Region bids for Euro research centre

East Anglia is in line to become Europe's testing ground on how to shore up villages against coastal erosion and revive the fortunes of seaside resorts and port towns.

East Anglia is in line to become Europe's testing ground on how to shore up villages against coastal erosion and revive the fortunes of seaside resorts and port towns.

A bid is being prepared to set up a “maritime centre of excellence” in East Anglia that would lead research into how to bring new jobs to coastal towns across the 27 member states of the European Union and protect homes and coastal wildlife habitats from the world's changing climate.

The centre would advise EU bodies where to spend their multi-million euro budgets and pinpoint what kind of projects make the most difference to the prosperity of seaside towns, ports and communities on the coast.

Labour MEP Richard Howitt said it could provide a massive boost to the East Anglian economy.

“This is our Olympic bid,” he said. “It would be a huge prize that would put a major European institution in our back garden. We have got our act together as a region. This is a serious attempt to make it happen.”

The bid to the European Commission is being led by two major public bodies, the East of England Regional Assembly and East of England Development Agency.

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The proposal was first floated in the European Commission's maritime green paper in March.

The commission is expected to announce on October 10 whether or not a scheme can be taken forward and whether or not detailed bids should be submitted from regions interested in setting it up.

East Anglia will face stiff competition from other parts of the UK - such as the south-west - as well as other coastal regions of continental Europe.

Former Norfolk County Council leader Celia Cameron, who chaired a regional working group overseeing the lobbying efforts, said: “Clearly it needs to be near the coast and we are well placed as a region because of UEA, the ports, the outer harbour at Yarmouth, CRed and the Tyndall Centre and we have got Cefas here and the Orbis Energy Centre.

“What it certainly does is preserves the region's position on environmental, offshore, and maritime technology and we have a considerable amount of scientific expertise in this area.

“We thought we had a very strong case to put the region forward for consideration, but it also depends on how hard the British government supports it.”

A submission by the regional assembly's European and international affairs panel has focused on 1st East - the urban regeneration company for Lowestoft and Yarmouth, tasked with reviving rundown parts of the two towns.

It also considers the development of tourism initiatives such as Yarmouth's Time and Tide Museum, partly backed by EU funding and the Wells sea harbour project.

“EU money is already significantly contributing to the achievement of a higher quality of life in coastal communities which we believe we can learn from and build on,” the assembly's submission says.

“There is no doubt that deprivation and social exclusion is particularly focused in certain parts of the East of England.

“Many pockets of deprivation within the region are based within coastal areas, including a number of coastal towns such as Yarmouth and Lowestoft.”

The assembly says a centre “should be instrumental in providing the expert knowledge of maritime affairs and the eco-system which is necessary to achieve informed decisions” and “could support vocational skills development, boost research into issues facing maritime areas, and help market maritime products/sectors EU-wide and globally in some instances.”

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