It’s been almost a year since the prime minister set out his plans to make the UK the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind’. And on the eve of the Global Offshore Wind 2021 conference, we look at how the investment in offshore wind can drive the UK’s levelling up agenda.
The scale of opportunities for offshore wind are huge and far reaching. Not just for generating clean, renewable energy, but for supply chains, jobs, training, apprenticeships, schools and more. We know that offshore wind is popular with the public. We have seen this through the government’s public opinion tracker, as well Copper’s own public attitudes surveys – people generally favour the development of more offshore wind, especially in the context of helping to meet the 2050 net zero targets. Our latest report also showed that the public recognise this as a moment of opportunity to support and invest in homegrown technologies and manufacturing.
We wrote earlier in the year that the idea levelling-up is a process of economic rebalancing from the South to the North is overly simplistic, and plays on the perception of the UK as dividing neatly into the post-industrial North and the prosperous service led economy of London and the South East. Rather, it’s arguable that the divide is between metropolitan regions which have achieved significant economic growth in recent decades, and smaller towns that are less well connected and do not benefit from large scale investment. The Government is clearly attempting to address this issue, with the Towns Fund set to distribute £3.6bn to projects in smaller settlements across the UK.
But the question is, should the Government be focusing most intently on Levelling Up, or Levelling Out? And what can be done to capture the value of offshore wind to enhance the economic prospects of the millions of people who live on the coastal periphery of our country?
New projects in the Irish and North Seas will open up significant opportunities for communities along their coastlines, particularly England’s east and north-west coasts and in Wales and Scotland. We’re already seeing the benefits being felt across the country with new manufacturing facilities being built or in planning in Grimbsy, Teeside, Great Yarmouth, Aberdeen and Wales.
Now is the opportunity to engage the communities that will be at the forefront of offshore wind for the next decades more effectively, in order to consider the role these projects can play in addressing the challenges they actually face. A starting point will be better dialogue, facilitated by a reformed planning system that allows for a simpler, quicker process and more meaningful conversations about the benefits of offshore wind that are less about technical matters and more about the communities that people want to live in, and the opportunities available for advancing local skills, training and education prospects.
If we really are to make the UK the Saudi Arabia of wind, industry and the public will want to see stronger commitments from government to help deliver the 40GW target, ensuring the benefits of offshore wind are realised, and maximised, in the years to come to deliver much more prosperous coastal communities.
Copper Consultancy is a specialist stakeholder communications and engagement consultancy and is sponsoring Global Offshore Wind 2021. For more information, please contact our energy director, Sam Cranston firstname.lastname@example.org