Energy jobs boom fuelled by Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft Enterprise Zone
- Credit: Keith Whitmore
As Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft prepare for the 50th anniversary of the discovery of southern North Sea gas, a dramatic new energy jobs boom is being fuelled by the enterprise zone covering both towns. Stephen Pullinger reports.
A symbol of the success of the enterprise zone (EZ), created two years ago by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, is the rush of new firms arriving on the east coast and the booming construction taking place in both towns.
Just a few years ago, the millennium beacon announcing the entrance to Beacon Park in Gorleston seemed like a peculiar folly, with roads on the site leading to little more than redundant, weed-strewn plots.
However, the business park is now living up to its name as the beating heart of the EZ, which covers six sites in Yarmouth and Lowestoft and a total of 121 hectares of development-ready land.
The EZ, with its tax breaks and simplified planning regulation, has now made the east coast a potent draw for a succession of energy-related companies.
Significantly, many have made the move not just with an eye on the southern North Sea, but to use the local skills base for global operations.
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The availability of high quality offices and room to grow - factors listed high among the reasons for moving to Yarmouth and Lowestoft - has also enhanced the ports' credentials for leading the wind energy revolution.
The pace will pick up in the coming years with the third round of offshore windfarm construction - with thousands of turbines planned for around the East coast - but a bright portent of the future came last November when the port of Yarmouth was announced by Norwegian developers Statoil and Statkraft as their preferred operation and maintenance base for the £1.5bn Dudgeon offshore windfarm, to be built off Cromer from 2016.
Across Yarmouth and Lowestoft, 18 companies have now made the EZ their base, bringing with them more than 570 jobs and attracting more than £16m of private investment.
More than 230 of those jobs are in the energy sector with the likes of Nexus (Engineering) Training Centre, Macleans Electrical, Hydra Rig, Electro-tech and Diesel Power at Beacon Park, Seajacks UK and Venko Offshore at South Denes, Yarmouth and Lowestoft Offshore Services in Mobbs Way, Lowestoft.
Ten new buildings and units are under construction in the zone with another 10 already complete.
Chris Starkie, managing director of New Anglia, said: 'All this means we will meet our target of 1,500 jobs and £20m of private investment by May 2015.
'We are the only EZ in the country - there are 24 other sites - which has not revised its jobs targets downwards and we are recognised by Government as one of the best performing.'
Site at Riverside Road in Lowestoft, home to Essex and Suffolk Water and the new Waveney District Council building, are now 100pc committed, Beacon Park has plans which will commit 65pc of the EZ site and Mobbs Way in Lowestoft is now 25pc developed.
Mr Starkie highlighted the real business benefits for companies.
'Across the whole EZ companies have saved around £150K in business rate discounts in 2013/14 and this coming year it is estimated to be around £250K,' he said.
'There is no doubt that the EZ brand has proved a big attraction for the energy sector and in turn brought millions of pounds of investment for the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth area.
'The speed of the progress has been rapid. As more companies have moved into new buildings on the zone, others have noticed the benefits and joined them and so an energy hub of like-minded businesses has been created.'
Hopwever, he stressed it was still just the beginning and there were ambitious plans for the future.
He said: 'In July we were awarded a multi-million pound growth deal from Government which includes £10m for a new engineering centre at Lowestoft College, which will give 150 students and apprentices a year, vital skills for the energy sector.
'And for Beccles we were awarded £2m for a new relief road that will provide faster access to another EZ site at Ellough airfield. This will mean at least 20 new companies can locate to the area with the potential to create 1200 jobs.'
Great Yarmouth Borough Council recently disclosed data showing at least 220 jobs had been created in the energy sector supply chain across the borough in the last year alone.
And there are signs that the jobs boom is even gathering momentum with Vroon Offshore, which arrived in Yarmouth two years ago, announcing an expansion in its fleet of emergency response and rescue vessels that could deliver a further 100 jobs.
Council leader Trevor Wainwright said: 'The fact that so many businesses in the energy sector supply chain, many with existing Aberdeen bases, are continuing to expand into and grow within the Yarmouth borough represents a huge vote of confidence in the local economy, the skills of the workforce, the port and business park facilities, and the enterprise zone status.'
East of England Energy Group (EEEGR) director Celia Anderson said: 'A lot of companies are taking on a lot of people.
'There is so much varied business here for the supply chain and we have a strong skills base here.'
EEEGR chief executive Simon Gray highlighted the pivotal role of the LEP, MPs and local authorities in paving the way for jobs growth by successfully pressing for the enterprise zone and assisted area status.
He said the upturn was set to continue with a predicted £50bn of investment in the region's energy sector expected over the coming two decades.