As he arrived in north Lincolnshire yesterday to celebrate the Government’s approval of the £450m Able Marine Energy Park, Mr Stephenson said it was no exaggeration to compare its significance to the impact of Nissan opening its car plant in Sunderland back in the 1990s.
Since then Nissan has become the biggest car producer for the past 14 years and other Japanese carmakers have followed suit, setting up their own car plants.
The largest single development on the Humber since the Second World War, the Able Marine Energy Park involves 900 acres of land being developed to provide state-of-the-art quayside facilities for the manufacture, assembly and installation of offshore renewable technologies.
Mr Stephenson said: “It is a massive business and people don’t understand how big it is - there is more than enough for everybody.
“They will need every bit of quay and land there is on the Humber.”
How big a deal it is was underlined by Team Humber Marine Alliance who spoke of a “host of potential opportunities” along the maritime and offshore wind supply chain, from steel fabrication, through to port and portside services to research and development.
The latest in a series of positive announcements for the local economy, it comes days after the Government agreed to hand over significant powers to agencies in the Humber in a package designed to make sure the area is best placed to take advantage of opportunities offered by new offshore wind farms in the North Sea.
Projects include the creation of a centre of excellence for energy skills and a business support programme to help local firms create 400 jobs.
A few days earlier encouraged by a “helpful” Autumn statement, Strabag Offshore Wind GmbH. announced that the Able site was its preferred location for a new facility to build gravity-based foundations for the giant turbines, potentially creating 500 of the 4,000 jobs the developers are promising.
Mr Stephenson said when they started out they didn’t have enough land and quay for the number of businesses wanting to set up there.
They now have memorandums of understanding (MOU) covering two-thirds of the site.
“The Autumn statement was helpful,” he said. “The industry had been waiting for announcements and that is one of the reasons why Strabag chose this time to let us release the fact we had a MOU.”
The planning process has been subject to repeated delay, with challenges from Associated British Ports, a small part of whose land will be acquired by compulsory purchase, and by the RSPB, concerned that the loss of protected mudflats will prove fatal to thousands of wading birds.
Mr Stephenson said: “Fortunately for us while we have been delayed with planning the decision-making process for the comfort factor for manufacturers has also has been delayed so we still have the same clients out there wanting to do the same business. We haven’t missed the boat.
“The opportunities are still there for the UK to be involved in Round Three.”
While work will begin on site next Spring, construction of the marine energy part of the park won’t begin until June 2015, because of environmental constraints.
Mr Stephenson said ABP had “caused significant delay” and it was now “up to them” whether they chose to challenge the decision by way of a parliamentary Special Procedure Order.
After that it is open to challenge for a six-week period by way of a judicial review.
ABP said they were disappointed that Able chose to “pursue plans that work in conflict with the Port of Immingham rather than work for the benefit of the Humber as a whole.”
However they added: “Investment in the region is good news for the UK and therefore we will continue to seek to work with Able UK to modify the development proposals in order to deliver the best possible result for the Humber and the nation.”