INSIGHT: Government challenge on Teesside is to enable the enablers

27 November 2009 17:42  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

SABICLONDON (ICIS news)--The chemicals industry is a vital part of the local economy on Teesside in the northeast of England, but it has been under pressure for years.

Recent announcements of plant closures have for some sounded a death knell for a once vibrant hub of activity, but the roots of chemical engineering run deep.

Tees Valley business leaders and local and national politicians, thankfully, have not given up on this keystone of UK chemicals manufacturing.

And at last they have put their weight behind an action plan that can help transform the area, which encompasses the industrial sites of Wilton, Seal Sands, North Tees and Billingham and more than 500 hectares of land available for industrial development.

The importance of the 10-point plan is that it commits companies and individuals to action.

The plan’s champion, Bob Coxon, chairman of the Science and Industry Council for North East England, says that it is “very much by industry, for industry”. It captures concerns but also shows how industry intends to take “decisive action to secure its future working closely with the public sector”.

The industrialists have to persuade politicians and the public sector that the process industries have a key role to play in a future UK economy.

Lord Mandelson last week talked of the UK becoming a leader in “low carbon”. And there appears to be, at long last, a wider recognition of the fact that chemical companies and their employees have a vitally important role to play if progress is to be made towards that goal.

The chemical plants first sited on Teesside made chemicals from coal. When ICI had an oil business and developed the Beatrice field in the North Sea, the primary feedstocks were oil-based.

The change Teesside chemicals is about to undergo will see a move towards feeds based on biomass and alternative materials.

Underpinning these changes has been a well-developed infrastructure and a deep pool of engineering and chemicals talent and skills. The country can capture new markets and make progress in understanding and capturing new feedstock-based businesses by nurturing these advantages.

The action plan for Teesside has been more than a year in the making and involved a massive amount of work. It recommends that business and government work more closely together across a broad range of topics to stimulate innovation, skills, development of the infrastructure, the supply chain and the industry itself.

Coxon reckons the goal is to create new, potentially high growth sectors of the process industry that can be internationally competitive. “The Tees Valley stands united in its determination to secure its future prosperity and I look forward to working with government to overcome the challenges we face,” he says.

“This plan breaks down the issues that need to be addressed by the industry into manageable pieces, allowing industrial leaders to become a focal point through which others in the sector, regional and national government can contribute, to develop solutions that will secure the long-term future of the process industry in the Tees Valley,” says Stan Higgins, chief executive of the North East Process Industries Cluster (NEPIC).

The industry has pinpointed areas for action and assigned industry champions for each. The challenge now is to persuade government that the enablers of a low carbon economy are deserving of its support.

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By: Nigel Davis
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