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The Highland Council is stepping up its bid to attract to the Highlands a major element of the headquarters’ functions of Scottish Natural Heritage. The Council is to contribute £20,000 - matching funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise - to prepare a "realistic and appropriate" bid over the next few weeks for 200 top SNH jobs to be based in the Highlands.

Consultants, Synergie Scotland and The Edinburgh Consultancy have been engaged to identify potential sites for development; to prepare a prospectus for circulation to interested parties, including developers and land owners; and promote the Highland bid in the face of stiff competition from other areas of Scotland.

They are expected to complete the identification of potential sites in the Inverness and Aviemore areas by the end of this month. Preferred locations will then have to be decided and a bid given to SNH and the Executive within the next two months.

In November, last year, the Scottish Executive announced that SNH was on the list of services, whose office accommodation and location was to be reviewed. SNH will appoint consultants to handle its own "option appraisal", identifying six locations throughout Scotland, including their two existing offices in Edinburgh at Hope Terrace and Anderson Place.

Convener David Green said: "We will face stiff competition in the bid to attract a major element of the SNH operation to the Highlands, where they already have a significant presence. However, I feel we are very well placed to win, based on the wealth of natural heritage designations in the area, and, for the first time, share in the Executive’s dispersal of civil service jobs."

He recognised that many areas in the Highlands would have a strong claim for the relocation of the SNH headquarters. He said: "We must present a realistic and appropriate bid, which will have the best chance of success."