Scotland has given so-called ‘green freeport’ status to two ports on the Cromarty Firth in the north-east of the country, along with £52m ($64m) in start-up funding to kick off plans to develop next-generation manufacturing hubs for the coming giga-scale build-out of offshore wind in the North Sea.

The two ports, being redeveloped by the Inverness & Cromarty Firth and Forth Green Freeport consortia, will also be given tax breaks “through a combination of devolved and reserved powers, to spur development of coastal industrial bases for the 25GWs of plant awarded in last year’s ScotWind auction.

“This is a milestone achievement in the process to deliver green freeports for Scotland,” said deputy first minister John Swinney. “[These sites] will support businesses to create high-quality, well-paid new jobs, promote growth and regeneration, and make a significant contribution to achieving our net zero ambitions.”

“Scotland has a rich history of innovation, trade and manufacturing and as we look to seize the many opportunities achieving net zero offers, the creation of these internationally competitive clusters of excellence will help us to create new green jobs, deliver a just transition and support our economic transformation.”

Industry bodies responded positively to the news, though the head of the Scottish Offshore Wind Energy Council advocacy body, Brian McFarlane, aired concerns that development of the vast number of offshore wind arrays planned now from 2030, needed to consider the bigger picture of the “involvement and support of multiple Scottish ports”, not just green freeports.

McFarlane said: “The average Scottish supply chain spend from the proposed 20 ScotWind projects is estimated at £1.4bn per project, and a significant proportion of this will need to flow through ports and the businesses clustered around them.

“However, the world-leading… pipeline we have in Scotland will require the involvement and support of multiple Scottish ports. That means it’s vital that we find routes to involve and support all the different ports who can [carry out] manufacturing, assembly, and the long-term operation activities required by offshore wind.”

Scottish Renewables head of energy transition Emma Harrick agreed: “Scotland’s ports are national assets which are essential for the expansion of the country’s renewable energy industry, and particularly offshore wind power.

“While today's announcement is welcomed by industry, further development measures will be required for the ports [which] are not successful in this process,” she stated.

Swinney said the goverment aimed to “also work with the unsuccessful bidders to consider how they can build on the plans set out in their bids to deliver jobs and growth in their regions outside the green freeports programme”.

The Inverness & Cromarty Firth green freeport is centred around a giant floating wind manufacturing complex, with fabrication yards built in the Cromarty Firth, Invergordon, Nigg, and Inverness sites, and an eye on an “innovation cluster” focused on offshore wind-powered hydrogen. Together, these are expected to create up to 25,000 new jobs and attract £2.6bn in inward investment.

The winning proposal for the Forth green freeport – from a consortium led by industrial heavyweight Babcock and including Ediburgh aiport – had a broader scope, incorporating sectors including renewables, advanced manufacturing, e-fuels, carbon capture utilisation and storage, shipbuilding, and logistics – as the next chapter in the North Sea’s industrial history emerges.

Forth forecast as many as 50,000 jobs across the UK and £6bn in investment from development of its plan, which, it calculates could contribute over £4bn in gross value added across a network of area sites at Grangemouth, Rosyth, Leith, Burntisland and Edinburgh.

UK Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove said the new industrial clusters would “undoubtedly be transformative for future generations”.

“[These] are fantastic areas for these new green freeports to set up, ensuring the benefits are felt right across Scotland. This will help to create exciting new jobs, boost business and encourage investment in the local areas and beyond,” he said.

Developers Orsted, Renantis and BlueFloat Energy, which are together developing the gigascale Stromar floating wind project off Scotland, awarded as part of last year’s landmark ScotWind leasing round, welcomed the announcement as a key step forward for the sector in the region.

Nicholas Ritchie, Stromar project director, said: “The awarding of green freeport status to Cromarty Firth is fantastic news, both for the Highlands and for the future of Scotland as a centre of global excellence for floating wind.”

Tom Hudson, project director of the giant Broadshore development, awarded in ScotWind to a BlueEnegy-Revantis bid, said: “The Cromarty Firth is a tremendous location with a great track record in fabrication and manufacturing. It also has the space and facilities to assemble floating wind farms at scale and we are very excited about the benefits green freeport status will bring to the area.”

Scotland’s government earlier this month set out plans to spur more than 20GW of new renewable capacity by 2030 as part of its longer-term net zero push by 2045, up from 13.4GW now.