HULL could soon be at the centre of the UK's renewable energy industry through plans revealed by Europe's largest engineering company Siemens for a multi-million-pound manufacturing plant to build offshore wind turbines.
Civic leaders say the deal, agreed with Associated British Ports, could signal a new era of prosperity for the city and the wider region – creating up to 10,000 jobs – and that wind could do for Hull what oil did for Aberdeen in the 1970s.
But they have cautioned there is still work to be done after the parties announced they had signed a memorandum of understanding with a view to reaching "definitive agreements" this year.
The announcement has, however, come as a massive boost for Hull just two weeks after the city council said it needed to axe up to 1,400 jobs to save 40m.
Hull Council leader Carl Minns said: "It's the beginning of the end of 30 years of economic decline if we play our cards right. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to get Hull back to a prosperous city and while I'm leader I'll make sure we'll grab it with both hands.
"It will be the dawn of a new economic era for the area but we've got to keep pushing. The job of the council now is to help build up a critical mass of industries around wind."
He added: "It's absolutely like Aberdeen if you replace oil and gas with wind. Siemens could do for Hull what Nissan did for Sunderland or Toyota did for Derby and the Midlands."
The deal is also a victory for this newspaper's campaign, Powering Yorkshire's Future, which aims to ensure the region reaps the full economic benefits of the massive expansion of offshore wind farms.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "This announcement by Siemens and ABP is a real vote of confidence in the future of
offshore wind energy.
"I'm pleased Siemens has recognised the great potential of the UK and is pressing ahead with this project to create a world class centre of wind turbine production in Hull.
"The development of green technologies is a real opportunity for our advanced manufacturing and engineering sectors to grow and build on the UK's position as the sixth largest manufacturer in the world.
"The demand for low carbon technology will grow and grow. This Government is committed to ensuring that the UK benefits from that demand."
A critical factor in securing the agreement has been the port's close proximity to three of the biggest offshore wind farms currently being constructed in the world, at Hornsea, Dogger Bank, and off Norfolk, which are all within 12 hours steaming time.
A total of 5,000 turbines are required at these sites in the North Sea, and the possibilities for wider export are huge.
Matt Jukes, ABP's port director for Hull, said he was delighted the city had been chosen.
"We are absolutely ecstatic. The competition to get to this stage has been fierce.
"We always knew we had a good offer but for Siemens to say we acknowledge that and we want to work with you, it's monumental news for ABP and for the city."
ABP will spend 100m developing facilities at Alexandra Dock, which is currently a general cargo port mainly used for importing timber. Companies affected by the Green Port Hull development, a wider transformation of the dock complex which ABP aims to deliver by 2014, would be offered the chance to relocate.
The initial investment from Siemens is expected to be about 80m, covering the construction of a manufacturing plant that would house an 800-strong workforce.
The development would provide an economic boost to a range of sectors in the region, from legal services to the retail and leisure industry.
Mr Jukes said: "This is a rare opportunity which has the potential to be game-changing for Hull. What really excites me about this is it's good for Hull, the Humber and Yorkshire."
Dr Gordon Edge, director of policy at RenewableUK, said: "This is great news not just for Hull, but for the wider Humber region and the rest of the UK. RenewableUK estimate that with the establishment of a strong offshore wind manufacturing base, the wind industry can create 60,000 jobs in the UK by 2020."
A spokeswoman for Siemens said: "Siemens and Associated British Ports have announced today that they have signed a memorandum of understanding in connection with ABP's proposed Green Port Hull development at Alexandra Dock, port of Hull.
"The parties have agreed to work together to develop plans for the construction of a new Siemens offshore wind turbine manufacturing and export facility at the port with the aim of executing definitive agreements in 2011."