reports of “discussions taking place” to give Aberdeen or Peterhead Freeport status after the UK had left the EU on 31st October. Once Boris Johnson had become Prime Minister on 24th June 2019, the UK government announcement of 10 as yet unidentified UK freeports is not long in following – on 2nd August.
The Scottish government did not favour the idea, because the ports are associated with tax evasion, money laundering and a reduction of welfare and safety standards. No do they stimulate the economy in “left behind areas” as their advocates would maintain, but merely transfer economic activity from another area. Even so Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson was lobbying International Trade Secretary Liz Truss for them, claiming support from Aberdeen City Council, which was not immediately as wholehearted as he made out. Although co-leader Douglas Lumsden and Provost Crockett are keen, initially chief executive Angela Scott is not but by October has changed her mind.
Seven months later, the Council’s submission to the Freeport Consultation ( 2nd February – 10th June 2020) on 25th May 2020 extolled the virtues of Aberdeen as a Freeport, with exaggerated claims that Freeport status would raise Aberdeen’s status to that as a component of a “world class energy cluster” in the region ( which we must assume is the north east of Scotland), linking the new harbour still being built with the proposed but as yet unrealised Energy Transition Zone in a site as yet not zoned for industrial development. Earmarked for manufacturing , enabled by the inward investment it would attract for a wide range of unspecified ,activities associated with “low to zero carbon or renewable energy industries, such as wind, biomass, solar and tidal” All still very vague ; moreover the specific example of current investment given in the old favourite – offshore wind – a Hydrogen Hub producing, storage and distributing green hydrogen and taking advantage of offshore developments in the immediate vicinity which looks far into the future.
The ScotWind leasing was not due to open till October 2019, there would be no certainly that any of the sites close to Aberdeen, where the water is more suited to fixed turbines, would be granted a licence. Particularly as the future of offshore wind is floating wind in the deep waters around the Moray Firth and north of it. The Harbour Board’s submission was more muted, but also supportive, as long as the design of a Freeport was suited to the area in which it operated to avoid unnecessary regulation. Even so the co-leaders of ACC continued the lobbying process, with Michael Gove, on 7th July, and as reported to the Urgent Business Committee on 28th October 2020, ACC and AHB are still discussing the freeport idea and a potential bid for Aberdeen to become one, but need to know more about the economic benefits. Possibly being fully aware of widespread reservations that there are any.
The Scottish Council for Trade and Industry’s July submission indicated the organisation’s grave concerns about whether freeports would achieve the UK government’s “levelling up” in a Scottish national context, in contrast to the regional/local approach of ACC and the AHB. By mid November 2020, the Scottish Government had still not decided whether to support them or not, because the Treasury had not get given it the information it required to assess benefits claimed for them, in the Scottish context.
Meanwhile, the relentless publicity and the usual exaggerated claims made for the ETZ, this time by the leaders of Aberdeen city council, extolling its role is Scotland’s transition to net zero, the large number of jobs it will created and the support from the Scottish government it has, continued throughout the summer, and have not stopped, as a google search for “energy transition zone Aberdeen” shows.