A planned global underwater engineering hub in Aberdeen could be launched as early as next year after Westminster announced more than a million pounds worth of support.
The facility aims to reinforce the city’s reputation as the “go-to destination” for the subsea industry and to help the region diversify away from its reliance on the oil industry.
It’s hoped that by harnessing expertise currently deployed in the oil and gas sector, the UK will be able to maximise the opportunities presented by the blue economy, which is predicted to be worth £140 billion annually by 2035.
Announced as part of Rishi Sunak’s spending review, the £1.3 million investment forms part of wider efforts by the UK Government to facilitate a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The hub will act as a middle ground between industry and academia, helping to develop market intelligence and encouraging business start-up and growth.
The concept was originally announced by former-Prime Minister Theresa May during her speech at the Scottish Conservative conference in 2019.
It’s understood the facility has been earmarked for Westhill on the outskirts of Aberdeen, with satellite offices based in the north-east and south of England.
Currently the industry supports around 45,000 jobs and 1,000 companies, more than half of which are based in Scotland.
Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK, described the announcement as “opportune” given the “key role” the hub is expected to play in galvanising the supply chain to capitalise on Westminster’s green energy plans.
He said: “Today’s welcome announcement from the UK Government is the green light for us to move into a six month implementation phase with a view to launching the Global Underwater Hub in early summer next year.
“The funding from both governments recognises the tremendous scale and potential of underwater engineering and technology as a valuable, standalone industry sector.
“Our business plan for a world-class hub will deliver additional GVA, create jobs, increase exports and ensure the UK remains the global centre of expertise. It will also play a vital part in the energy transition and our commitments towards net-zero.”
However, Mr Gordon also warned that the UK’s subsea industry needs to “sharpen its competitive edge” if it’s to remain at the front of the pack.
He added: “With significantly more, dedicated resources through a Global Underwater Hub, our supply chain will benefit from the right level of support at the right time to develop the disruptive technology and new services required to delve deeper into existing and emerging opportunities, at home and abroad, in the energy transition, green recovery and the Blue Economy.”
Opportunity North East
Trevor Garlick, chairman of Opportunity North East (ONE) Energy and the Global Underwater Hub, commented: “For decades the North Sea oil and gas industry has been recognised as a pioneer in underwater technology, positioning the UK as the leader in the subsea engineering sector with 40 per cent of market share. This latest funding boost will accelerate growth and innovation of UK businesses by building on our existing strengths, accelerating the energy transition, and creating a step change in the development of technology and services for this prosperous sector.
“In addition, it brings huge export opportunities for the supply chain, creates new jobs and anchors skills in the region, as well as supporting a range of sectors including oil and gas, offshore wind, marine, renewables, aquaculture, and defence.
“This opportunity has been realised through the concerted efforts of Opportunity North East (ONE), Subsea UK, Scottish Enterprise and the Oil & Gas Authority, who have worked together to develop an exciting vision for the Global Underwater Hub that will connect and grow the UK’s underwater sector at home and overseas.
“Having already welcomed the news of the Scottish Government’s Energy Transition Fund (ETF) earlier this year, which will also help fund the Hub, we now look forward to accelerating this project. The energy supply chain, Subsea UK and other trade associations, governments, academia and regional development agencies will work to create a truly global and collaborative facility, that will drive innovation in new underwater solutions, and support the shift towards net zero.”
David Duguid, UK government minister for Scotland and MP for Banff and Buchan, said: “Plans for a Global Underwater Hub in North East Scotland, as set out in the Spending Review, further demonstrate how the UK Government is delivering for Scotland.
“By supporting the diversification of the energy sector and encouraging innovation towards clean growth, the Hub is another example of the UK Government’s commitment to net zero, energy transition and steps towards tackling climate change ahead of COP26 in Glasgow next year.”
Douglas Lumsden, Conservative co-leader of Aberdeen City Council said: “I would hope this money is just the start of the underwater hub. I’m sure it will bring in further investment from the private sector and will act as a boost to the subsea industry.
“As a council we put forward our plans setting out our green credentials and it’s vital going forward that the recovery from Covid mirrors that.
“That’s why the announcement today is so important – it’s got to be that Aberdeen is at the centre of all net zero technology in this area.”
Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said: “The Chancellor has really stepped up to the plate and delivered great news for the north-east.
“A Global Underwater Hub in Westhill will bring together skills and help transfer expertise built up in the oil and gas sector into new technologies such as carbon capture.
“And it will further cement this region’s reputation as the go-to destination for subsea engineering, which already supports tens of thousands of jobs at present.
“Since 2017 I have been calling for further investment in this vital area, which is going to be so important for jobs in the near future.”