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Creating a platform for significant change

With work to transform its sprawling estate matched by wider environmental endeavours and a desire to support economic and social prosperity in the North East’s shifting political landscape, the Port of Tyne is at the axis of great change. Here, Steven Hugill chats to Matt Beeton, the trade hub’s chief executive, to find out more.


Matt Beeton tugs at the thick collar of his high-visibility jacket, adjusting his stance to face the length of a mottled grey-white concrete expanse.

Over his shoulder, a heavy roller emerges from behind a bank of bright yellow cabins as excavator buckets gouge new courses in the land.

Great change, as well as an unforgiving wind, is in the air at the Port of Tyne.

It began in late 2019, when Matt, nearly a year into his role as the trade hub’s chief executive, unfurled its Tyne 2050 blueprint.

Planting seeds for the base’s long-term future, the venture sets nearly 30 headline targets – from carbon neutrality and eventual all-electric operations, to doubling diversity and catalysing cross-industry collaboration – which aim to place the port as a pivot point in environmental, digital, social and maritime transformation.

And the first shoots are more than coming through.

From the concrete square upon which Matt stands today, soon will rise a home for the energy of tomorrow, an offshore wind contractor lying in wait for a new factory where coal was once processed.

The scene is replicated around a bend in the Tyne, where Dogger Bank wind farm joint operator Equinor runs a scarlet-cladded, 200-job operations and maintenance headquarters.

Both firms were attracted by the port’s 200-acre Tyne Clean Energy Park.

Straddling the river across four sites, the development is a flagship scheme within Tyne 2050, its creation providing both the space and transport links for renewable firms, marine engineers and their supply chains to flourish.

Matt says: “When I arrived at the port, it was still reliant on coal, and we needed to think of a new business model and what we stood for.

“One of our key targets was to align ourselves with generational jobs, and be part of areas such as the green energy market.

“Tyne 2050 was founded to help us do that, and we’ve made fantastic progress.

“Attracting Equinor was a massive plus.

“The jobs and value for the port and the region from Equinor’s arrival have been phenomenal – if all options are taken, that company alone could represent nearly 100 years’ worth of operation.

“Equinor came here because it could access skills, but it did so too because our visions aligned.”

And Matt reveals the momentum behind Tyne 2050 – which aligns with the Government’s own Maritime 2050 policy and the North East Strategic Economic Plan – is being maintained by the development of further redundant port areas for prospective operators, with the ambition having recently helped two long-term renewable and recycling partners extend tenancies. 

He says: “We spent more than £10 million on the port last year, which was more than had been invested in a decade, and we want to double that figure this year.”

However, the blueprint extends far beyond earthmovers and land remediation.

In a world of evolving energy and efficiency drives, the port – which helps power one in every eight lightbulbs and processes 40 per cent of the UK’s tea stocks – is matching physical revision with digital and psychological change.

Key to its efforts is the Maritime 2050 Innovation Hub, which stands close to the port’s Jarrow Road entrance.

With partners including Teesport operator PD Ports, Nissan and Blyth’s Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the endeavour works with the Department for Transport and industry body MarRI-UK to develop solutions capable of making environmental, economic and social advances, across areas such as artificial intelligence, the circular economy and the future of mobility.

Matt says: “We use the phrase ‘intentionally ambitious’ here, and the Maritime 2050 Innovation Hub is a great example of that in action.

“We launched it to corral ports, organisations and people into thinking about – and tackling – the challenges we’re facing.

“I’m a firm believer in collaborating with other players, and it has worked really well.

“We’ve got a great foundation to make significant progress.”

Those advances, says Matt, will be supported by other partnerships to further influence positive change across global shipping.

He says: “We’re sharing non-sensitive data with other ports around the world, to see how we can better do things across areas such as cost, speed to market and decarbonisation.

“For example, we might think we’re doing something right here, but it might be forcing more carbon down the supply chain elsewhere, and we really want to understand our place as a link in that longer chain.”

And such commitment to collaboration extends to the North East’s governmental landscape.

With agreement in place for a £4.2 billion, mayoral-led devolution deal for the north of the region, Matt wants the area’s maritime cluster – which includes the Port of Tyne alongside the region’s other sea-based hubs and airports – to unite and maximise the power shift’s potential.

He says: “The opportunity is there to make a massive difference.

“If you look at what is happening in the North Sea, around areas such as offshore wind and hydrogen, we could be the epicentre of clean energy for the UK and beyond.

“If we are smarter about coordinating ourselves and about emphasising each of our unique points, in conjunction with what is happening on Teesside and Scotland’s planned east coast freeport, we could do so much more.

“Pulling the region and its assets together would provide scale, from which we could generate and attract investment to plan a new hinterland.”

Matt adds: “We have a platform to do something special, to increase prosperity and create more jobs.

“It’s all to play for, and I can’t help smiling about the proposition before us.

“The opportunities are endless.”