Oil tycoon shares vision for land of adventure

A wind surfer at Aberdeen Beach.

Picture by KENNY ELRICK     11/09/2016
A wind surfer at Aberdeen Beach. Picture by KENNY ELRICK 11/09/2016

Oil and gas tycoon Sir Ian Wood has revealed ambitions to transform the north-east as a global adventure destination – and give a boost to key industries such as fishing and hospitality.

He wants to establish a “best in class” hospitality school in the area.

Another key vision in his strategy for building on three years of work by Opportunity North East (One) – the economic development body he launched in late 2015 – to support the transformation of seafood processing in the region.

Sir Ian, who transformed Aberdeen company Wood Group into a global energy services giant before retiring and going on to become chairman of One, said the north-east’s “renaissance” after the latest oil and gas downturn was well under way.

“We’re moving at a reasonable pace,” he said, adding: “I really want the people of north-east Scotland to be buying into this. I think they are buying into it.”

Looking back on One’s first three years, he said a lot had been achieved to date.

The cross-sector group has worked with more than 500 companies, while its approved project expenditure of £13.8 million has secured match funding of £30.6m.

One has also secured £210m of City Region Deal capital funding for innovation centres for oil and gas, life sciences and the food and drink sectors, and is developing a technology “hub” for digital businesses.

It currently has more than 15 active partnerships co-delivering economic development activity across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Sir Ian said there was much still to do. He is keeping some of his ideas to himself for now, but spoke enthusiastically about a few new projects already taking shape.

He said the region had great potential as a destination for exciting and adventurous outdoor activities from climbing, mountain biking and cycling to hillwalking, surfing and sea kayaking.

One’s Extreme North vision involves encouraging collaboration between the current wide range of outdoor activities and providers, while also adding one or two “core” attractions to position the
region as a global adventure destination.

“We have a myriad of small, good quality companies catering for adventurous pastimes,” Sir Ian said, adding: “We just need to get them speaking to each other.”

One’s plans for a hospitality school would deliver training for the next generation of hospitality and tourism industry leaders. It is hoped to also develop an annual gourmet food festival.

“There is a need to attract more people into this industry,” Sir Ian said.

One has begun talks with the seafood processing industry, with a view to helping it take advantage of a modern new fish market at Peterhead and cope with an anticipated jump in landings after Brexit.

Sir Ian said recent developments in Iceland’s fish processing sector, based on new modern fish processing equipment and automated controls, was a “great example” to follow.

He added: “We have an extremely efficient, world-class catching fleet, some of the cleverest fishermen, modern new vessels and a new fish market.

“There is a chance here to significantly increase the size of the fishing industry.”

More than 90 senior business people, and higher education and public sector leaders are involved in One’s main and strategic sector boards, focused on five priority sectors of food, drink, agriculture and fishing; life sciences; energy; tourism; and digital and entrepreneurship.

One chairman Sir Ian Wood said the group had achieved significant progress in boosting north-east economic diversification.

Formed in November 2015, One is driven by the challenge of North Sea oil depletion over the next 30 years.

According to University of Aberdeen petroleum economist Alex Kemp, the total annual North Sea spend on construction, maintenance and decommissioning will reach £16 billion this year but reduce by two-thirds to £5bn in 2050.

One is focused on maximising the oil and gas opportunity, including extending it beyond the North Sea by anchoring the supply chain, and significantly growing the region’s other industry sectors to provide a more balanced economy.

In March 2018, the Wood Foundation more than doubled its initial funding commitment to £62 million over 10 years to encourage innovation, internationalisation, business growth and digital transformation across the region.

The group’s first major milestone was securing £210m of Aberdeen City Region Deal funding for three sector innovation projects with industry: the Oil and Gas Technology Centre, a Bio-therapeutics Hub for Innovation and a Food Hub for Innovation.

These are seen as vital to transitioning Aberdeen to a global energy technology centre and anchoring the oil and gas supply chain, while commercialising a strong academic and research life sciences base and putting the food manufacturing and processing sector at the forefront of product innovation.

One is also targeting a doubling of oil, gas and energy supply chain exports to £32bn over the next decade and its work in its digital and entrepreneurship sector cateory includes the creation of a dedicated technology hub in Aberdeen.