After more than a year in the job as Inverclyde’s MP I have still not seen a cohesive plan to regenerate our area. In speaking with other MPs, I asked myself ‘what is unique about Inverclyde, what are our natural advantages?’
I put pen to paper and started to map out a possible way in which the area can move forward, based on our renewable energy potential. I sent my document to a small group of stakeholders and I am pleased that it not only received a positive response, but that we have already held our first meeting in taking forward a new regeneration plan.
The task is not an easy one, and any future plan may be very different to what I have outlined below. I am glad however that we have taken those important first steps towards unlocking Inverclyde’s vast potential.
The Island Of Inverclyde
Infamously Nero fiddled while Rome burned. He tinkered and toyed with problems and chose inaction, rather than facing the enormity of the challenge ahead of him.
In recent years Inverclyde’s industries have been dismantled and our local economy has continued on its steady, managed decline.
Initiatives to revitalise the area have launched and failed. Companies have been wooed and lost while previous plans to regenerate the area have disappeared into obscurity forever.
All the while our population has continued to decline. We all know a family member who has moved to Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the USA because of a lack of opportunities at home.
If we do not take the appropriate action and we allow the decline to continue then school rolls will drop, allocated teaching positions will be reduced accordingly and eventually schools will close. Our emergency services will shrink further and health care facilities shall reduce. And while Rome was destroyed by fire, Inverclyde will face death by a thousand cuts.
It’s time for us to end this slow deterioration and plant the seeds of change.
Recently we have been hit by job losses at Texas Instrument, Sanmina and IBM. These job losses do not only effect those made redundant, the damage extends into our local community with the knock on effect being felt by suppliers and local traders too. In these times of austerity it sometimes feels that Inverclyde is taking a disproportionate share of the pain.
If giant multinationals don’t see Inverclyde as central to their global plans can we seriously complain? Are we sitting back and expecting too much when we should be growing our own local economy? We are fortunate to have a few local companies with their roots firmly planted in our community, still turning a profit and investing in Inverclyde and whatever we do we must not take their important contribution for granted. But if multinationals are not going to locate their global headquarters in Inverclyde could it be that we require to take the matter into our own hands? Is it inconceivable that we could generate our own industries based in Inverclyde for Inverclyde?
We have no shortage of land, including IBMs former home at Valley Park, the East India Harbour, the old GPO building on Regent Street, Kelburn Business Park and the area around Castle Levan. Even more land has recently been made available around Drumfrochar Road, the Inverkip power station site and the former Greenock High School site.
We have to use this land wisely and it is clear that population decline will not be halted by simply building more houses – repopulation can only truly be achieved by creating jobs.
A workforce is already locally available and the people of Inverclyde have a good work ethic. To attract new people into the area we need to create long term security with skilled jobs and good working conditions. I am positive that we have the ability and importantly, the appetite for the challenge.
When the population of the island of Eigg bought their island in 1997 it heralded a new dawn and a new era for the island. After years of absentee landlords paying scant regard to the needs of the island community, the community took over running their island. Nineteen years later the island population has soared by 40% and is almost entirely self-sufficient on renewable energy. Through the determined effort of its residents, Eigg has the first completely wind, water and sun-powered electricity grid in the world.
Their achievements were built on a community mentality of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. If the population of a remote island on the west coast of Scotland can achieve this, is it not time that we applied an island community mentality to Inverclyde? Of course Eigg is a lot smaller than Inverclyde and its size may have been beneficial when addressing some of its problems, but equally, being a smaller community can make some problems more difficult to resolve.
If the island of Eigg can do it, why not Inverclyde?
If we were to compare our problems and potential solutions to a larger town, then Dundee would be a good example of a larger town successfully addressing the issues of today and attracting outside investment. We will never find an exact comparison but that only underlines Inverclyde’s unique advantages and it is that uniqueness that may be our salvation.
The renewable energy market is growing and will continue to grow. To generate all of our energy from renewables will require a mixture of the most available practical options. This would undoubtedly include biomass, solar, wind, tidal and hydro.
The political map of Scotland is made up of 59 Westminster constituencies. Inverclyde is one of the few that has the geography to utilise a wide range of renewable energy options. We have a coastline and so are well placed to utilise tidal. We have enough rural space to facilitate wind farms on the hills behind Inverclyde. If we manage water catchment properly, then we are also capable of hosting hydro. Solar will never fulfil all our requirements but as part of a renewable energy mix it can be a valuable contributor. So as obvious as it is, constituencies that are mainly inner city or land locked are restricted in their ability to fully utilise all the renewal options. Inverclyde, on the other hand, could utilise all of them.
Inverclyde as an island, self-sustaining and leading by example. The people of Eigg did it, and we can do it too.
Inverclyde council have been looking at hydro schemes powered from the cut for over 6 years, but so far nothing has come to fruition. We all know that Inverclyde had such schemes nearly 200 years ago when a grain mill, paper mill, loom manufacturer and sugar refinery were all powered by water from the Greenock Cut. It was so successful that we constructed the Kelly Cut to power the Merino Mills. Given our technological advances, it isn’t too far-fetched to conceive that such schemes could be recreated today and provide power to schools, homes and public buildings.
Two such schemes are already underway, not in Inverclyde, but in neighbouring North Ayrshire. One on the Gogo burn and the other at the convergence of the Gogo and Greeto. These are small schemes but financially viable and could set a trend for better water management and in conjunction with reforestation they could help to mitigate the impact of flooding.
If Largs can do it, why not Inverclyde?
Appropriately located wind farms situated behind Inverclyde and away from residential property could feed into the solution. We must also seriously investigate the opportunities of tidal power, which exist the length of the Clyde. Swansea is already investing in a tidal barrier to power their city. Swansea Tidal Lagoon will create an indigenous, low carbon, large scale energy source that is affordable and sustainable in the long term. It is predicted to create sustained electricity for 155,000 homes for 120 years. Many of the component parts of the build will be produced locally in South West Wales. Anticipated investment for these components is estimated to be in excess of £500 million. At peak construction an estimated 1,900 full time jobs will be created or supported, covering a range of skills levels. Once constructed, up to 181 full time jobs would be created or supported throughout the life of the lagoon. As an operational power station and a tourism facility attracting 70,000-100,000 visitors per year, the estimated annual impact of the lagoon could amount to approximately £76 million. There have been suggestions that tidal lagoons can help mitigate the impact of flooding. Investment in tidal lagoons could therefore lead to a reduction in spending for other flooding defences. The Swansea project would not be an exact match for Inverclyde but we have tides and we have bays and we could develop a project appropriately scaled to our requirements.
If Swansea can do it, why not Inverclyde?
On the Humber in East Yorkshire, the Humber Gateway Wind Farm is demonstrating the success of offshore renewables. The wind farm covers 14 square miles and provides power to 170,000 homes. The project created 1000 jobs in the construction phase, with 30 jobs to be maintained every year throughout the wind farms operational life of 40 years. Harland and Wolff, once shipbuilding pioneers, were contracted to provide foundation structures for the project. Like the Swansea project, an appropriately sized wind farm project could also deliver benefits to Inverclyde.
If the Humber can do it, why not Inverclyde?
In addition to tidal and offshore wind power, biomass and solar may have a role to play in meeting our energy needs. Solar panels have increased in their efficiency and even with our weather it is not beyond the realms of possibility that solar panels can be utilised on the roofs of high rise buildings and tenements. Biomass too has potential and we already have a biomass fuel supplier located in the constituency and a biomass project nearing completion in Broomhill that will provide both heat and hot water for over 600 homes.
To turn Inverclyde around is not an easy challenge. But what is the alternative? We walk away from any and all opportunities because they are too hard? Occasionally a council will declare itself a living wage council. That doesn’t just happen, they decided it was the right thing to do and worked towards making it happen. The same attitude is required in this scenario. We have an abundance of land available and everywhere I go people continually tell me that we undersell Inverclyde. I believe we not only undersell, we underestimate and underutilise.
Renewable energy is a business with a huge future and Inverclyde can benefit from this by developing our renewable energy potential. Inverclyde can be a centre of excellence by utilising the available land and workforce in an area that is extremely fortunate with its geographic capabilities to provide that energy. Ultimately we could export that energy or at the very least the machines or technical knowledge. The mutually beneficial relationship between industry and education could be developed with West Coast College expanding their engineering faculty. Joint initiatives between the private and public sector could make for profitable, well funded ventures.
For every renewable energy business we attract or establish, there will be benefits to the wider community. Local shops and trades will benefit. The population will increase and school rolls will be maintained. The downward spiral must be brought to a halt and Inverclyde must start looking to build a long term future. Importantly, we must not turn this into a political football and I will work with anyone, from any background, that has the interests of Inverclyde at heart.
I am sure there are people within Inverclyde that will pour scorn on this and label it as hopeless dreaming but they are part of the problem, not the solution. Let us not allow the naysayers define our area, most people I know care deeply about our community and want to make a positive change.
The alternative to Inverclyde boldly seeking solutions to its own problems is to suffer a slow lingering death and that, unless we pull together and create a cohesive ambitious plan, is the path we are on.
I think the majority of people will take a pragmatic approach along the lines of, ‘that sounds good, it would be welcomed, but how do we make it work?’ In my view that is the correct approach.
Instead of setting up task forces when companies fail, Inverclyde needs a body to investigate and implement a strategy for the long term future. A body made up of people who can bring something to the table from their own experience or backgrounds. A body that can engage with corporate Scotland and can make commercial sense. A body that has the vision to see what could be and the common sense to recognise pipe dreams.
If we don’t take on this challenge then Inverclyde will decline further. We need the courage and the optimism to plant the seeds that will change Inverclyde’s future for the better. We have a proud manufacturing history in Inverclyde, we led the way in the industrial revolution, re-industrialising Inverclyde by embracing renewable energies can lead to Inverclyde’s industrial evolution.