Where are the jobs of the future Teesside going to come from? Where will our children and grandchildren be employed in the region? How will wealth and prosperity be generated, enjoyed and spent in Teesside? What will be the shape and structure of the North East and Teesside economy over the next thirty or forty years?
For all those concerned about our area’s future, these are the most important questions to answer. Traditionally, steel and chemicals have been the lifeblood of the area’s economy. Over the past few years, there has obviously been a massive knockback to steel with the closure of SSI. There has also been ups and downs with the chemicals industry. However, investment is going in and there is renewed confidence. With modern adaptations to stay competitive, notably in using digital, I believe that steel and chemicals can be the basis of a thriving industry for Teesside in the 21st century.
There are a number of exciting prospects, but one in particular really could be a game-changer. Teesside, with firms like BOC, already produce more hydrogen than the rest of the UK put together. Hydrogen will really be one of the chemicals of the future as it can be used to heat homes. Already, there are proposals to produce more hydrogen on Teesside and pump it through the National Grid to heat homes in Leeds. The Mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, is right when he says that this should be a key part of the region’s industrial future.
But hydrogen isn’t just used for heating. When it is used for transport, the only emission is water. With growing concerns about air quality caused by vehicles in our cities, hydrogen-fuelled cars, buses and lorries could address this and help stimulate further jobs and investment in an industry that Teesside is already pre-eminent.
Can you imagine a scenario in 2030, when a large proportion of homes in Northern England and most vehicles on our roads are powered by hydrogen made on Teesside, fuelling not just homes and lorries but jobs, business and investment in our region too?
This is the potential prize. If Teesside works together on this ambition, this could be huge. In the same way that Aberdeen became synonymous with North Sea oil, if done correctly, Teesside could be linked with hydrogen, the fuel of the future, and all the potential benefits.
Iain Wright, NEPIC chief executive, writing for the Northern Echo.