How Hull is reinventing itself for a renewable future

An aerial view of the Siemens site at Green Port Hull. Picture: Siemens
An aerial view of the Siemens site at Green Port Hull. Picture: Siemens
  • Steering to port: Hull is reinventing itself as a hub for the renewable energy industry. Lizzie Murphy reports on the Green Port.
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It was 2010 when it was first suggested that Hull would be a good base for the UK’s growing renewable energy industry.

Siemens was looking at potential locations for a new offshore wind turbine blade factory on the east and north-east coast of the UK.

A coalition of Hull City Council, Associated British Ports and Hull University put their heads together and decided that the city needed a new brand to stand out against the other shortlisted sites – and the idea of Green Port was born.

“It’s not the most sophisticated name,” admits Mark Jones MBE, Hull City Council’s director of regeneration.

But the team brought a marketing agency on board to come up with the branding and started producing material aimed at securing Siemens for the city. It worked and Siemens announced it had chosen Hull in 2014.

The £310m blade manufacturing and assembly plant, funded by Siemens and ABP, at Alexandra Dock in Hull, opened in September.

“Post-financial crash we became very focused on finding new sectors, knowledge and competencies to focus on,” says Mr Jones.

In 2013, Lord Mandelson launched a 10-year plan to attract £1bn of investment and create 7,500 jobs in a “major economic refit” to transform the city, focusing on renewable energy and heritage, through its City of Culture 2017 bid.

When the Siemens factory opened last year, Stephen Brady, the city council’s leader, said the plant, combined with Hull being named City of Culture for 2017, was a positive “perfect storm”.

According to Mr Jones there is currently £1.4bn of investment underway in the city. “That is huge for Hull,” he adds.

The development of Green Port is a key part of the 10-year economic plan. Onshore construction work is currently underway for Hornsea Project One, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, which will be built off the Yorkshire coast, with Siemens providing the turbine blades.

Hull City Council and East Riding Council set up the Green Port Growth Programme, with an investment of over £25.7m supported by the Government’s Regional Growth Fund.

In addition, the Green Port Hub was also set up at Hull Central Library for residents and businesses in Hull and East Yorkshire to access information about the region’s renewable energy sector. It is also where all the recruitment is processed.

Job creation has always been a key focus for Green Port. Unemployment in Hull fell by 12 per cent in January compared with the same period last year, and in the East Riding it fell eight per cent.

During construction, Siemens emphasised local procurement where they could. “Now we are seeing spending from the offshore wind sector ramping up in the local economy,” says Mr Jones.

Siemens currently employs 700 at the new plant, which will rise to 1,000 when it reaches full capacity.

“The factory is creating 1,000 jobs. People in the UK and government are starting to realise there can be an economy out of renewables.”

The council is focusing investment in Green Port within its enterprise zones.

“Following Siemens we are now seeing smaller secondary investments,” says Mr Jones. “People are providing labour into the offshore industry. We are still getting enquiries from supply chain companies wanting to base themselves here.”

He adds: “Brexit doesn’t seem to have had an impact on that. We are also hearing encouraging noises coming out of government for the future of energy policy. Offshore wind is requiring less subsidy and is becoming more competitive.”

According to Mr Jones, some of Green Port’s objectives have already been achieved. “One of our ambitions was to have a University Technical College in the city centre,” he says.

The Ron Dearing University Technical College (UTC), which will open in September, is backed by Hull University and employers such as the Spencer Group and Siemens.

“There is a dawning realisation of the importance of the wind industry,” says Mr Jones. “Companies are investing in the future of Hull, not just using us as an island to create their own wealth.”

Key to making Green Port a success is building up its competency base.

“We are currently engaged with three major supply-chain firms for potential investments, which could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds collectively,” says Mr Jones.

“Wind turbines, foundations and subsea cable connections and transformers get shipped in at the moment but we want to build up our competency base here at Green Port.”

Around 2,000 jobs have already been created from green energy in Hull.

There are major opportunities in biofuels, waste to energy, solar, wave and tidal power generation.

Other projects in the area include the the new 22MW biomass plant in Tasterne, in the East Riding, scheduled for completion by the end of March.

“I think we will see more demand for development as Siemens comes up to full capacity and we will see the conversion of at least one of the supply-chain businesses,” says Mr Jones.

“If we achieve that this year along with the success of City of Culture I believe we will be a good target for further economic growth.”