I congratulate the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on securing this vital debate.
If the last 12 months have taught us anything, it is that if we are to better protect ourselves from rocketing energy costs, as a country we must become more resilient and less exposed to fluctuating global energy prices. The good news is that the UK is well placed to do that, but we need a UK Government who will grasp the nettle and realise our potential.
A Labour Government will turn the UK into a green growth superpower through our green prosperity plan, by creating GB Energy, a new publicly owned clean energy generation company that will harness the power of the UK’s sun, wind and waves. We will establish the UK as a clean energy superpower, delivering a zero-carbon electricity system by 2030 and guaranteeing long-term energy security. It is only through a publicly owned company that we can ensure that communities and people across the country feel the benefits of the power created on our own shores through cheaper bills, good local jobs and putting money back into the public purse.
To achieve clean power by 2030, we will need to quadruple offshore wind. Floating offshore wind will be crucial in helping us achieve that goal. The Celtic sea will be a vital next step in that journey. The deployment of 24 GW of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea presents a major opportunity to establish manufacturing and logistical support in south Wales. Port Talbot is ideally placed to be the hub for that activity, and a catalyst for the growth of FLOW in the region. Unlocking the Celtic sea’s potential requires ports that are capable of constructing foundation substructures, component storage and turbine integration, and continuous maintenance of those turbines.
Port Talbot’s deep sea harbour, with the land around it fully available for development, makes it the only port with capacity to combine FLOW fabrication, assembly, staging and flotation. The harbour is sheltered from high winds by a natural bay, and the space, size and water depth means that it can easily accommodate the substructure construction for the largest turbines in sufficient quantity to meet long-term Celtic sea demand.
Port Talbot also has the key infrastructure to support that ground-breaking technology. We are centrally located and have excellent transport links, with easy access to the M4 and the rail network. We also have world-class steelworks and the existing manufacturing supply chains, which bring with them the vital workforce skills and labour pool, including port workers, heavy industry workers, and maintenance and servicing workers, to support the quality manufacturing and assembly jobs essential for FLOW to become a reality.
Local businesses already in the manufacturing supply chains are keen to bring their transferable skills to the table and be part of this new, cutting-edge technology. Such is the scale of the FLOW project that there is significant potential to attract new industries in the supply chain, to create thousands of skilled jobs and to open up a world of opportunity for my Aberavon communities and those well beyond.
In short, Port Talbot has the capacity to deliver this scale of growth. It is a daunting project, but we have the basic infrastructure right there; it just needs to be mobilised. We have the critical mass and established manufacturing base needed to make a success of this future industry, but it is not just Port Talbot that would benefit. The benefits would be felt right across south Wales and beyond. The Swansea Bay economy has the ability both to absorb the initial demand and to translate it into new economic activity, and the sheer scale of what we are talking about would require additional resources to support Port Talbot, with the ports of Swansea and, as the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire so eloquently pointed out, Milford Haven having the capacity to carry out vital supporting activities right through the supply chain, including integration, maintenance, and assembly of mooring and cabling components. This has to be a team effort if it is going to work.
A south Wales freeport centred around Port Talbot and Milford Haven has huge potential to support FLOW manufacturing, assembly, installation and associated supply chains, and those opportunities can be distributed between the ports of Port Talbot and Milford Haven, which complement each other and offer the prospect of establishing the energy and manufacturing coast in south Wales at the necessary scale. Freeport status for Port Talbot and Milford Haven would help to create an environment to attract inward investment for the manufacturing of components for FLOW and the development of wider industrial manufacturing. The proposed new port infrastructure at Port Talbot will be an attractive site for the co-location of manufacturing for offshore wind components, improving the logistics of the supply chain. Port Talbot will also offer access to new export markets as well as the industrialised economy of south Wales.
The ability to offer the benefits of freeport status for development land in close proximity to the newly constructed port infrastructure will provide significant advantages for potential investors seeking to establish new manufacturing capacity in the UK, but also across Europe. I have had extensive discussions with Associated British Ports, which stands ready to invest over £500 million in new and upgraded infrastructure to enable the manufacturing, assembly and launch of floating foundation substructures and the import, storage and integration of wind turbine components in Port Talbot. These plans would be transformative for my Aberavon constituency and the surrounding area, but support from the UK Government will be a crucial precondition for drawing in private sector investment so that the FLOW project can get off the ground. FLOWMIS co-funding would demonstrate the UK Government’s clear long-term commitment to developing the site and the sector, giving confidence to allow investors and other funding providers to back the project and unlock sizeable private sector investment potential.
There is no time to waste. As the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire pointed out, other European countries, such as Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal, are also looking at investing in FLOW, so we must act now if we are to secure first mover advantage. We missed the boat with onshore and offshore wind in the past; other countries stole a march on us, and now they benefit from energy produced here. The largest onshore wind farm, which also happens to be in my Aberavon constituency, is paying for schools and hospitals in Stockholm. The Chinese Communist party has a stake in our nuclear industry, and millions pay their bills to an energy company that is owned in France. Such countries, rather than the local communities where the energy is actually being generated, also benefit from the manufacturing jobs that go with these industries. It is simply scandalous, which is why I am lobbying the Crown Estate to ensure that when it grants the lease for the Celtic sea, local benefits are maximised and we grasp the opportunity to build a homegrown manufacturing base to underpin these local industries. The manufacturing supply chain must stay in south Wales.
Worryingly, the Crown Estate’s announcement last week on the seabed licences lacked detail on the supply chain and the local content commitment that developers will have to give when bidding for seabed licences for FLOW development in the Celtic sea, and I urge the Minister to raise the issue with the Crown Estate as a matter of urgency. Under the current criteria, there is a real risk that the opportunity will yet again be missed to maximise prospects for local jobs and supply chains. The Crown Estate must therefore provide more detail on the local content commitment that developers will have to give as part of the bidding process.
The future of our country is in our air, sea and skies, and mother nature has truly given us a gift in Wales. We were the cradle of the first industrial revolution, and now Wales can be the cradle of the green industrial revolution, with Port Talbot at the forefront. Investing in Port Talbot as the hub for this game-changing form of renewable energy would turn south Wales into a green power superpower in the generation of renewable energy. I therefore urge the UK Government and all other key stakeholders to come together to ensure we grasp this opportunity with both hands.