This article is by Neil Rami, Chief Executive at the West Midlands Growth Company – the region’s promotion and economic development agency.
Greener industries can unlock the economic potential of UK regions – here’s how in the West Midlands
The home of the first Industrial Revolution, could history be about to repeat itself in the West Midlands?
The UK’s race to a net-zero future by 2050 has had a fresh burst of energy this week, as the Government launched its widely anticipated 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
Marrying the environmental necessity of decarbonisation with its economic potential, the Plan could be a watershed moment for the UK economy, not least because it forges a clear path for recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.
It is especially significant for UK regions like the West Midlands, where the engines of productivity and earning power across the country’s traditional industries lie.
As Government prepares its next steps in green policy provision, it is essential these regional strengths are fully recognised, along with the valuable role they play in maintaining the UK’s global competitiveness.
As a region, we wear the badges of our industrial past with pride. Our principal role in the first industrial revolution is characterised by the fundamentally life-changing technologies we brought to life; from the first practical bicycle in Coventry, to the world’s first steam engine in the Black Country.
It is a legacy that has propelled our global reach, and continues to put us on the map today as a place to innovate, invent and explore.
As we embark on this next low-carbon revolution, the West Midlands must once again be central to delivering the vital, large-scale technological transformation required to meet our net zero ambition.
In transport, our leading cluster of world-class manufacturers is pioneering the future of emission-free travel.
Jaguar Land Rover, the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), Changan and Lotus are just a handful of automotive giants in the region at the helm of Electric Vehicle development and commercialisation, supported by an established ecosystem of highly-specialised SMEs.
Beyond cars, we are reinventing rail.
The UK’s first Hydrogen-powered train is being developed by researchers at the University of Birmingham. Meanwhile, WMG at the University of Warwick is progressing a tram-style Very Light Rail (VLR) concept that uses low-carbon solutions from the automotive sector to transform the environmental impact of urban travel.
But we know that the road to decarbonisation is not about vehicles alone. Crucially we also have a network of expertise advancing the supporting infrastructure needed to drive these ideas forward.
It is for this reason that Coventry was chosen to host the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC); the country’s only research and testing facility for large-scale battery production. Having this exclusive hub on our doorstep makes the West Midlands pivotal to the overall success of the Government’s net-zero mission, and paves the way for the region to secure further investment in battery technologies, such as a gigafactory.
The West Midlands Combined Authority, in partnership with the region’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Local Authorities, has made great strides to motivate low-carbon innovation across the region, with a particular focus on cutting carbon in infrastructure.
A Zero Carbon Homes Taskforce of public and private sector organisations has been created to make sure all new homes in the region meet tough zero carbon standards from 2025 onwards. This is bolstered by commitments to eliminate fuel poverty for 50,000 homes, as part of a wider plan for greater inclusion in the post-pandemic economy.
Cross-sector collaboration has been critical in guiding traditional industries towards a greener future. In Wolverhampton, the combined efforts of the University of Wolverhampton, City of Wolverhampton Council, Black Country LEP and construction industry partners have realised a National Brownfield Institute in the city – a UK first centre of excellence dedicated to enhancing sustainability practices and establishing a circular economy in construction.
The benefits of investing in the West Midlands as a leader in our country’s green revolution cannot be understated.
The Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan firmly acknowledges the potential of regional powerhouses like the West Midlands; it is a positive step forward in creating a more sustainable economy.
What is crucial now, is for Government to really lay the groundwork for this Plan, by delivering on
its commitment to build back better across UK regions with the significant down-payment that is needed.
More detailed policy provisions across energy, transport and infrastructure, backed by economic stimulus that is bold enough to make a difference, is the only way we can unleash the potential of the UK’s clean industries of tomorrow and support both a long-term recovery and our global competitiveness.
It’s important Government’s charge towards a new age of environmental enlightenment instils a new national mindset that goes beyond carbon consciousness, and towards levelling up for a truly inclusive economy.