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Five minutes with… Martin Lawlor

Martin Lawlor is chief executive of Port of Blyth. Here, he tells Steven
Hugill about the maritime hub’s recent record results, its ever increasing prominence within the clean energy drive and its leading role in a landmark skills programme to nurture the renewables sector workers of tomorrow.

The port recently announced record financial results for a third consecutive year. What were the key drivers behind the figures?

Our success is primarily down to the continued growth of our core offshore renewable energy sector trade, which has been boosted by major contracts to mobilise some of the world’s largest wind farms. We have also managed to grow the significant cluster of clean energy companies within the port, which helped us handle a record number of vessels in 2023. But it’s not just about offshore energy. Our other trades also played an important part, in particular, the twiceweekly container service between Holland and Blyth. This is supported by our international logistics subsidiary Transped, and used by companies not only across the North East, but the rest of the UK too.

As you highlight, Port of Blyth is a crucial clean energy conduit, supporting many operators and projects. What makes its offer so compelling?

You need to be in the right location (and we are, situated midway down the UK east coast) and have good facilities to handle large vessels and heavy lifts. However, what fundamentally sets us apart from other ports is our focus on customer service, which is embraced by the entire workforce. Every day, they demonstrate our core values, which include going above and beyond, working as one team and delivering a high-quality service. As a result, an ad-hoc call by a vessel becomes a regular customer and, ultimately, becomes a longterm partner and tenant. As we grow the cluster (with more than 50 businesses linked to the clean energy sector based around the port), the offer becomes even more compelling, as others want to be part of such a major hub, working together to create a really unique offering. We won’t become complacent. But, in some ways, it now sells itself.

The port’s growth is being matched by wider developments around the Blyth Estuary, with subsea cable maker JDR’s new factory on Cambois’ Northumberland Energy Park – and Blackstone Group’s interest in the neighbouring ex-Britishvolt site – evidence of the rich potential for the area to create a new, post-coal economy. How exciting is it to be part of such transformation?

It’s fantastic to be part of the wider Energy Central initiative, and to see major inward investment around the Blyth Estuary. We are proud to have played our part in attracting these new inward investments and, in doing so, creating significant new job opportunities for the regional population. Despite the failure of the previous car battery factory venture, the sites around the Blyth Estuary are some of the best in the country, in terms of scale, access to power and deep water port facilities. As a result, I am confident further significant inward investments will follow in the not too distant future.

You are also chair of Energy Central Campus, which includes the Port of Blyth-based, soon-to-open Energy Central Learning Hub, that will train the next generation of renewables sector workers. How significant is the initiative, and what role will it play in driving forward the region’s – and the country’s – green agenda?

I had a vision for a clean energy-focused skills and training initiative for a few years, and it is immensely satisfying to now be playing a leading role in helping it come to fruition. Whenever I speak to the many clean energyfocused businesses around the port, they are less worried about winning new orders than having the right people and skill sets to fulfil such contracts successfully. This was a key driver for me, and with a projected demand of 72,000 new UK jobs in the sector by 2030, we need to make sure as many of these jobs are attracted to the North East, creating economic growth and additional employment for our population. Energy Central Campus is a significant initiative, with the first phase, the £15 million-plus Energy Central Learning Hub, due to open its doors by September and deliver STEM engagements to 3500- plus young learners, together with 800-plus learners undertaking formal qualifications per annum. It has attracted direct Government funding and ministerial visits, and could be used as a template for similar developments around the UK.

Energy Central is part of the new North East Investment Zone, which aims to create up to 4000 jobs and attract hundreds of millions of pounds of private sector backing. How exciting is it to be part of that programme?

I am delighted the importance of Energy Central has been recognised in designating the new North East Investment Zone, which will bring with it additional incentives to help attract further inward investment. It is clearly an important factor, and would be considered alongside all other matters when an inward investor is deciding where to locate its facilities. The growth of the port and the wider Energy Central partnership demonstrates those considerations are already increasing, leading to businesses choosing the Blyth Estuary as an ideal location for clean energy sector-related activities, in particular. The Energy Central initiative around Port of Blyth is already a game-changer, which will no doubt be enhanced by additional North East Investment Zone incentives.


May 9, 2024

  • Ideas & Observations

Created by North East Times