NECC report sets out plan to cement North East as green world leader

THE North East must make 2011 the year in which it cements its place at the world table of environmental  enterprise, according to the UK’s largest regional chamber of commerce.

 The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), in partnership with international law firm Eversheds, has published a report outlining eight measures that are vital to the region’s ambitions to become recognised globally as a being at the vanguard of developing environmental technologies. 

 NECC today released Sustaining Growth: NECC’s Second Energy Policy Report, which calls on the Government to be a driving force in helping North East businesses to pioneer low carbon opportunities and practice.  The report advises also that the Government should use the North East’s credentials as a model for green innovation and productivity as a premise to locate the proposed Green Investment Bank in the region.

 Key to the region’s success are the following eight activities:

  • The Green Investment Bank should be located in the North East
  • The Government must address the lack of infrastructure and capacity needed to support the growth of electric vehicles, for example by ensuring that chargers for electric vehicles can be applied universally
  • Recent changes to the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) which mean it is now a general tax can only be given support by businesses if it supports price stability and if the general level of taxation does not rise
  • North East Finance for Business must remain a source of finance for North East businesses as was the original purpose
  • The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) must be implemented in full as soon as possible
  • There must be greater investment in and public support for Combined Heat and Power in the UK
  • The Government must be vigilant against labelling the biofuels industry in the UK as unsustainable given the evidence to the contrary
  • Smarter working must be more clearly articulated to businesses where it has the potential of reducing emissions or costs.

 However, there is an implicit warning within the report that widespread changes to regional economic policy could jeopardise the many green opportunities that North East businesses are seeing if decision makers take their eye off the ball or fail to match political rhetoric with decisive action.

 Charles Reynard, chairman of NECC’s Energy Policy Working Group and partner based at Eversheds’ Newcastle Office, said: “We have a massive opportunity for the North East to take the lead and it is in the hands of regional decision makers, Whitehall and businesses themselves to make this happen.  The next 12 months will be a crucial period during which we must lay the foundations for developing these exciting technologies. If we do not take a leadership role then other countries will leave us in their wake and a once in a generation opportunity for businesses in our region may be squandered.”

 NECC warned that the Government is missing out on a business-driven green revolution due to a lack of genuine economic and environmental leadership and its failure to unlock a change in mindset towards using renewable energies. 

 The Government faces the twin challenges of reducing energy use by both commercial and domestic users in the UK, while also developing much needed capacity among renewable energy producers.  In the report, NECC argues that both of these challenges will be best confronted by placing the North East at the cutting edge of a policy drive to reduce consumption and increase the contribution of renewable energy to cater for economic growth. 

 Mark Stephenson, NECC Policy Adviser, said: “NECC’s member companies are already voicing concern that the business support landscape is looking increasingly uncertain, particularly with the loss of the regional development agency, One North East.  Businesses often don’t know where to go for guidance on matters relating to energy consumption or indeed low carbon innovation.  NECC will play a role in supporting businesses to develop in this sector, but they urgently need clarity so they have confidence to invest in these areas.”

 However, the report also identifies significant challenges. The North East emits more carbon per head of the population than any other region in the United Kingdom. The chemical and other process industries complexes in the Tees Valley account for more than 50% of the region’s carbon emissions yet play an indispensable role in the North East’s economy.

 Charles Reynard added: “There is no silver bullet that will solve the challenges of climate change, yet changing the way that businesses and households consume energy must continue to be a priority along with current initiatives to decarbonise energy generation itself.”

 “Energy policy and regulation is changing rapidly to respond to global and national issues. These include climate change, the economic downturn as well as challenges created by the imminent closure of a number of fossil fuelled and nuclear power plants without any immediately apparent or timely replacements.  As the UK’s first Low Carbon Economic Area, a centre for energy related innovation and with significant natural resources, the North East is ideally placed to take advantage of the significant growth that is occurring within the energy sector.”

 Sustaining Growth: NECC’s Second Energy Policy Report is a sequel to Generating Growth: NECC’s First Energy Policy Report, which was published during December 2009. Generating Growth addressed the challenges and opportunities facing energy providers in the North East of England, and the policy responses that are needed to ensure the region benefits from projected economic growth in the energy sector moving forward.

The report was compiled after lengthy discussions between figureheads from the North East business and academic communities that are directly involved in this field. These included Jon Bird, Head of Sustainability for CE Electric UK; Ian Brown of Sustainable Heating Solutions; Andy Haddon, Innovation Manager at Newcastle Science City; Dean Harris, Associate Partner at KPMG; Daniel House, Associate Director of Arup; Professor Dermot Roddy, Science City Professor of Energy at Newcastle University; Andrew Sugden, NECC Director of Membership and Policy; and, Gareth Wales, Strategic Development Manager at Eaga plc.

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