Devolution in action: shared goals in the Humber


By Tom Bridges, Arup UK Government & Innovation Lead & Leeds Office leader

A year ago, the UK government set out its long-term ambition for increasing prosperity and opportunity through twelve national levelling-up missions, a far-reaching programme of devolution, place-based investment in research and development, and major urban regeneration projects.

In November’s Autumn statement, the Chancellor set out further measures to bring greater local powers and investment, with an emphasis on the North of England.

It is in places such as the Humber where the success or failure of levelling-up will ultimately be determined. While the region performs below the national average on economic and social indicators, it has huge growth potential.

With huge opportunities for growth in the Humber around advanced manufacturing, clean-tech, green energy, and digital and creative industries, and leveraging the assets of the area’s freeport and universities, it’s an exciting time for this part of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

The region’s unique geographical position, industrial capabilities, and innovative businesses have created a huge opportunity to lead the UK in the green industrial revolution and to net-zero.

Devolution is no longer a concept in the Humber. Local powers have been granted and collaboration is very much underway. The area has seen significant public sector investment, with £184.6m of Government funding confirmed in the last 18 months. Highlights includes the Humber Freeport with £15m seed capital, and £66m across the Towns Fund projects in Grimsby, Goole and Scunthorpe, with major infrastructure projects such as the East Coast Cluster focused on hydrogen and carbon capture, and the improvements to the strategic road and rail networks.

Devolution in practice is gaining real momentum. There are plans for a Humber Economic Plan to be collectively developed by Combined Authorities in the region, with an accompanying Investment Strategy. A Net Zero Strategy will be produced by the Humber Energy Board and partners, with an observer from the Department of Energy, Security and Net Zero, supporting. The UK government is also considering relocating roles closer to policy issues they are addressing.

Arup has worked in the Humber for many years. Our firm has been involved in some of the most significant growth projects in the area, including helping to regenerate Hull’s city centre for City of Culture, designing Siemens Mobility new train manufacturing facility in Goole, supporting Grimsby to secure the first Town Deal in England, advising on the proposed advanced manufacturing park at Scunthorpe and working with Hull on improving water resilience through the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities initiative.

Most recently we worked with Metsä Tissue to create their first paper production facility in the UK in the region. We also supported British Steel as it unveiled its Low-Carbon Roadmap in 2021, to invest in a range of technologies to deliver net-zero steel by 2050, and significantly reduce its OC2 intensity by 2030 and 2035, which would put the Humber on the map in terms of green credentials.

There is potential for the Humber to act as a testbed and exemplar for boosting economic growth through decarbonisation. As it stands, the region accounts for 37% of the UK’s industrial and process carbon emissions.

Achieving decarbonisation milestones would give the Humber an opportunity to export its expertise globally too: 60% of the world’s population and two thirds of the world’s largest cities are in estuary or port regions, meaning the Humber experience can lead learnings internationally.

The Humber, like other regions, is competing for investment on the global stage. That is why it’s essential to have a shared vision and a shared, investor-focused voice.

We only need to look to the Siemens Mobility train manufacturing plant in Goole which will support as many as 700 jobs, the world’s largest offshore wind operations and maintenance centre developed by Orsted in Grimsby, or Reckitt’s £200m investment in its major science and innovation centre in Hull to see that the private sector is recognising the Humber’s potential.

If you travel merely one decade back in time, the Northern Powerhouse was launched as a partnership, a concept about growth and opportunity in key regions across the North of England. The investment seen by government, paired with local authorities and major businesses now striving towards shared goals, means that the prize is now closer than ever.

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