Thurso is the most northern town on the British mainland. The town has a population of circa 9,074. (ONS, 2011), it is served by main transport links of the A9 roadway, the most northern train station in the UK network and ferries to Orkney. The main employer and secondary employment supply chain employer has been for many years the Dounreay Nuclear Power Establishment (CNSRP, 2017) which is currently in the process of being decommissioned anticipated to be complete in the mid 2030’s (DSRL, 2017). The area is therefore in flux, a town charrette process held in 2013 recognised the need for development in the town and emphasised that a “Team Thurso” was required to oversee, initiate and deliver community led development (Highland Council, 2013). The feedback from the town Charrette process has been incorporated into ‘CaSPlan’ and will form the Local Area Plan officially in late summer 2018. Destination tourism marketing activities such as the North Coast 500 and Venture North seek to encourage visitors to the area yet anecdotal evidence in the area and as identified in the charrette process the town does not sustainably cater to tourists or serve the needs of residents.
A higher than average for the Highlands and Islands area percentage of the population are aged 45 years plus at 52.5% compared to the rest of the region at 41.9% and across Scotland being 44.3% (HIE, 2014). Issues exist in retaining young people in Thurso akin to much of the Highlands region. Thurso has a higher than average percentage of the population employed in manufacturing, engineering and skilled trades activity as relative to Highlands and Islands sector employment levels. (HIE, 2011: 2014) Much of this is attributed to direct, indirect and induced employment at the Dounreay Nuclear Power Station which is a significant socio-economic factor in the area. While Caithness as a whole will be impacted by the decommissioning of Dounreay, Thurso is the largest settlement to the site and employment both direct and indirect in Thurso is heavily dependent on Dounreay. The input to the local economy of Thurso through wages paid to those working at the plant is highly significant and efforts must be made now to ensure for a vibrant town centre before decommissioning end state is reached.