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1 November 05
Airport Rail Development Would Benefit Inner Moray Firth Economy
The development of new rail infrastructure between Inverness and Nairn will be crucial to delivering sustainable transport solutions and supporting economic development in the Inner Moray Firth area, according to Highlands and Islands Airports Limited.

With significant growth planned for Inverness Airport, Inverness Airport Business Park and proposals for a new community to be developed near Croy, the airport operator believes detailed exploration of the feasibility of creating rail passenger and freight facilities should be explored as part of Scotland's strategic rail priorities.

HIAL has raised the issue in its response to the Scottish Executive's current consultation on national rail priorities.

HIAL's managing director Inglis Lyon said: "As a region we need to be investing in our future in terms of our economy, communities and the infrastructure that will underpin sustainable development. Unless we are bold in our vision and work effectively together we run the risk of missing opportunities."

The successful long term development of Inverness Airport is the primary strategic objective for HIAL in the years ahead. The airport is a major economic generator for the region, currently providing an annual economic output of 120 million and supporting 750 full-time equivalent jobs on site. In 2004/05 the airport handled 565,000 passengers and it should achieve nearer 700,000 in the current operating year. By 2010 HIAL's target is to have one million passengers per annum using the region's largest airport.

Inverness Airport Business Park is being developed on 250 hectares of land around the airport as a joint venture comprising HIAL, Moray Estates Development Company and Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Enterprise. It aims to capitalise on its strategic location and has the potential to support as many as 5,000 full-time equivalent jobs over its 30 year development lifespan.

Mr Lyon said: "The development we aim to achieve at Inverness Airport over the next 25 years will bring major benefits to the region and its economy but will significantly increase the number of people travelling to and from the site. If sustainable transport solutions and modal shift are to be achieved we believe that the integration of road, rail and public transport access to and from the airport is essential. This argument has already been accepted in relation to rail access for the BAA airports at Edinburgh and Glasgow. Inverness Airport must be seen as a transport hub of equal significance in the context of the Highlands and Islands.

"The IABP master plan also includes provision for the creation of a rail halt, park and ride facility and attendant infrastructure that would serve both the airport and the park while easing congestion on the A96 between Inverness and Nairn. The park site is one of the only major parcels of land zoned for commercial development on the A96 corridor and because of existing land constraint issues in and around Inverness it is predicted to be a focus for business expansion, relocation and inward investment to 2030. Both passenger and freight rail access are priorities for the site," he said.

The Inner Moray Firth is the only area of the Highlands expected to see population growth in the next 30 years with much of this focused on Inverness and the A96 corridor. The population is estimated to grow by as much as 30,000 people over this period and a proposal supported by The Highland Council is the creation of a new community near Croy which could accommodate up to 10,000 inhabitants.

HIAL believes that the existing railway line, running parallel to the A96, offers the possibility for a solution that meets the needs of all three developments, providing freight access to the IABP land on the southern side of the airfield and pedestrian passenger access to both the new town and the wider business park.

Mr Lyon said: "We and our strategic partners in the local authority and enterprise network are exploring these issues in greater depth as part of the airport master plan and the wider A96 corridor development agenda. Our goal at HIAL is to create an inter-modal, sustainable transport hub that will support economic and social development at the heart of the Highlands for the long term whilst mitigating the attendant transport issues that such socio-economic development will bring. We hope to secure a place for this development on the national rail priorities agenda."