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NetZero North must begin with the Humber

By Roger Marsh OBE DL, chair of the NP11, which brings together the 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) from across the North and chair of Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership.

The North of England continues to have a significant role to play in the UK’s future direction, despite the challenges this year has presented. Our history shows us that the North has the grit, determination and creativity to face challenges and succeed.

The NP11 takes great pride in our collaboration and cooperation, speaking with one voice on behalf of businesses across the North. Yet, for all the talk of ‘the North’, we are all too aware that our region is not simply one homogenous location. Our strengths are nuanced from coast to coast, meaning that what might work well for Merseyside may need to be positioned differently for success across the Humber, and vice versa.

It is important to play to these differences and to celebrate our unique strengths. Recent events have been a sobering reminder of how globalisation can unexpectedly impact on every single community, whether that’s for good or for ill. The response to the coronavirus pandemic has brought many important questions to the fore, not least; how do we better leverage the North’s international connections to ensure a positive contribution to the world?

The Humber has a golden opportunity to take a radical departure from the status quo.

With its strengths in energy production and industrial processes including chemical refinery, clean energy, hydrogen production, and carbon capture, as well as its ability to trade with the world through its ports including Immingham, Grimsby, Goole and Kingston-Upon-Hull, it is a region with real potential to become a global leader in decarbonisation.

Although the world might have changed since we launched our Manifesto for the North last November (2019), we remain resolute in our aspirations for the Northern Powerhouse to be at the forefront of the green industrial revolution. As the home of the UK’s highest CO2 emitting industrial cluster, the Humber is key to unlocking this ambition and making the transformation that is necessary.

In early 2020 Humber LEP was awarded nearly £100,000 of funding from Innovate UK for its joint bid with CATCH to enable the first phase of work on a detailed decarbonisation delivery plan for the region’s estuarial industrial cluster.

For this relatively low initial investment, the Humber Industrial Decarbonisation Roadmap (HIDR) could become a 21st Century game changer not only for the North or indeed the rest of the country, but for the entire planet. With a global climate emergency happening right now, we need to aim this high.

If fully realised, the HIDR will develop into a multimillion-pound programme that would significantly reduce carbon emissions while protecting important jobs and industries.

But that’s not all.

In generating over 40% of the UK’s electricity, of which almost a fifth is exported to the rest of the country, the Northern Powerhouse contributes a significant amount of energy to the national economy. Our analysis has shown the potential to harness this unique position to deliver a 50% reduction in UK carbon levels by 2032, and 100,000 new jobs, with £2bn a year to the economy by 2050.

The decarbonisation work taking place in the Humber can set precedent for the rest of the UK, and the world to follow.

But to make a significant mark in this space, we will need the North to be better connected. We need to accelerate decisions and delivery on infrastructure, including for High Speed 2 (HS2) Phase 2b and Northern Powerhouse Rail – bringing equilibrium to one of the most overcentralised economies in the world.

Better connectivity also means improving digital infrastructure. Internet non-users account for 10.3% of the population in the North, compared to 7.2% in London, the South East, and East. The NP11 has identified that £47bn could be added to the Northern economy by reaching 90% fibre coverage.

That said, our focus needs to move beyond gross domestic product. If we improve our connectivity in these ways, we will enhance our ability to collaborate more efficiently and set the path towards creating a Net Zero North; a truly pan-northern opportunity to realise our internationally significant clean growth ambitions.

With its potential for major investments into clean growth infrastructure, as seen in the innovative projects and opportunities outlined in this portfolio – from Drax to Ørsted, Centrica, Phillips 66, Singleton Birch, Yorkshire Water and so forth – all eyes will be on the Humber to see where Net Zero North can take us.

We have the assets and we have the ambition, willpower and strategy to succeed; we must continue making the case that the Northern Powerhouse is a solution not only for the UK, but increasingly for the rest of the world.

Roger Marsh OBE DL

Chair of the NP11