The Conservative peer who sparked a media storm by claiming the North East of England was a “desolate” place this week outlined how the region could play a key role in modernising energy production.
Lord Howell, whose comments about the region also triggered a hugely-successful viral campaign promoting the region, was speaking at the North East Chamber of Commerce President’s Club.
NECC invited the former energy minister, Chancellor George Osborne’s father in-law, to visit the North East earlier in the month for the first time since his comments. So impressed was he by what he saw in the region, Lord Howell agreed to address President’s Club at Wynyard Hall, Teesside.
Speaking in front of around 180 regional business leaders, he said: “Here in the North East you already face the need for an expansion of power supply facilities for new firms starting up, although I am sure it is a challenge which can be met.
“Surprisingly, given the present and mounting energy furore, I regard the UK as exceptionally well placed to draw on abundant energy supplies of all kinds, fossil and renewable, if we can get our policy straight.
“We are alive with innovations right through the energy supply chain, many of them being carried forward here in the North East, which is truly Britain’s energy hub. All that is needed is enough certainty in the policy framework to incentivise investors and marry finance with technology.
“Even in the short term we can be saved from power shortage by more interconnectors to our neighbours Norway, Ireland, Spain, Iceland – all of whom have masses of spare ‘green’ electricity to pour into our grid.
“This can be in addition to the interconnectors we already have from France and the Netherlands. Laying the cables for this could be quicker and easier than arguing about new domestic sources, where to put them and who pays for them.”
NECC president Dave Laws said: “I was delighted to welcome Lord Howell to the region. His original remarks, while misconstrued, helped highlight the fact that the region boasts a wealth of locations and resources for large-scale investment.
“Lord Howell’s visit provides us with an opportunity to highlight the sound economic sense that has been missing from government strategy for years, that the North East contains capacity for growth that is in short supply in some other parts of the country.
“As my colleagues at NECC have stated in countless speeches and reports, we have the land, the skills and the resources to accommodate new investments while the South East grows increasingly over-congested.”
NECC President’s Club was sponsored by Sunderland College. It represents companies and organisations from a wide range of sectors including services, manufacturing, education, and professional, to local authorities, housing groups and the public sector.
Established in late 2010, its members employ around 25% of the region’s workforce. Three President’s Clubs are held each year with more than 150 attendees for each event.