Construction of a world-leading £7m subsea research centre on the North bank of the River Tyne will begin today.
Communities and Local Government Minister Baroness Stowell will turn the first soil on the innovative Neptune National Centre for Subsea and Offshore Engineering at Shepherd Offshore.
The centre is the first of its kind in the UK, and will bring together the oil and gas industry and academics in a world-class research facility.
Set to open Autumn 2015, development of the Neptune Centre is being led by Newcastle University on the Neptune Yard’s new enterprise zone in Newcastle.
During a tour of the North East, Lady Stowell will visit bold new investment sites across Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham.
When she touches base on Tyneside she will meet Professor Steve Homans and Professor Nick Wright (pictured) from Newcastle University, Shepherd Offshore managing director Bruce Shepherd and Newcastle City Councillor Ged Bell to discuss the expected economic impact of the centre.
Paul Woolston, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Each of the sites on the Baroness’s tour has been selected to showcase key industries in the North East.
“It’s vitally important that politicians in London are aware of the difference these types of developments are making to the region’s economy.”
He added: “We should be proud of initiatives like this and the region’s position at the forefront of the low-carbon vehicle and oil, gas and offshore sectors.
“These are all industries which will support the region’s economic growth in the long term, and I’m looking forward to visiting each of the sites with the Baroness.”
Lady Stowell will also meet leading figures from Fraser Hydraulics, Bridon Cables, OGN Group, Technip and GE Oil and Gas, all of which are investing significantly in the North Bank of the Tyne Enterprise Zone site.
The visit marks an important milestone for the Neptune Centre, which is now poised to begin construction with the hope of being completed next year.
Senior representatives from private, public and university sectors will today discuss the benefits of the growing offshore energy sector, which is also set to play a key role in the region’s economic development.
The second stop on the Baroness’s itinerary is the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles EZ site at Washington, where she will tour the newly-completed Future Technology Centre.
The centre will provide high-quality offices and workshops for research, skills training and product development in the low-carbon vehicle industry.
Lady Stowell will meet Councillor Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council, Mick Brophy, managing director of business, innovation and development at Gateshead College, which owns and manages the centre, and staff and employees, including Hyperdrive Innovation, Zero Carbon Futures, Tadea and ELM EV.
In the afternoon, the Baroness will visit Mecaplast in Peterlee, an automotive components supplier which has recently expanded its factory and doubled its workforce from 85 to 180 to handle significant new contracts from Nissan.
UK general manager for Mecaplast David Cann, and Councillor Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council and chair of the Combined Authority, will meet the minister at the factory, alongside Mecaplast employees.
Mr Woolston said: “Mecaplast is among a number of initiatives to grow jobs that the LEP has financially supported. Investment of £1.9m from the LEP and the Regional Growth Fund allowed the company to buy new equipment and create more space for new employment.”