Coastal communities in the UK have historically relied on tourism as a crucial industry, and therefore it is unsurprising that COVID-19 did not bode well these areas, which have seen the biggest decrease in total sales since the pandemic struck in 2020. Even before the pandemic, coastal communities have historically struggled to attract investment in new business, and many coastal areas experience ‘brain drain’ where young, talented individuals migrate to more lucrative employment opportunities on offer in big cities.
The East of England has managed to combat some of these negative impacts even prior to the pandemic, by investing in offshore wind energy ahead of its time; the region therefore managed to suffer ever so slightly less during the pandemic than other coastal towns, for example Cornwall, Blackpool, and Bournemouth which truly relied on tourism as their main industry. Indeed, the East of England has rapidly emerged as a global leader for offshore wind due to its ideal weather conditions, access to supply chains and stable investment partnerships such as the East Anglia ONE project, which has already committed £70 million to local suppliers delivering offshore energy works across the East of England.
How then, will government-backed investment in other coastal areas impact the existing offshore wind energy farms along the coast of the East of England, particularly as areas start to recover from the pandemic?
Coastal communities in the UK, both in the North and South, will undeniably have to work hard to revive the local economy. In order to do this, significant investment is needed from both the public sector and private sector to deliver jobs, provide opportunities for re/up-skilling young people and existing members of the community, deliver high quality housing and infrastructure as well as attract new investment in the existing local economy. Luckily, almost all these deliverables can be achieved through investing in the Green Industrial Revolution, which is why the government is so keen to utilise coastal communities to help deliver on the promises outlined in the Net Zero agenda.
Offshore wind energy provides the ideal solution to the predicament that many coastal communities face, however in order to continue ensuring all coastal communities are able to navigate the pandemic recovery and deliver maximum potential in this sector, it will be important for the government to realise that levelling-up is not a zero-sum game. Whilst it is critical that we invest in regions outside of London and the South East to deliver widespread economic growth and equality in the green sector, it is equally important that we recognise the necessity of continuing to harness the huge potential across the East of England and ensure that levelling up the UK does not come at detriment to the southern regions.
Second to that, the government must recognise the importance of supporting high quality placemaking across the whole of the UK, not just focused on the Northern regions. The £3.6 billion Towns Fund and the £182 million Coastal Communities Fund have of course been hugely welcomed across the UK, but coastal towns across the East of England must not be left behind in continuing to secure vital funding to support placemaking and economic stimulation. Similar investment from the government via funding routes, for example the current pilots including the Levelling Up Fund, City and Growth Deals and the UK Community Ownership Fund, would help to dramatically transform these coastal communities into prosperous economies, bolstering the regions position as a global leader in offshore wind energy by attracting further investment and talent to the area. It is also important to understand that coastal communities in the East of England have still suffered at the hands of the pandemic, albeit perhaps marginally less than its Northern counterparts, and they will still need substantial government support to emerge prosperous from COVID-19.
Finally, we must realise the importance of harnessing areas that are already excelling in delivering green energy. The East of England is already leading the way in the delivery of offshore wind energy, and it currently delivers an impressive 4.6GW of operational wind energy with a tangible target to deliver in excess of 15.8GW by 2030. There is therefore huge potential to build on the success of the wind energy farms in the East of England region to bolster the UK’s approach to green energy and delivering the Net Zero agenda.
There can be no doubt that levelling up is critical to the UK; however, stimulating continued investment for the East of England to support the nation’s pandemic recovery and the government’s ability to deliver on the Net Zero agenda also remains critical to the UK’s long-term growth and world-leading role on climate change.
Investing in offshore energy creates countless onshore benefits, and the East of England remains at the forefront of delivering this agenda.