Inverness city and the campus of opportunity

The new £100m Inverness Campus offers exciting potential across the learning, research and commercial sectors
The new £100m Inverness Campus offers exciting potential across the learning, research and commercial sectors

The vibrant economy underpinning this innovative and competitive location is attracting developers across a number of sectors

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By Frank Simpson

Inverness is the capital city of the Highlands and Islands: a spectacular, welcoming region that covers more than half of Scotland. This is a vibrant place to live, work, study and invest: a region that enjoys a rich history, a fascinating culture, a healthy economy, a growing population and a skilled workforce. It is a highly ambitious and innovative region that today is benefiting from unprecedented investment in Inverness itself.

One of the UK’s fastest growing cities, with a population increase of more than 17% between 2001 and 2011, Inverness is the region’s most important centre for trade and commerce, as well as a vital transport and administrative hub for the whole Highlands and Islands.

The expansion of the city has helped to promote a forward-looking business culture in the wider region and has encouraged many organisations from across the private and public sectors to collaborate to improve skills, learning and career opportunities. Indeed the availability of a highly skilled and motivated workforce is one of the key drivers behind the success of many national and international companies that now call Inverness and its hinterland home.

In 2016, plans to build further on the strong economic foundations of the city have been progressing rapidly with a number of flagship developments designed to bring new opportunities to Inverness. These include the Inverness City-Region Deal, Inverness Airport Business Park, and the new £100m Inverness Campus, which offers exciting development potential across the learning, research and commercial sectors.

The Inverness City-Region Deal with the Scottish and UK Governments sets out ambitious plans to unlock £800m of investment in skills and infrastructure for the city and the Highlands. The City-Region Deal itself provides a £315m direct boost that will make a significant contribution to the long-term productivity and economic growth of the Highlands, including investments in tourism, innovation, and promoting it as the best digitally connected rural region in Europe.

Alongside this, plans for Inverness Airport Business Park aim to help stimulate further investment in the area’s communication links and business infrastructure. With its existing national and international connections – through Heathrow, Gatwick, Dublin and Amsterdam – Inverness Airport handled more than 678,000 passengers in 2015, an increase of 8% on the previous year. Now, with plans for a new rail link and more than 620 acres of serviced land available for commercial, airside, railside and hotel development, Inverness Airport Business Park is set to drive further strategic growth not only at the airport itself but across the Inner Moray Firth.

Hotel Opportunity: The Campus And The Vision

Inverness Campus is hailed by the Scottish Government as one of the most important developments in Scotland, and is already recognised as an internationally significant location that is capable of delivering a high quality environment for innovation, collaboration, commerce and learning.

Developed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the Campus occupies 215 acres of prime land at Beechwood, east Inverness. It is adjacent to major centres such as Raigmore Hospital, Johnston and Johnston’s LifeScan Scotland (the largest Life Sciences company in Scotland), the Centre for Health Science and Inverness Retail and Business Park. It is anticipated that the Campus will attract new businesses, professionals and students to the region. By 2020 almost 1,300 full time jobs are expected on site and, following the opening of Inverness College UHI last year, some 6,000 students use the learning facilities at the Campus.

A number of key organisations are supporting Inverness Campus along with HIE, including the University of The Highlands and Islands (UHI), the Centre for Health Science and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). In addition to those organisations that have a presence on the site, other strategic partners such as NHS Highland, Highland Council and the Scottish Funding Council are closely involved in the development.

These partners are working together to develop a number of new projects, and HIE is currently marketing fully serviced plots to developers eager to join this exciting partnership. Of the ten remaining plots, five have Enterprise Area status which brings business incentives for those in the Life Sciences sector.

More specifically, based on the original vision for the Campus and the market analysis that has been undertaken to date, HIE has identified an opportunity for a hotel development.

Planning permission already exists in principle for 55,000 sq m of mixed development containing an allocation of up to 9,000 sq m for uses including hotel development. With this in mind, the aspiration of HIE and its partners is to attract an upper-mid scale business hotel offering accommodation of around 120 bedrooms to a wide market and providing hospitality facilities for the Campus as a whole.

A recent study by property consultants GVA revealed that Inverness already has a strongly performing hotel sector that is driven by both commercial and leisure demand, with average annual occupancy of around 78%. However, there are gaps in the market – perhaps most significantly at the higher grades. The report’s authors concluded that the Campus provided a strong and attractive opportunity for an upper mid-scale business class hotel. Their conclusions reflected the surrounding demand generators for a hotel business, such as large scale employers with considerable visitor traffic, combined with the excellent access and quality environment of the site.

Inverness Campus will be an important driver of the economy of the Highlands and Islands for generations to come. With its outstanding purpose- built environment, world-class facilities, well designed sustainable buildings and generous landscaped public green space, it is a place where business and the community will thrive together.

As such, it represents an unrivalled opportunity for a new business hotel development serving the capital of the Highlands. It is an opportunity that will find itself right at the heart of this vibrant and innovative, educational, commercial and research community.

For further information on Inverness Campus, visit invernesscampus.co.uk or contact Ruaraidh MacNeil, Campus Director, Highlands and Islands Enterprise on 0300 013 5063. ruaraidh.macneil@hient.co.uk.

For more Inverness development opportunities, contact Stuart Black, Director of Development and Infrastructure, Highland Council on 01463 702251. stuart.black@highland.gov.uk