Peter Aldous welcomes the green energy and fishing opportunities in the Queen’s Speech for East Anglia

15th January 2020

Peter Aldous speaks in the debate on the Queen’s Speech highlighting the green energy and fishing opportunities for the East Anglian coastal region and urges the Government to take these opportunities to revitalise the area.

Peter Aldous MP speaks in the House of Commons, Queen's Speech, Jan 2020

I congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) on a passionate, robust, honest, and forthright speech. It is clear that she will be no shrinking violet in this place, which is quite right.

A green industrial revolution is currently taking place in Suffolk and Norfolk. Off our coast, parts of one of the largest clusters of offshore wind farms in the world are either in operation, being built, or being planned. There are also exciting plans for revitalising the fishing industry in East Anglia post Brexit, in an environmentally responsible way that can help to revitalise coastal communities along the 200-mile coastline in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. The foundations have been laid and jobs are being created, but more work is required if we are to realise the most from those exciting opportunities for local people, communities and businesses.

Successive Governments have done well in creating the policy framework in which the green industrial revolution is taking place—a framework that encourages technological advance, innovation, and inward investment. The cornerstone is the Climate Change Act 2008 and the creation of the Committee on Climate Change. That was followed by the industrial strategy, the clean growth strategy, and sector deals, including that for offshore wind, which was launched by former Minister Claire Perry in Lowestoft last March. Subsequently, last summer we enshrined in law the legally binding target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050—the first major economy to do that. That target is robust and realistic, and in line with scientific expert advice from the Committee on Climate Change, which stated that there is no evidence that a target date earlier than 2050 is feasible.

We now need to get on with the policies that are required to reach net zero. Provided that we do not dither and delay, we may be able to achieve this target earlier. Such policies include those set out in the Conservative manifesto of increasing the UK’s ambition on offshore wind to up to 40 GW by 2030, enabling floating wind farms and committing £800 million to building the first fully deployed carbon capture and storage cluster by the mid-2020s.

In East Anglia, much has been achieved: 4 GW of offshore wind power is already operational off the East Anglian coast, accounting for over 50% of the UK’s installed capacity. With the potential developments in the pipeline, we can provide much of the Government’s new revised higher target. Investment to facilitate that further development is taking place: in autumn, the £10 million Energy Skills Centre was opened on East Coast College’s Lowestoft campus, and ScottishPower completed the new £25 million operations and maintenance base in the Hamilton dock. Later this year, CEFAS—the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science—will open its new offices and laboratory in Pakefield. It provides, and will continue to provide, the best fisheries scientific advice, but it is also now giving advice on offshore renewable energy to Governments across the world. It is a trusted bridge linking the public sector to academia and private industry.

I commend the Government for facilitating that investment, but now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We need to go the extra mile. The national policy framework must quickly move forward to its next stage, with the Government setting out a cost-effective pathway to achieving our net zero target. Net zero must be embedded across Government. All future departmental decisions, particularly those on spending, must pass a net zero test, to ensure that we achieve, and hopefully deliver beyond, the target.

As I have mentioned, in an East Anglian context much has been achieved, but there is a concern that, notwithstanding the massive scale of investment off our coast—£1 billion to £2 billion per project—the region is very much unrepresented when it comes to the supply and installation of main components. There are a number of main contractors in the region with the expertise to do this work, including Sembmarine SLP, James Fisher Marine Services, Seajacks, 3sun and Global Marine Group-C Wind.

The offshore wind sector deal has the potential to stimulate the required inward investment in components manufacturing, which will create longer and more resilient supply chains and more local jobs. We need to work with those businesses to ensure that they can realise their full potential. That will also require investment in infrastructure, particularly in ports such as Lowestoft. If we do that, then ultimately opportunities will open up for more UK businesses to develop and export low-carbon goods and services, thereby facilitating the global transition to net zero.

The oil and gas industry has been an integral part of the East Anglian economy for over 50 years. It still has an important role to play as we transition to net zero. Collaborative work is taking place with the offshore wind sector, with both learning from one another, and with further opportunities to pioneer inter-sector training and currency certification. Gas to wire technology and gas platform electrification, powered by offshore wind, are emerging as new advances that provide added resilience in supply while assisting in decarbonising traditional methods of generation.

As I have already mentioned, there are exciting opportunities in carbon capture and storage, and we must not forget the enormous amount of work that needs to be carried out in decommissioning oil and gas assets on the UK continental shelf. In the southern North sea, late-life and decommissioning expenditure is forecast at around £4.4 billion for the period up to 2027. That amounts to an average annual spend of around £445 million. It is important that we have a policy framework and an investment strategy that ensures that we secure as much of that work as possible for UK and East Anglian businesses. The Government recognise the need for an oil and gas sector deal, and I urge them to start work as soon as possible on its preparation, collaborating closely with the industry.

I turn to the opportunity that Brexit provides to revitalise the East Anglian fishing industry. The right policy framework is emerging following the 2018 fisheries White Paper, and it is important that the forthcoming fisheries Bill promotes sustainable and environmentally aware fishing practices and management. Having sat on the Fisheries Bill Committee in the last Parliament, I believe that we are moving in the right direction, but more work is required. In East Anglia, we have produced the REAF—“Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries”—report, which sets out recommendations for revitalising the industry that could generate an additional £28 million to £34 million per annum in the region’s ports.

The report’s recommendations very much recognise the importance of sustainable fishing, including the development of a modern fleet, delivering top-quality fish, high-quality jobs and a reduced environmental impact. It is recommended that consideration is given to restricting offshore vessels to 500 hp and prohibiting the abhorrent and unacceptable use of beam trawls. Those restrictions would encourage and facilitate the entry of modern vessels, each with a crew of up to approximately five and each able to use a variety of gear, such as twin-rig trawls and fly-shooting nets. These vessels would carry the most modern fish-handling and storage technology. The proposed new fleet is modelled on the modern French fleet of the same size and gear types. It offers higher fish quality, greater employment opportunities, less impact on marine ecology and a lighter carbon footprint.

This vision is in contrast with the current fleet. At present, no offshore vessels operate out of East Anglian ports. Instead, a number of UK-registered but Dutch-owned vessels operate out of the Netherlands. They use beam trawls, which drag heavy metal beams across the seabed, which is ecologically damaging and fuel-intensive. We now have the opportunity to move to a newer and greener way of fishing that will benefit our coastal communities. It is important that we grasp the opportunity.

In conclusion, the future is bright, but it is not orange —it is green. There is enormous potential to revitalise coastal communities not only in East Anglia, but all around the coast, to provide opportunities for many people who feel that they have been overlooked and forgotten for too long. It is important that we do not let them down.

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