Energy industry plea to minister

The energy industry in the east of England received a major boost last night when energy minister Charles Hendry told its leaders that he has asked the Crown Estate to work with them to maximise their gains from the growing offshore wind industry.

Acknowledging that the region and its ports had missed out in the granting of money to assisted areas, he announced that he had asked the Crown Estate to 'substitute' for the disappointment by working with the local ports and energy industry.

He also said that the region had been given an 'unparalleled opportunity' by its energy assets. And he stated that the way industry leaders and MPs from the region had got together to promote their case 'epitomises everything we want to see in the economy'.

The Crown Estate owns all of the seabed out to 12 miles from the coast and lets out all the contracts for the offshore wind industry that will be built on it. One estimate last night was that it could issue contracts worth �45bn off the East Anglian coast.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said Mr Hendry had left representatives of the region's energy industry 'buoyed up' with his comments to them at a reception in the House of Commons. And John Best, the chief executive of the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), which organised the event, said the minister had delivered 'a great message'.

A drive to see the eastern region transformed into a key centre for the UK's renewable energy had been taken to Westminster

with bosses from leading Norfolk and Suffolk companies demanding that more should be done to secure a �70bn jobs bonanza in the next 20 years.

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Mr Hendry was told that the government needs to invest in energy assets in the region and create a level playing field because of subsidies to rival energy hubs in Scotland and northern England.

The Commons reception, involving more than 200 business leaders, MPs and council representatives from the east of England, was told that unless the government supports the region, it may struggle to help meet the nation's ever increasing energy needs.

And Mr Hendry was told East Anglia's reputation as a world leader in renewable and offshore energy would be put in jeopardy if no action was taken to bolster it in the next 20 years.

At the moment, East Anglia's energy industry is worth �50bn, but in the next 20 years that figure should rise to at least �75bn.

EEEGR executive chairman Alan Barlow said: 'Our region is a world leading all energy hub. But the government's subsidy support to Scotland and northern England creates an imperfect market.

'EEEGR will continue to lobby the government to give business what it really wants - a level playing field and not market distortions.

'It is no good waiting for the lights to go out. Government must create innovative ways to support the energy portfolio of the east of England so that it can fully realise its potential to deliver the national energy policy.'

Yesterday's reception was hosted by Mr Lewis and saw dozens of companies, such as SLP Engineering, Perenco UK and Seajacks, MPs and councils representatives press for government action.

The reception came two months before the 10th anniversary of the creation of EEEGR.

Mr Best, its founder, said: 'The most important thing about today is that we are all speaking with one compelling voice. We had 200 people here today, but in all honesty we could have had 1,000.

'Today is about the long-term economic sustainability of the region.

'We are making two compelling cases today - greater investment from the larger energy companies and for the government to accelerate the development of energy assets in the east of England.'

On Thursday, February 24 EEEGR is staging the annual Southern North Sea conference at the Holiday Inn by Norwich International Airport.

For information visit or call 01493 446535.

See tomorrow's EDP business supplement for a look at how natural gas is still a big player in the region.