A key figure in the country’s subsea sector has hailed the North East’s strengths in design and manufacturing of world-leading equipment, ahead of a new facility being opened in Newcastle.
Neil Gordon, who leads the Global Underwater Hub (GUH), said the city had been chosen by the trade body for one of its two forthcoming bases because of its cluster of firms including subsea cabling, robotics and shipbuilding specialists. Work is underway to ready the Walker Offshore Technology Park base for opening this summer.
The building, leased from Shepherd Offshore, is due to host a 50-seat auditorium and TV studio space which will be used by Mr Gordon and his team to host visiting international delegations, help North East firms to feature in national and overseas events and convene industry players to determine skills requirements. The Newcastle location will be the focal point for the Hub’s work across the 11 northern local enterprise partnership areas that make up the NP11 – stretching from the Liverpool City Region to Hull and East Yorkshire.
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Speaking to BusinessLive, Mr Gordon said: “Being close to decision makers is one of the key things. The reason we chose Newcastle and the Tyne for the hub is because there’s a real cluster of capability in the underwater space. It’s not a technology centre or a training centre, it’s where decision makers can actually navigate and help the industry for the future.”
He added: “If something is happening in a different part of the country, or the world, we can bring those opportunities right into the heart of Newcastle. And we can also project the capabilities of Newcastle and the surrounding north to anywhere in the world. That’s really what the hub is about – identifying where the opportunities are in the economy and also projecting the capabilities of companies with a specialism in underwater to markets around the world.”
As part of the expansion, GUH has recruited Ricci Boston as regional manager (North of England). His role will focus on working with members and developing strategic relationships across the north of England.
While GUH’s remit is a national one, with funding support from the UK and Scottish Governments, Mr Gordon said the North East is expert in design and manufacturing – specialisms that complement project management expertise around Aberdeen and marine science and defence know-how on the south coast.
He also talked of the opportunity for ‘content’ producing firms, such as those in the region, to benefit from the rise of offshore floating wind. He explained: “We’ve developed offshore wind, driven by the contracts for difference process, which was all about driving costs down but we forgot about creating the industrial value for the UK.
WNow there’s a bit of a focus, and its not too late, but we missed out hugely on the fixed wind and I see an opportunity in floating offshore wind – certainly for the underwater stuff because that’s where the real clever stuff will happen. We’ve got an opportunity to really capitalise and be the world leaders, and that’s with things like cables – including what JDR are doing with the place they’re building in Northumberland.”
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