While the rest of the country’s economy has shifted to service-based, in the North East, our heritage of manufacturing has remained. But increasing use of automation is reducing the amount of jobs available and improving job prospects is a key focus for our region.
We don’t need to be afraid of industry advances – instead, we should adapt. The wealth of expertise held in the manufacturing hubs of Gateshead, County Durham or my home of South Shields, could easily be applied to new sectors.
For example, the Government-backed shift towards electric cars is creating a boom in demand for lithium batteries to power them. If we can capitalise on their manufacture, we have an opportunity to create a world-leading sector that can safeguard our region for decades.
Likewise, there is scope for the North East to become an international leader in highly technical industries such as renewable energy, recycling or pharmaceutical, due to its geographical location and skills base. And with Government focusing heavily on improving our country’s green credentials, and Covid-19 emphasising the need for pharmaceutical and bioscience research and manufacturing hubs, the time is ripe for these sectors to prosper up North.
Before we can reap the benefits of these new industries, we must build the capacity to support them. This creates similar opportunities for another legacy industry in the North East – construction.
Building these plants means more than just bricks and mortar. These sectors require complex, technical facilities that can support current needs and anticipate future shifts in technology. The M&E capability in particular must be innovative and flexible enough to cater to increased demands and high levels of use.
Over the course of my 27-year career at SES Engineering Services (SES), I’ve had the privilege to lead a number of complex projects which have helped build the foundations for the North East’s new economy. These have been some of our most complex but rewarding builds, which have stretched our skills to deliver innovative, clever solutions to highly technical problems.
For example, at GSK’s £94m aseptic manufacturing facility in Barnard Castle, we worked closely with the client to design a blueprint model that could be replicated and delivered at their pharmaceutical cleanroom sites across the world. This included incorporating offsite, modular build techniques and extensive digital models to guarantee exact specifications and ensure Barnard Castle – and all subsequent sites – met the stringent manufacturing regulations which govern the pharma industry.
At Newcastle Energy Centre, for our client ENGIE Urban Energy, we were able to create an award-winning facility which has spearheaded sustainability at Newcastle Helix – a 24-acre urban regeneration project and one of the largest of its kind.
At its heart is an extensive heating, cooling and electricity distribution network, which powers 10 buildings and approximately 500 future homes on the site. It has been calculated that the scheme will provide a carbon emission saving of 30,650 tonnes over 40 years and has helped Newcastle City Council make great strides towards its ambitions to become net zero carbon by 2050.
Again, while delivering this project demanded huge levels of ingenuity from our teams, its legacy speaks for itself. It has provided an example of best practice urban regeneration for other councils across the country to follow creating a wealth of expertise in our North East construction supply chains to deliver similar projects.
With so many new critical manufacturing projects on the horizon, this regional experience will be vital to ensure they are delivered correctly – for the North East, by the North East – and help establish us as an economic powerhouse to be aspired to across the world.