“It is an exciting job to come back and finish what we started off,” Marcus Walker told regional stakeholders in the maritime and renewables sector as he effectively launched a new chapter for Able on the Humber.
For the regeneration chief who was tasked to find a post-steel future for North Lincolnshire – should it be required – his recent return to the borough and a project he knew as well as the developer, is seen as pivotal. With much work behind the scenes since he joined Able UK 11 months ago, he is now keen to meet challenges that have conspired against the realisation of the ambitious plan for the “big space in the right place”.
They have principally been three-fold, and – frustratingly – out of the company’s control.
Mr Walker said: “My involvement with this scheme goes back 20 years. North Lincolnshire was dependent on the Scunthorpe steel industry, it teetered then, as now, on the brink of extinction, and if it did go it would be cataclysmic for the area. I was charged to come up with a strategy for the area that could replace steel and provide a transformational opportunity for the area. I didn’t have to search very far.”
At a similar juncture Able UK, the North East private company that built its name in dismantling huge rigs and ships, was buying up land, eventually securing more than 4,000 acres.
“It is the last undeveloped deep water port in the area. It had the potential for some big superport, and the local authority had the temerity to overcome the many environmental obstacles to get planning consent – but we didn’t know who we could get on board,” Mr Walker recalled.
In mid-2009 the project went public, soon after impressing then Energy Secretary Ed Miliband at a regional event.
“We could see then that if offshore wind was going to be successful and reduce cost, it needed a brand new port to provide manufacturing, assembly and storage in one place. A car plant production on the scale of building aeroplanes.
“Now we don’t need one, we need two of these to meet targets.”
In 2011 the development consent order application commenced to deliver AMEP – Able Marine Energy Park as it was. “That was over three years in the running. We had half a tonne of documents, much of it for the environmental element, and it was an inquiry that was long and challenging,” Mr Walker said. “We finally got the consent only to be challenged by our friendly neighbouring port operator;” he added.
That was back in late 2013, and it rumbled through to early 2015 as rare parliamentary procedures were invoked with ABP objecting to a compulsory purchase order.
But it also left challenges to overcome in terms of delivery too – not least the huge quay – the focal point of the development. Designed big to deal with what’s needed – a boon for floating wind now too – it has capacity for four manufacturers to operate simultaneously.
Mr Walker said: “The planning permission requires us to build all 1,349 metres in one go. We cannot operate one part of it until the entire thing is built. That’s a £400 million development.”
That, and the 100-odd acres of reclaimed land behind it, makes it nearly incompatible with the current funding regime.
“The big problem we have had since 2014 is the CfD model,” Mr Walker said. “It drip feeds one by one in annual application rounds for projects in the North Sea. What we need to be big enough to deliver is two or three big original equipment manufacturers with 2GW to 3GW of work to put down a footprint. That’s what we have been challenged to deal with ever since.”
A total of 675 acres of land are included in AHP, with a further 721 acres of developable space at AEP.
“This has the opportunity to create a renaissance across the north of England. We can regenerate anything from the steelworks to engineering. Yet it had been said if we got offshore wind wrong we’d have to pay in Euros, and to some extent, that’s been seen. CfDs have been excellent in driving down cost of energy from offshore wind, and The Crown Estate has been very good at the long term contracts for the North Sea bed, but have we created the UK content?
“The target is 60 per cent, and we’re a million miles away. Grimsby has done a fantastic job with operations and maintenance, but we shouldn’t be counting that in – though it is obviously absolutely right it should be here, as it needs to be.”
And there’s one more agonising element, made all the worse by one signed-up party – monopile manufacturer SeAH skipping up to the Tees in what was a bitter pill to swallow, as it closed in on viability.
“Government also likes to do business with elected mayors and we don’t have one,” Mr Walker said. “We really need a Ben Houchen of the Humber, that’s how government does its business. That’s a challenge too.”
The coincidental timing of the presentation with the latest CfD announcement may be a useful play too when it comes to addressing development needs for offshore wind.
“We have been quiet for a while, we have resubmitted the development consent for renewal, and we are working with a number of investors on there and a number of renewable industries with inquiries, be it generating, sustainable biofuel plants, or lithium batteries, as well as offshore wind.
“We are looking much more flexibly. It has been challenging, but we’ve not been sitting on our hands. We hope in the next three or four years there will be some really good news.”
Original artice – https://business-live.co.uk/all-about/yorkshire-humber