Yorkshire’s drive to become a global hub for the manufacture of offshore wind turbines has suffered a stinging blow after another of the world’s largest producers chose to site its new factory in Scotland instead.
French energy giant Areva announced yesterday that after prolonged negotiations with port sites along the east coast of the UK, including on the Humber, it plans to locate its turbine factory in the Forth ports area near Edinburgh.
The announcement follows similar moves by fellow multinational Gamesa and Mitsubishi, both of whom snubbed the Humber to sign memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with ports north of the border.
The Areva decision – which will create 750 Scottish jobs – adds to mounting fears that Yorkshire is increasingly losing out to Scotland on a range of economic issues.
A gleeful Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, said yesterday that Scotland “shares Areva’s vision of a cleaner tomorrow”, and boasted the announcement “provides a further boost to Scotland’s position as one of Europe’s key locations for offshore wind”.
But industry representatives from the Humber region spoke of their deep disappointment at having missed out to Scotland once again – and pointed the finger of blame squarely at Westminster.
“We are very disappointed,” said Mark O’Reilly, director of the Team Humber Marine Alliance. “There is so much at stake here for our region. The problem is that with each firm that goes to Scotland, they seem to have that bit more momentum up there.”
Areva is one of a string of energy firms from around the world considering opening a turbine factory along the east coast of the UK to capitalise on the vast offshore wind farms planned for the North Sea over the next decade.
The Yorkshire Post is campaigning for the Humber region to become a global manufacturing hub for the thousands of huge turbines required.
So far, however, only one major turbine manufacturer – Siemens – has announced plans to site a factory along the Humber.
There had been high hopes Areva might join them, and the French firm was thought to have been one of several multinationals being courted by Able UK, which has a large ports site on the south bank of the Humber.
Able’s development executive, David Shepherd, was bullish about Areva’s decision yesterday, stating that none of the turbine firms have yet signed a binding agreement with their chosen port site.
“The reality is that no major offshore player is formally committed to any UK port,” he said.
“We have seen and will see MoUs come and go – but in reality, until individual ports have their full planning permission and developers start to place their orders, the situation will not radically change.”
Nonetheless, the Scottish ports are now clearly leading the way in offshore wind with three manufacturers lined up, and industry representatives in the Humber expressed frustration at the “mixed messages” over renewable energy coming from the Government over recent months.
Sam Pick, of the Hull-based Renewables Network, said: “We don’t have a clear message from Government. The gap in terms of focus in what Scotland is saying on renewables and what the UK Government is saying is huge.”
Last week a report by the IPPR North think-tank suggested the North of England needs “an Alex Salmond-type figure” to speak with a clear voice and lobby for inward investment in the way the Scottish First Minister does.
Mr O’Reilly said: “Scotland do seem to be so positive about offshore wind. They seem to have the money to invest in marketing their offer and are obviously looking after the companies very well.
“We are working together on the Humber, but it’s difficult when we are getting these mixed messages from Government.”
Mr Pick added: “It is a lack of clarity. We get very clear statements from David Cameron, but then hear something different from the people under him.”
The coalition is currently embroiled in a damaging row over green energy, as Ministers discuss the level of long-term subsidy to offer producers of different types of electricity.
Earlier this month Energy Secretary John Hayes was slapped down by his own boss – Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey – for suggesting it was “the end of the road” for wind farms in Britain.
And yesterday the man he replaced as Energy Minister, Charles Hendry – sacked by David Cameron in September – added his voice to the calls for Government to get a grip on its energy policy.“Nothing drives investors away as much as uncertainty,” Mr Hendry said.
The pressure is set to continue this morning when wildlife charity WWF will warn of a “complete breakdown” in Government policy on green energy.