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Politics: Investment in Acorn Project should be priority for UK Government

By Richard Thomson

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Despite being only a few weeks into the job, my colleague and fellow north-east MP Stephen Flynn who was the unanimous choice to be Leader of the Westminster Group of SNP MPs has certainly hit the ground running and, indeed, of all the party leaders in the House of Commons, seems to be the one picking up the important issues and running with them.

This week, for example, he visited what should have been the site of the north-east’s carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) project.

Despite repeated promises, the Acorn project was snubbed in the Track 1 stage of funding for carbon capture sites and was, instead, only given "reserve status".

This followed a previous funding snub in 2015, when the Conservative UK Government withdrew £1 billion from the North-east despite promising the investment ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

Richard Thomson believes the UK Government should announce funding for the Acorn Project without any further prevarication or delay.
Richard Thomson believes the UK Government should announce funding for the Acorn Project without any further prevarication or delay.

I have previously given my backing to the Scottish Cluster Campaign, a cross-community, cross-business group which aims to create a unified voice for Scotland to progress along our decarbonisation journey, calling on the Scottish and UK Governments to take the actions needed for CCUS, hydrogen and other low carbon technologies to play their full part in meeting net zero goals.

The Scottish Cluster is backed by a wide range of advocates from industry and across local and regional communities, including Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, along with the Scottish Government.

With Track 2 funding for CCUS still to be announced, and with the north-east as the obvious location not only because of the skills and infrastructure already here because of our area’s expertise in the offshore industry, but also because of the importance of the technology in achieving a just transition and meeting net zero targets, it’s long overdue for the UK Government to face up to its responsibilities and announce funding for the Acorn Project without any further prevarication or delay.

The project has the backing of a cross-party array of MPs and MSPs. Cross-party support for the project is obviously very welcome and it demonstrates that on big-ticket items like this where there really isn’t any opposition among the mainstream parties to what is simply the right approach to take, politicians from opposing parties can work together for the greater good.

It also demonstrates, dare I say it, that were this a matter for a Scottish Government – of any political hue – which had the full powers of a normal country at its disposal, I would not be writing about it in this week’s column as the project would have been given the green light and the funding a long time ago.

There is no transition to Net Zero without the north-east, and the Acorn project is a crucial piece in that jigsaw.

It’s therefore extraordinary that the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to recognise this and instead continues the approach of his predecessors, constantly relegating this vital project behind other priorities.

It now seems abundantly clear that the UK Government is only interested in harvesting the revenues from the North Sea whilst sacrificing the North-east’s future.

We need a firm commitment, otherwise not only does the North-east lose out but the challenge of tackling climate change is also set-back.

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