How marine economy can be our future

Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm .'Photo at Sheringham Shoal taken by CHPV and supplied by Scira Offshore Energy'.

The need to steer East Anglia on the right course to fully exploit the potential of the UK's expanding marine economy has been underlined at a major conference.

Nearly 60 delegates, including local government officials and representatives of companies across the region, attended the breakfast event at Hethel Engineering Centre near Wymondham.

The event was hosted by the North Sea Marine Cluster (NSMC), an alliance of private and public sector and academic interests formed to promote the marine economy, and saw the launch of its pamphlet 'Realising the potential – East Anglia's blue economy'.

The document, intended to focus the attention of local and central government as well as business, highlights the fact the region's coast currently has 'the most concentrated and diverse activity in England and contains the majority of oil and gas activity and of proposed renewable energy in the form of offshore windfarms round three'.

However, it starkly poses the question: Is East Anglia positioned to secure the economic benefits as the blue economy expands?

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To ensure that it is, the pamphlet suggests a collaborative approach is needed by all involved, including activities as disparate as aggregate dredging, fishing and tourism, as well as oil and gas and offshore wind, brought together in a regional marine policy.

It also signals the need to foster inward investment, identify and fill skills gaps, ensure research supports the marine economy and deliver focused funding from the EU and UK.

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NSMC, a not-for-profit organisation, founded in 2009 by Gardline Group, the UEA's environment team, Norfolk County Council and risk and insurance broker Marsh UK, brought together speakers to drive home its key messages at the launch event.

Making reference to the region's maritime history through Admiral Nelson, Gardline chairman Gregory Darling made clear that the blue economy is here now with superb opportunities for further growth.

'As Lord Nelson's leadership opened up the seas of the world to British trade, so we must endeavour to look to the sea for the region's economic future,' he said.

Mr Darling pointed out that the maritime sector contributed more to the UK economy than the UK's prominent and active 'aviation and aeronautics' sector.

Mark Goodall, a board member of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) highlighted the importance of future marine activities taking place off our shore – the wind turbines being built in the East Anglia Array 35 miles off the Great Yarmouth coast would generate more electricity than all the offshore wind farms currently in operation in the UK.

Recognising that the marine sector crossed nearly all of Norfolk and Suffolk's strongest commercial sectors, he spoke of the ways government had placed LEPs at the centre of distributing several key business funds.

Dr Lawrence Coates highlighted the new training capacity in Norfolk's leading higher education institution.

The skills and experience which could be gained in the UEA's MEng, MSc and BEng courses in the skills for energy department increased the visibility and capacity of the already vibrant training going on there.

Peter Wortley, who led an Eastern Wind Energy Group project at Hethel Engineering, aiming to engage local firms in the wind energy industry, highlighted the fact that the offshore wind turbines which would be constructed and erected locally were being designed and manufactured abroad.

Without the development of a manufacturing industry and supply chain, it was likely that the UK would miss out on thousands of jobs.

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