NW Evening Mail, 5 January 2011
JOHN SIMPSON looks at some of the business highlights of 2010 and what to watch out for in 2011
2010 was the year of the Danish invasion as work began on the 102-turbine Walney Offshore Windfarm, costing £1bn.
Also arriving were the Swedes, in the shape of their Vattenfall state energy company with the £500m Ormonde windfarm, which will sport the largest turbines – at least for now – at sea, five megawatt machines, compared with 3.5 megawatt for the Danish Walney Offshore Windfarm.
The turbines are so heavy and the towers so tall that four-legged platforms similar to small oil rigs have had to be installed in support.
The platforms were installed last year with the installation of towers and turbines to follow in 2011.
That and the first 30 towers of the Walney Offshore windfarm for Dong Energy have changed the seascape off Barrow for the foreseeable future – and there is more to come. 2010 was the year that the government dramatically changed to a coalition with a mission to impose cuts to reduce Britain’s huge financial deficit caused by the credit crunch.
An early casualty was the once-mighty Northwest Regional Development Agency, which had 500 staff at its Warrington HQ, one of nine such agencies set up by Labour around Britain, and the major paymaster for regeneration schemes in Cumbria, including Waterfront Barrow.
The knock-on effect meant contracts drying up for the local urban regeneration company, Barrow Regeneration. The 11 people working there will all have lost their jobs by March.
Barrow’s regeneration project ground to a halt on the Waterfront Business Park on Barrow Island, although Barrow Borough Council chief executive, Tom Campbell, vowed the town’s marina and marina village schemes would still happen, even if it took longer.
The council proceeded with the demolition of some of the buildings it had bought with grants for the marina village site, including the original Furness Railway locomotive repair shop off Salthouse Lane.
A novel new business that got away from the start line was Cumbria Karting, founded by Jonathan Chapman in a warehouse next to Walney Channel, while plans continued for a major expansion at South Lakes Wild Animal Park, near Dalton.
The coalition kept the area in suspense for months as we awaited the outcome of a new Strategic Defence Review and plans for comprehensive spending cuts.
In the SDR, major projects such as the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft project and the last equipped aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, and its Harrier jump jets were scrapped.
However, ministers had listened to the “use it or lose it” warnings from the submarine industry and the government pledged itself to all seven Astute submarines and to the Successor project Trident boats, although no order will be signed until after the 2015 general election.
The good news for Barrow was crowned on December 16 with the naming and launch ceremony for the second Astute boat, Ambush.
The electrical goods and computer supplies chain Maplins opened a store late in the year in Hollywood Park, Barrow, where in May the town’s former bowling alley became an 80-job branch of the homeware group, Dunelm Mill.
2010 also saw the arrival of two new nuclear freight ships for Sellafield, Pacific Egret and Pacific Grebe, meaning that Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd now has three new ships based in the port.
A campaign to get the government to change its mind about scrapping regional assistance grants, which are seen as vital for regenerating areas like Furness, will be one of the features of the new year.
Furness Enterprise said the use of the grants that can encourage existing firms to expand and bring new firms into the area has been a “huge” boost in the last two decades.
The regional assistance is expected to formally end from April but a moratorium means it effectively ended in June.
One local company which has been hit is Driveline Engineering, of Stainton, which supplies precision components to industries, including quarries and which has outgrown its premises.
An £83,000 grant towards its expansion was agreed – but then the axe fell.
It has not stopped the firm going ahead with a move into new premises in Barrow but it was a blow to the firm, said sales director Mike Meehan.
Another campaign that will continue will be the lobbying of politicians by the Keep Our Future Afloat Campaign in a bid to ensure that the coalition sticks to its stated intention to order all seven Astute nuclear submarines and retain the UK’s ability to manufacture the complex vessels – and therefore be in a state to build the Vanguard successor boats for Trident.
Other major developments in 2011 will see Glaxo begin a major feasibility study of its sites in Ulverston; Barnard Castle, County Durham; Montrose; and Irvine to see which has the best credentials to host a new £300m biopharmaceutical plant, which would make a new range of drugs including drugs to tackle listeria, a bacterium that can contaminate ready-to-eat foods such as lunch meat and soft cheeses.
Such a plant would mean new jobs and a fantastic revival for Ulverston, which has been hit by a declining processing workforce since its antibiotics ran out of patent protection.
2011 will also see an ambitious new building lit entirely by LED solid state electronic lights completed and opened by Forge Europa of Princes Street, Ulverston, in a £1m project.
The four-storey expansion is being built at the back of the existing premises.
The two buildings will be connected by an enclosed bridge.
It will be the launch pad for a gradual expansion and more jobs.
Other events to watch out for in 2011 will include financial investment decisions being taken which will decide whether three major gas storage and gas import schemes using the Irish Sea and Barrow’s gas terminal complex at Rampside will go ahead.
Centrica will decide on the Bains gas storage scheme, shipping group Hoegh of Norway will decide whether to go ahead with Port Meridian gas import scheme which would see a giant liquefied natural gas conversion ship moored in the Irish Sea roughly in line with Lytham and a pipeline to take the gas, brought by ship from the Gulf Straits, to Barrow.
There will be added bustle in the offshore windfarm business that has hugely increased traffic in Barrow docks, as Dong Energy doubles the build rate for the second half of the Walney Offshore Windfarm.
Elsewhere in Barrow in 2011, the Netto store in Risedale will turn into a small Asda, and the man who raised the public profile of the Furness Building Society, chief executive Rob Cairns, will retire in the summer.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Cumbria’s new Local Enterprise Network, which has replaced the regional development agency, and the Government Regional Growth Fund allocations to see what effect they will have on the area.
The biggest unknowns of 2011 in Furness will be the extent and effect of government cuts from regeneration schemes, to cuts to benefits which could point to a potentially grim and painful year for some.