Laying the building blocks for a greener future

October 8, 2021

With the majority of her career spent in construction, Victoria Beattie knows a good deal about the importance of building for the future. It’s exactly the reason why she shelved retirement plans last year to join the Port of Tyne as its head of estates. Overseeing the trade hub’s diverse land and property portfolio, she is also playing a crucial role in its flagship Tyne Clean Energy Park. That development is a crucial component in the Tyne 2050 strategy, which aims to position the port at the forefront of environmental change. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to Victoria, and hears too from port chief executive Matt Beeton, on what Tyne 2050 means and how it is already delivering a positive impact.

“It’s almost like there’s a bit of homing pigeon in me,” laughs Victoria Beattie.

The daughter of a Shetland-born merchant seaman – who ran away for a life on the waves at just 14, joining his first ship from the Port of Tyne – it was perhaps always inevitable she would find herself in the maritime sector.

For a good while, though, it appeared she would break the seafaring chain, with Victoria instead embarking upon a long and successful career in the construction industry.

She reached her destination in the end, though, and her timing couldn’t have been better.

Joining the Port of Tyne as its head of estates early last year, Victoria arrived just a month after the base had launched its Tyne 2050 strategy.

An all-encompassing blueprint rooted in securing the trading conduit’s long- term future, Tyne 2050 sets out several goals to make the port a pioneering force in environmental change.

Pledging to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the vision – which supports the Government’s 25-Year Environment Plan and Clean Growth Strategy – includes the flagship 200-acre Tyne Clean Energy Park, which straddles the river across four sites.

Already home to what will soon become a 200-job operations and maintenance base for lead Dogger Bank wind farm operator Equinor, the park will provide a focal point for offshore renewable energy companies, marine engineering firms and their supply chain.

Tyne 2050 also sets out ambitions to make the site a clean energy technology and green innovation testbed by 2025, and an all-electric operation by 2040.

Furthermore, officials aim to double diversity by 2030, launch the UK’s first net-zero warehouse in the coming months, and create an environment where the port leads nationally on new technology and operational practices.

The latter will be delivered using the Maritime 2050 Innovation Hub – described as the first of its kind in the UK – which is working with the Department for Transport and industry body MarRI- UK to catalyse cross-industry and sector collaboration and inspire fresh thinking.

And for Victoria, whose home town South Shields lies downriver from the port’s sprawling base, the opportunity to be part of such transformational change was too good to turn down.

“Construction is my background, and I was latterly director of construction at Gateshead Council before I retired,” she says.

“But I reversed my decision and came to the port because of the difference I can see it is making with well-paid, highly skilled jobs.

“I’ve only ever worked on a project in my home town once, which was a job about 20 years ago at the marine college to build the simulation engine room and bridge of a ship, so it’s really exciting to be part of what is happening.

“My dad was born in 1913 and, like a lot of people did, came to the Tyne for work because it was a huge port,” continues Victoria.

“He worked all over the world, and then on the coal ships that went around the UK and over to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, so there’s something in my blood and it’s nice to be playing part in the port’s – and our region’s – industrial future.”

And, according to latest figures, Tyne 2050 is already delivering substantial, positive change.

They show the port – which this summer smashed a wood pellet delivery record when it handled 62,522.49 metric tonnes of sustainable biomass fuel for long-term client Drax Power Station – will have cut carbon emissions by 27 per cent by the end of this year.

Furthermore, bosses say they have invested more than £2 million in operational upgrades, which include LED lighting that has saved more than 2.5 million kilowatts of energy, while modifications to power biomass hoppers with electricity, rather than fossil fuel, have reduced diesel consumption by 260,000 litres.

“The 2050 strategy is important from so many different aspects,” says Victoria. “It is imperative we tell everybody in the region what we are doing, particularly those that use us as a resource, but also those that see the port – the ships, cranes and conveyors going about their work – from the outside.

“Our history was built on coal, but we’ve gone through a number of iterations to become much more sustainable and made significant investments – and still are – to reach our goals.

“We’ve put targets on our strategies too, because everything around green energy and becoming net-zero is changing so quickly.

“That is why we will continue refreshing Tyne 2050 every year to ensure it stays relevant – we must maintain the pace to support the country’s energy targets and our own ambitions,” adds Victoria.

“Tyne 2050 is intentionally ambitious and innovative,” continues the port’s chief executive Matt Beeton.

“It’s really important for us and the wider maritime industry because our sector isn’t typically known for being innovative when it comes to sustainability.

“However, it’s imperative we start thinking progressively and we’ve set some very high standards, which we hope will inspire the rest of the industry too.”

Championing the immediate impact of the Maritime 2050 Innovation Hub, and its potential in aiding the port’s journey towards delivering ground-breaking clean energy advances, Matt says other measures are also delivering tangible results.

He says: “We intend to become a testbed for clean energy technology and green innovation, and we launched the Maritime 2050 Innovation Hub to get us there, with best-in-class innovator Dr Joanna North, to drive this forward.

“It provides a centre of excellence for sustainable business innovation and a collaborative forum where we can learn from experts and share best practice.

“We held almost fortnightly virtual events during the pandemic through the innovation hub.

“They were attended by thousands of business professionals from across industry, and our new autumn programme has just started,” adds Matt, who reveals the port – which complements its bulk haul terminal with a container terminal and an international passenger terminal that serves roll-on, roll-off ferries and cruise liners – has removed more than 700 tonnes of CO2 from operations over the past year.

His latter point on emissions is demonstrated through several existing contracts.

Earlier this year, officials signed a fresh, long-term international agreement with Eaglescliffe-based tea maker Tetley, which will see the trade hub continue to annually move thousands of tonnes of raw tea and finished goods via its coastal feeder shipping service, rather than wagons.

Dramatically reducing road miles and associated CO2 output, the practice is mirrored by work with Newcastle family tea and coffee firm Ringtons, which earlier this year reappointed the port to continue overseeing feeder deliveries from Felixstowe to the North East, and with Tea Times Trading, for whom the port is also moving goods up the coast from their initial Suffolk landing point.

Furthermore, a commitment to supporting increased biomass use, launched more than a decade ago, continues to reach new highs, as evidenced by the port’s recent record Drax delivery.

Matt says: “We very much believe in action rather than words on sustainability. “The fact we received two awards last year from Maritime UK for ‘clean energy operator’ and ‘clean energy enabler’ shows what we have achieved so far. “It’s vital that an environmentally sustainable business is also a good business commercially, and we’re demonstrating we can achieve that balance.

“As part of our ‘clean energy enabler’ strategy, we’re working hard to help the companies we provide with logistics and warehousing services to identify more sustainable solutions.

“And one of the fastest growing options is our coastal shipping service.

“Tetley, Ringtons, Tea Times Trading and Barbour are some of the customers who now ship their goods closer to the point of consumption.

“Tetley alone has cut almost one million kilogrammes of CO2 from its supply chain by working with us.

“Coastal shipping is faster, cheaper and more efficient, especially given the current driver shortages.

“And you can expect to see more businesses of all sizes choosing to ship into their local ports – not just here on the Tyne, but all over the UK – and we’re proud to be leading this transition.”

The pioneering ethos to which Matt refers is further reflected by Tyne Clean Energy Park, which will soon become home to a 200-job Dogger Bank operations and maintenance hub.

Set to be used by Equinor to service the offshore wind farm – which bosses say is the largest of its type in the world and will have capacity to power six million British homes – Matt says its impending arrival is further indication of the port’s reputation for sustainability.

He says: “The base represents a fantastic achievement; Dogger Bank will benefit the whole of the North East and create thousands of new and better jobs.

“The fact that Equinor – and joint venture partner SSE – have chosen to make the port their home and invest in new multi-million-pound headquarters, which will be net-zero, is testament to our unique vision.

“They wouldn’t be investing that sum of money if we didn’t meet their expectations as a sustainable, long-term business partner.”

Equally important in the firm’s decision, says Victoria, was the ease of access Equinor had to development-ready land and high-quality infrastructure, thanks to Tyne Clean Energy Park.

Officially the first tenant of the endeavour and set to occupy land where McNulty’s South Shields’ marine yard once stood, Victoria says Equinor’s arrival was also catalysed by the region’s skilled workforce and the affable nature of its people.

She says: “I think Equinor got a feeling about the North East – it’s an intangible thing, like when you’re buying a house and you walk through the door and know it is the one you want.

“It just felt right for them.

“Collaboration is key in business, as is learning from each other, and the way we are wired up as a region is a precursor to that.”

Matt adds: “Tyne Clean Energy Park is a blank canvas for incoming tenants, and we’re providing a unique ‘co-location’ opportunity.

“By choosing the park, renewables businesses joining Equinor and SSE
can co-locate every aspect of their supply chains – from manufacturing and assembly to installation and maintenance.

“All businesses need to evolve to remain relevant and commercially successful.

“Tyne 2050 is ensuring we are doing that, and our early wins illustrate it’s the right thing to be doing at exactly the right time.

“We expect Tyne Clean Energy Park to be a huge success story.

“Once fully occupied, we anticipate it will play an important role in supporting the Government’s goal to power every UK home with offshore wind electricity and in enabling the levelling-up agenda.

“Furthermore, Tyneside is already renowned for its local pool of offshore energy industry professionals who have traditionally worked in the oil and gas sector.

“These people have highly transferable skills for the renewables sector, which not only protects our local economy, but the new development will create thousands of additional, better jobs across the region.”

Matt’s point is taken up by Victoria, who says she hopes Equinor’s arrival will be a catalyst in attracting a new generation of workers to green energy roles.

However, she says the education sector has an important part to play, as do parents and careers advisors.

“The energy sector will be like construction; you will enter at one point and then the number of different jobs in

the sector will be huge,” says Victoria, who sits on the North East committee of the National Association of Women in Construction and the advisory board of Constructing Excellence in the North East.

She adds: “But we need to make sure there is a talent pathway.

“Equinor are giving grants out to 50 students this year who are looking to do science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in further education.

“That’s before they’ve even got a spade in the ground and is the sort of commitment that will have a huge impact on skills.

“But parents need to be brought on board, as do careers advisors.

“Hopefully, the parents of those at school today will inspire their daughters, as well as their sons, to go into green energy.

“Yes, it might be an industry they’re not quite sure about – and it might not fit the typical doctor, dentist or lawyer routes
to employment some parents might encourage – because it’s different to coal or oil and gas.

“But ultimately, it is engineering, and uses the same skills we already have in abundance in this region.”

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