The man in charge of one of the region’s fastest-growing ports says the site has the potential to replace the hundreds of jobs lost by the demise of a major local employer.
The closure of Rio Tinto Alcan at Lynemouth, Northumberland, last year saw 500 workers lose their jobs, but now Port of Blyth chief executive Martin Lawlor says that developments planned for there could see as many new jobs created in the renewable energy sector.
He said: “We are hoping to announce the arrival of new development on the site of the former Bates Colliery in the next couple of months.
“The idea is to join up to Wimbourne Quay and Narec, linking together as one energy base.”
In addition to the nine-hectare Bates site, the former Blyth Power Station site – much larger at 25 hectares-plus – has also attracted interest from energy companies.
Lawlor said: “We already have approaching 500 jobs directly on the estuary and we’d like to think we could double that with future investments.
“About 500 jobs went when Alcan closed. With Bates and the old Blyth Power Station on the north side, where we’ve had interest, these developments could replace Alcan.”
The Port of Blyth had record sales of £17m last year, despite the loss of Alcan, and is on track for equally impressive figures for 2013.
Lawlor said: “Looking at the half-year to date, we are already approaching last year’s performance on the port side of things.
“We’ve almost hit last year’s record operating profit of £653,000. In this half-year, we are looking at well over £500,000. We expect to exceed last year’s figure although not double it.”
Lawlor has more reason to celebrate, with Blyth being made a major trust port by the Government, giving it the same status as Port of Tyne.
“We were not even on their radar five years ago,” he said.
In addition, leading British renewable energy company RES has been given the green light to build a £250m biomass power station at Port of Blyth’s Battleship Wharf terminal.
The 100mw scheme will produce enough low-carbon electricity to power more than 170,000 homes. Work will begin early next year, creating hundreds of jobs during the construction phase and having a long-term positive impact on the port and wider regional economy.
Lawlor said: “This reaffirms our position as one of the most prominent renewable energy-related ports in the UK.”
The RES development will bring to £400m the investment on Battleship Wharf over the past 10 years. However, the scheme has run into opposition from some sections of the community.
After it was approved by Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey, residents of the nearby villages of North Blyth and Cambois claimed the biomass power station would harm their quality of life.
They said it would be too big, too close to their homes and cause air pollution and traffic problems, and won praise from local Labour MP Ian Lavery for their work on scrutinising the project.
Addressing these claims, Lawlor said: “We do accept that residents have show some concerns but this has been through a Government-led examination process and residents’ concerns have been taken on board and mitigated.
“We believe it will be a big success, and once built, it will be seen by all in the community as positive, not negative.”