Billionaire industrialist Sir Ian Wood has said he is “more hopeful” about the prospects of a landmark project to capture, store and manage carbon in the north-east than he was when it was snubbed in a £1billion government funding programme a few weeks ago.
However, he warned that political machinations were in danger of “screwing up” another key strategy to secure the region’s place in the transition away from oil and gas, the establishment of a so-called “freeport” in Aberdeen and Peterhead.
Speaking at an event aimed at securing continued business growth in the region as the world moves towards net zero energy production, Sir Ian said a joint bid from partners in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to win a coveted Scottish freeport designation was currently in a “muddle”.
He added the freeport model, which the US government has established in England but is being contested by the Scottish Government which prefers a “greenport” concept, offered rival ports in England a “significant plus” due to tax incentives and other fiscal measures which are stimulating investment and job creation.
This, alongside the Acorn project based at Peterhead which recently lost out on a UK Government-led funding round to projects in the North of England, could have a “big, positive impact” in the region’s net zero ambitions.
This is important because the region now has “some serious catching up to do” compared other areas, he added.
North-east ‘playing catch up’
Supporters of both Acorn and a north-east freeport have estimated that together the two projects could support the creation of over 40,000 jobs if they come to fruition.
“We have got into a muddle in Scotland between the Scottish Government wanting to have a greenport and do it their way and UK government being prepared to put money into Scotland, but they want to call it a freeport and do it their way,” Sir Ian explained.
“We have got to get it sorted out because we are missing a whole load of opportunities right now.
“Aberdeen has been left a bit behind in the whole question of the energy transition.
“We have some serious catching up to do.
“Among the two big things we could do – one, is get a freeport status and secondly, get Acorn agreed as a key project – that would have a big positive impact, both of these.
“There is such a mix of politics and finance in the decisions being taken.
“Politics is screwing up the freeport issue right now.
“I really hope we can get that sorted out.”
He added that while there is “no easy money around”, he was hopeful for good outcome for the Acorn project, which is also known as the “Scottish cluster”. This is being led by partners including Storegga, Shell and Harbour Energy, alongside other regional stakeholders including Scotland’s largest carbon polluter at Grangemouth, Ineos.
Sir Ian, along with a number of others, was disappointed with the government’s decision and urged them to “think again.”
“I am probably a bit more hopeful now than I was two or three weeks ago,” said Sir Ian, adding: “But that doesn’t mean anymore than what I am saying.
“Franky it is thoroughly deserved.
“It is quite complex but they are working hard at it.
“I am a pessimist but there a lot of good points to fight there and we are doing that.”
Opportunity North East (ONE), the economic development agency Sir Ian chairs, has launched a series of events aimed at finding ways to transform the region’s economy.
The first “Transforming Our Region” event was held at the Chester Hotel, with more than 50 industry leaders representing key regional sectors including agriculture, digital, energy, food and drink, life sciences and tourism in attendance.
The series will continue in the first half of the year and culminate in ONE’s annual event in summer 2022.