Impromptu Meeting With A Top UK Cabinet Minister At Gills
24th January 2014
The three officer-bearers of the community company which owns and operates Gills Harbour, the Scottish mainland’s most Northerly port in Caithness, held a surprise impromptu meeting with a top UK Cabinet Minister on Friday 24th January, 2014.
The Rt. Hon. Danny Alexander, First Secretary to the Treasury, was in the ferry waiting room at Gills Harbour getting ready to board Pentland Ferries Ltd’s 2,400-tonne modern catamaran vessel ‘Pentalina’ on her regular mid-day crossing of the Pentland Firth’s ‘short sea crossing’ to St Margaret’s Hope, 15 miles away.
Office-bearers Bill Mowat, of nearby John O’Groats, Caithness chairman of Gills Harbour Ltd, (GHL) his vice-chairman Clifford Shepherd, of Quoys of Canisbay farm on the shores of Gills Bay and GHL’s secretary John Green, also of John O’Groats, four miles away, met the minister. He was using Scotland’s most successful ‘mainland to island group’ sea-link for the very first time; it’s the only one that doesn’t get any subsidy.
The Minister was heading across the Pentland Firth with the family-owned company’s ship to a function in the Orkney Islands.
The office-bearers were at Gills for a meeting with consultants in connection with GHL’s plans to upgrade the harbour to meet the stated needs of consortia and marine contractors aiming to generate ‘horizontal hydro’ electricity from the fast-flowing ‘tidal streams’, all four of which Crown Estate Seabed leases in the Pentland Firth lie within 8 miles of Gills, which was scheduled after the 13;30 pm sailing.
They told the Minister that Gills Harbour Ltd operates under ‘company articles’ devised by the Scottish Government’s jobs agency Highlands & Islands Enterprise to encourage local community land-holding trading firms in ‘remoter’ areas in the North and West of Scotland.
Mr Shepherd said that there were plans by MeyGen Ltd to take sub-sea cables ashore on his farm and that a report earlier in the week, by top Edinburgh & Oxford University engineers, had claimed that the Pentland Firth’s swift tide-streams could ‘generate half of Scotland’s power needs’.
The Cabinet Minister, who serves as MP for Inverness, talked about his ancestral family links with the Far North area. He was named after his great-uncle Dan Alexander, whose firm was the main builder of wooden fishing boats in Wick from the 1930s to the 1950s; but he had traced his family’s links to the little village of Keiss, between John O’Groats and Wick.