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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Momentum behind our once-in-lifetime opportunity

IT is just over two months since we launched the West Cumbria Economic Blueprint and, while it feels like time has flown by, so much has happened to ensure the momentum behind the document and Britain’s Energy Coast programme to transform the economy of West Cumbria continues.

At the event we urged businesses and public sector bodies to think big, think innovatively and work together so we can grasp the “once-in-a-lifetime” economic opportunity facing this area. A potential £90bn in nuclear investment alone could be heading this way, while the impact of renewable energy developments and other spin-offs is also significant.

We anticipate 3,000 plus new jobs will be created over the next 15 years. It is a prize few other parts of Britain have to aim for and therefore it is vital that we do everything in our power to ensure that West Cumbria is ready.

So what next? Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster arranged a presentation and then a follow-up workshop to learn more about how they can get involved in supporting our aspirations for West Cumbria. It has been extremely encouraging to see how businesses have embraced the Blueprint and have proactively sought to get involved. We may have produced the Blueprint but we cannot deliver it by ourselves. It is going to be a real partnership effort – one which the private sector has to lead if it is to be a success. BEC is here to help as much as possible, whether that is through our business support programmes, funding and finance packages, or by proving high quality office accommodation.

I am also pleased to report that the Blueprint has received great buy-in from government. Following the launch, Charles Hendry, Minister of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change wrote to express his support and admiration for the “clear roadmap” it provides. He and Mark Prisk, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, provided a joint foreword for the Blueprint which concluded: “West Cumbria can be proud of what it has to offer and this Blueprint sets out an approach which would offer global leadership in energy.”

We also welcomed Mike Penning MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, who visited the Port of Workington in July to learn about the £5.7m investment that is being made there by BEC and its funders Nuclear Management Partners and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. A new container handling facility and improved infrastructure is being installed which will dramatically increase the volume of traffic the Port can handle and provide new links with other major marine trade routes.

To have this level of support is gratifying but ultimately it is what we achieve on the ground which will be the real litmus test of our efforts. We are currently putting the final touches to an implementation plan that will translate the Blueprint into a deliverable programme of activity.

Meanwhile, BEC-funded projects are moving forward. Britain’s Energy Coast Construction Skills Centre is flying up at an impressive rate, progress and support is gathering behind the Albion Square development in Whitehaven, the Destination Management project is providing impressive results and our business support programmes continue to assist a wide range of businesses. One way or another, we cover the full spectrum – our Energy Opportunities Supply Chain Project is helping firms like the family-run Safety Critical, the man behind Cumbria Bouncy Castle Hire is thriving thanks to support he received through Backing Business and we have helped to start up Cumbria Climate Risk through Linkstart (see pages nine and 10).

Just last week BEC approved £5.3m of funding towards five projects which demonstrate the breadth of what we are doing in West Cumbria. The Pillar House development at Westlakes Science and Technology Park will provide much-needed accommodation for businesses seeking opportunities at Sellafield and West Cumbria’s wider energy industry. Doubling the capacity of the hugely successful Blencathra Centre will help support yet more small businesses through the early stages of development.

We also committed funding to improve Whitehaven Marina and Maryport Harbour for business and leisure purposes, and have contributed towards the £4.5m revamp of Rosehill Theatre to improve its cultural offer to local people and visitors. Work on many of these is expected to start soon such is the appetite for development here in West Cumbria.

It is fair to say many left the launch of the Blueprint in upbeat mood and the enthusiasm behind the document continues to grow – more than 2,000 printed copies have already been distributed and it has been downloaded hundreds of times.

We need to continue in this vein and send out a strong and confident message to the rest of Britain, and the world.

Great opportunities are at hand because of West Cumbria’s unique place in the energy industry and we need to respond by raising our sights and working together – proud of what we have to offer and confident in our ability to shape the area’s own destiny.

To download a copy of the West Cumbria Economic Blueprint and to view video highlights of the launch event visit http://www.britainsenergycoast.co.uk/blueprint.

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