Fight to stop port missing out on windfall

GREAT Yarmouth’s political and business leaders have launched a fight to try to stop the port missing out on part of a �60m green energy windfall.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement earlier this week of funding to improve facilities for offshore wind-related industries was first seized on as good news for ports such as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, with the impending third round of windfarm construction heavily focused on the East Coast.

However, the devil in the detail has shown that the money has been earmarked to areas identified as needy by the previous government: places as far afield as Cornwall, Humberside and the North-East appear on the list, but nowhere in East Anglia.

At a meeting in Westminster on Tuesday night, Norfolk MPs were lobbied to press energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne to change the eligibility criteria.

Graham Plant, a cabinet member of both Yarmouth borough and Norfolk county councils, was among those pressing the case that parts of Yarmouth and Lowestoft suffer from as much deprivation as anywhere in the country.

While welcoming other parts of the government’s announcement, including a �1bn allocation for the development of a green investment bank to help fund renewable energy projects, he described the apparent bar on East Coast ports applying for part of the �60m as a setback.

He said: “From Yarmouth’s point of view, the �60m is another way of encouraging firms away from our area.

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“If, say, a turbine manufacturer is offered a financial ‘bung’ to come to your area it improves the odds of that happening.”

Eddie Freeman, chief executive of Yarmouth’s EastPort, said: “Any help we can get would be gratefully received

“But we firmly believe the government is supporting northern regions.”

He said there seemed to be a perception in government circles that heavy industry sat more comfortably in the North than East Anglia, which was seen as relatively affluent.

Hopes of receiving some of the cash now rests on the lobbyists – who include the Gorleston-based East of England Energy Group (Eeegr) as well as MPs – calling for a change in the rules.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he would be among those contacting Mr Huhne to see if there was any possibility of including East Anglia’s ports.

He said: “We would hope Yarmouth has a big part to play in offshore wind, but even Wells has found a niche supplying offshore industries that has created jobs.”

Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said ministers had intimated that they were prepared to listen to representations.

Eeegr chief executive John Best confirmed he had already had a meeting in Whitehall “to make a persuasive case” for the region’s ports to get a slice of the cash.

He said he was arguing it ought to be allocated to areas according to the potential for levering private sector investment and on the basis of regional needs and regional assets.

He said: “We believe investment in East Coast ports for offshore wind manufacture would be strongly welcomed by offshore wind companies and it would also be a catalyst for additional inward investment.”

Mr Best is buoyed by other planks of the government’s green energy investment, including �1bn for a carbon capture and storage plant.

He explained that reservoirs under the North Sea that previously held gas would be used to store carbon dioxide captured from a new generation of clean coal-fired power stations, and that would have enormous potential for the region.

He said: “The East of England is blessed with all the assets, built and natural, that will help us become a world-leading energy hub.”