The link to renewables is fuelling Dundee’s transformation into a modern, forward looking city
For many years, traffic heading into Dundee would be greeted by a familiar sign - ‘City of Discovery’
In the cartoonish font of its famous sons, the Dandy, Beano and Oor Wullie, it referenced the RRS Discovery, the wooden three-masted ship built in the city and now permanently harboured there.
Now though, a subtle change has been made. A sleeker sign has taken its place: ‘One city, many discoveries.’
It is a confident, understated tagline epitomising the far bigger changes that are occuring. Dundee is being transformed with a £1bn revamp of its waterfront over 30 years, the V&A Museum of Design, set to open in 2016 and - most importantly - the promise of thousands of new jobs.
Key to this rebirth is Dundee’s plan to capitalise on the renewables industry. While 40 years ago it was Aberdeen that capitalised on the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea - and now still claims the title of ‘Energy capital of Europe’, Dundee is determined not to miss out.
In November 2011 Stewart Hosie, MP for Dundee East, said the city’s location was a “perfect fit” for the renewables industry, adding: “The city which was once the hub of Scottish shipbuilding should be at the epicentre of the new turbine construction and maintenance industry which will bring with it a great many good quality engineering jobs and apprenticeships.”
Listed in the National Renewables Infrastructure Plan (NRIP) as one of three regional manufacturing clusters that could support the construction of offshore wind, with the closest port to offshore development zones in the North Sea, road and rail links and 160 hectares of development land with Enterprise Zone status, the city has been pushing its credentials as the best place for the industry to prosper.
Dundee Renewables, a partnership between the public, private and academic sectors, has been at the heart of the push.
Stan Ure, head of economic development at Dundee City Council, said there had been a noticeable change in the city, but it had not happened overnight, with work across sectors including life sciences and digital starting up in the 1990s – work really began on the renewables agenda in 2007.
“I vividly recall going to exhibitions and people saying to us, ‘what are you doing here?’ he said.
“This was before we had established the credibility of the city as a viable location for renewable energy, particularly in then what was thought to be the bonanza business of offshore wind.
“Now offshore wind looks to be a significant industry, but perhaps not one that is going to be as large as it had originally looked – but still, Dundee is extraordinarily well-placed.”
He adds: “Many times in the past 20 to 30 years, Dundee has suffered by being in the wrong place geographically, well, when it comes to renewable energy, particularly offshore, Dundee is in exactly the right place.”
Ure admits that the timetable for offshore developments has slipped and while at one stage he would have expected production of wind turbines to already be under way in Dundee, it now seems the first installations are not likely to happen until 2016 or 2017.
It is less certain whether manufacturing will be happening in Scotland, but he says if it does, Dundee would feature – and there is a “strong confidence” that the city is poised to benefit from what is set to happen in the next few years.
“We’ve always thought that the long-term prize was the operations and maintenance activity. We have had a lot of discussions with interested parties in that regard in the last six to 12 months.
“I would be extraordinarily surprised if we don’t get some significant employment in those industries and that of course brings with it the whole supply chain and we remain very optimistic that Dundee is going to benefit.”
Already, a number of jobs are developing, with some companies having chosen to open offices in Dundee, and Ure says the council is working on creating more office space – including talking to the developers of the Dundee One project – to ensure that when the time comes the city is ready and open for business.
One company which has already opened an office in the city is Searoc, a consultancy working in offshore, wind and tidal energy.
With its headquarters on the south coast of England, the ideal spot for Round 1 and 2 developments, they chose Dundee because of the potential for development of offshore wind in Round 3.
At the time of moving, Dundee’s port was highlighted in the NRIP and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between SSE, the city and the port – with the promise of 700 renewables jobs, although the energy company has narrowed its interests since then.
But David Wotherspoon, operations director and deputy managing director, said Dundee was an excellent location.
“It is still the case that the port provides ready access to the main east coast development areas. The city itself has good communication links, good educational and training facilities, and has provided high quality office accommodation at very reasonable prices when compared to the likes of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.”
Wotherspoon added the decision to centre the new Offshore Renewables Institute at the University of Dundee – a collaboration between Dundee, Aberdeen and Robert Gordon universities – was an example of how the city had the potential to contribute to the development of the industry.
He said: “The city council were hoping to attract a significant manufacturing facility into the city. With the uncertainty introduced by changes to the support regime and major projects being delayed, the knock on into the supply chain means that these opportunities are less likely to be available, but the cooperation between the council and Forth Ports is excellent in pursuing projects with the potential to bring wider benefits.
“The port still has high potential to be used as a staging port for construction of the offshore wind projects proceeding in the nearer term, and also has high potential for the long-term employment opportunities in operations and maintenance activities into the future.
“Our services are well aligned with these opportunity areas as we have acted as principal contractor for wind-farm construction and also providing marine coordination software and a range of services available for the O&M market.”
Now, after seven years of establishing it, Ure says Dundee’s presence at renewables conferences is no longer a surprise.
“We have grown up with the industry. As we progressed we had a lot of onshore wind companies who thought that all they had to do was take their onshore wind turbines and stick them offshore – it is far more complicated than that.
“Now we’ve got some very seasoned professionals coming in from things like the oil and gas industry who know how to stick things in the North Sea and make sure that they stay there. Those sort of skills are being brought to bear.”
He adds: “We are absolutely the credible location for these things on the East Coast of Scotland.
“So it proves when companies come and talk to us - we can do anything here that any company wants us to do. The port is infinitely adaptable for anything to do with offshore wind or marine renewables; the city itself has industrial land ready serviced and available for things that don’t have to be at the port.
“We have a reputation in Dundee of being business friendly, of not putting obstacles in the way. Dundee is very much open for this business.”
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