The chief executive of one of the North East's largest ports has pledged to refocus efforts for growth after massive investment plans for the site were shelved.
Martin Lawlor, of Port of Blyth, spoke out after the official announcement on Friday that renewable energy developer RES would no longer be building a £300m biomass power station in the estuary due to what it called ongoing uncertainty in the UK energy policy.
It was envisaged that the facility would have created 300 construction jobs and 50 full-time posts. Explaining the move, RES chief operating officer Gordon MacDougall said: “It’s bitterly disappointing for RES that we are unable to bring this exciting project forward, and deliver the significant boost it would have represented for the Blyth and Northumberland economy.
“However, the gradual erosion of support for dedicated biomass leaves us with no other option.”
Lawlor admitted that, although disappointing, the news would not stop the port pressing on with other developments.
He said: “The RES scheme is one of a number of development schemes we had on the cards for the next two to three years. We have schemes both under build now and planned for this year and beyond. It doesn’t stop us continuing to expand and create economic activity around the Blyth Estuary.
“I can’t deny it’s disappointing but we’ve seen it coming for a number of months. Obviously we were hoping that RES would manage to pull something together but like everything you end up with a number of potential schemes on the books at any given time, alongside existing work.
“That existing work is continuing to grow, which is great. Therefore I don’t want to belittle the loss of the RES scheme, because it was going to be a very big scheme and it was going to bring jobs.
“I genuinely feel for the region and the port because it was going to bring 50 jobs, economic activity, electricity-generating capacity, all sorts of things that are important to the region.
“It would also, of course, have created additional work for us but that is additional growth on top of the growth that we’re experiencing already.”
That growth includes record turnover last year of around £17.5m, from £17m in 2012 – when Port of Blyth lost its biggest customer with the closure of Rio Tinto Alcan – and an operating profit of more than £0.9m compared to £0.65m. Throughput also rose to around 1.7 million tonnes, up from 1.3 million.
The strong performance in 2013 was partly due to a sharp rise in offshore energy-related trade. Blyth is now firmly established as a significant hub for servicing the offshore energy sector as a whole.
Work is well under way on the first phase of a £5m fuel storage facility for the marine industry, in partnership with Geos Group whose managing director Barry Newton said Blyth was chosen for its strategic location and ambitious expansion plans. Another scheme involves Lynemouth Power, which aims to convert to biomass by 2015.
Lawlor continued: “We have a very diverse trade base. RES was work that we hadn’t got but that five-hectare development site is immediately adjacent to our deep-water terminal and remains a very good investment opportunity.
“Therefore, we will refocus on attracting new business.”