The Government is considering a bonfire of red-tape to tackle delays holding back the Westcountry’s marine power industry.
Energy Minister Greg Barker agreed to an emergency summit against fears that gold-plated regulations are stopping wave energy developers getting into the water.
The sector is vital to transforming the economy of the South West, which was named the UK’s first Marine Energy Park last month.
Ministers believe the status will drive the creation of 5,000 jobs in the sector in the region by 2017 – a tenfold increase on today.
In the Commons, Mr Barker was urged to intervene to get bureaucrats “off the back” of developers anxious to test their devices off the coast of Devon and Cornwall.
Mr Barker said in the Westminster Hall debate: “I am not complacent about the need to bring down more barriers impeding developers and drive the sector forward.”
The pledge came amid concern at the top level of Government that Brussels environmental edicts are holding back job growth in the UK.
Westcountry MP George Eustice, who secured the debate, told fellow Members that Britain should adopt a lighter approach to licensing of offshore testing pioneered in Norway.
Developers in Scandinavia are afforded considerable dispensation for small test sites, while in the UK they face “onerous” regulations from the Crown Estate and the Marine Management Organisation quango, he said.
“If we are to make this Marine Energy Park work I really do think a key component of that is dismantling the barriers standing in the way of these marine energy developers,” said Mr Eustice, Tory MP for Camborne and Redruth, whose constituency includes the Wave Hub energy terminal off the Cornish coast.
“These are people taking tremendous risks to pioneer the industry – sometimes investing tens of millions of pounds to develop this technology – the very least we can do as government in control of these agencies is make sure these agencies get off people’s backs and allow them to get ahead.”
Cornwall and Devon stand to reap a massive jobs boost from harnessing the power of waves and tides as Marine Energy Park status means the region will be the sector’s focal point in the UK.
The “virtual” marine park, spread across sites in Devon, Cornwall and Bristol, could see energy devices developed in the region exported to China and South America.
The park will gravitate around the ports of Falmouth, Hayle, Plymouth and Bristol. But Cornwall’s Wave Hub, a wave energy “nursery” in Falmouth bay and research facilities at Plymouth and Exeter universities are all key.
Yet many in the sector warn progress is slow, and the cross-party Energy Select Committee last week said it feared the UK risks squandering its lead globally.
The Wave Hub, for instance, was first mooted in 2004 and the terminal only laid foundations off the coast last year. Yet developers wanting to “plug” their devices into Wave Hub “socket” will have to jump many of the same hurdles.
And Mr Eustice contends harbour masters should be giving consent to devices in the Falmouth bay test “nursery”, rather than remote officials in Whitehall.
Mr Barker yesterday re-iterated his belief that the South West could become the marine equivalent of Silicon Valley, the California technology community that gave birth to Apple, Microsoft and Google.
He said the Government’s Marine Energy Programme Board was already demanding decisions on planning and consenting small testing sites are fast-tracked, and revealed the licensing process is under review.
He said: “I have asked the Marine Management Organisation and Marine Scotland to work together to make sure the licensing process is as efficient as possible while maintaining the necessary level of protection for the environment.”
Mr Barker agreed to meet Mr Eustice and Wave Hub bosses to “thrash out the details” over red tape.
David Cameron forced his Cabinet to confront failures in the Government’s jobs strategy, and accused the Department for Environment (Defra) of being too slow to review implementing EU habitats and wild birds directives, which critics say impose burdens on companies.
Offshore WIND Staff, March 02, 2012