Energy infrastructure and digital innovation are two sectors the north of England needs to develop to create a “thriving economy”, a report by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership found.
The North currently generates 41% of England’s electricity according to the ‘Northern Powerhouse 2050: The North’s Route map for Productivity’ report, and the region should build on this to become the “nation’s hub for low carbon and flexible energy generation”.
This would requite new energy infrastructure such as off-shore wind farms in the North and Irish seas as well as repurposing existing power stations.
The report, led by Mace director for the North and Scotland Steve Gillingham, suggested the north could be the centre of a Small Modular Reactor design, manufacture and maintenance programme. The SMR global market is estimated to be worth up to £250 to £400bn. Nuclear decommissioning is estimated to be worth up to £250bn globally. The development of a SMR would require £1bn investment.
It also outlined a plan to “transform” the gas supply to Leeds from natural gas to low carbon hydrogen, produced in the Tees Valley, which would cost £110M to build and £29M a year to operate. The transformation would involve building a carbon capture and storage scheme (CCS) in the Tees Valley which prevents carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere during the production of fossil fuels. Overall the scheme would require £2bn worth of investment from the government and big businesses.
As well as investment in energy innovation the report found that the North should commit to smart transport infrastructure. It said: “By deploying technology across its transport assets, it will be possible to optimise their potential, bring benefits to the customer and user and improve overall connectivity and journey experience across the network”.
The region is the UK’s main producer of hydrogen therefore the report said the North should ask for half of the £23M Hydrogen for Transport Programme (HTP) to build refuelling stations to allow the emergence of low carbon transport technologies.
These are already “areas of expertise” but are separated by “traditional geographic boundaries” which need to be overcome by investment in transport infrastructure to connect the northern cities.
Chancellor Philip Hammond announced on Monday a £300M investment into northern rail links to ensure High Speed 2 can connect to future TransPennine fast trains. Northern leaders welcomed to investment but said it did not go far enough to address the region’s transport needs.
Liverpool City Region metro mayor Steve Rotheram called on the government to do more to “redress the massive imbalance” between infrastructure spending in the north and south.
He said: “The Government have given an unequivocal commitment to delivering Crossrail 2 for London which is likely to cost in the region of £30billion pounds – 100 times what the Chancellor has pledged for the North today.”
The NPP, chaired by former chancellor George Osborne, said it is possible to create an extra 850,000 jobs and contribute an added £100bn to the UK economy.
As well as energy and digital innovation the report highlighted that advanced manufacturing and health innovation were other key areas that the north should develop to strengthen the economy.