ICONIC INNOVATION HUB COULD HELP HARWICH BECOME BEACON FOR THE FUTURE OF CLEAN ENERGY

An iconic multi-million-pound innovation hub should be established in Harwich to support the town’s progress to becoming a national leader in clean energy – according to a new report by sector expert Opergy Group.
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Commissioned by Tendring District Council using part of its UK Shared Prosperity Fund allocation, the University of Essex and Freeport East, the report identifies Harwich as a prime location for bringing together a cluster of forward-thinking businesses and organisations involved in clean energy to drive forward economic growth in the area.

Harwich is well-established in offshore wind and has related businesses in maritime, logistics, and engineering for clean energy. The plan includes constructing a new dedicated building, estimated at over £10 million. The proposed separate Green Energy Hub at Bathside Bay and the anticipated growth in clean fuels, like green hydrogen for local transportation, create a natural opportunity for the area to benefit from these expanding sectors.

The report sets out a strategic plan to strengthen innovation and R&D activity in the area. It would culminate with development of a new dedicated building with the impact being transformational due to Harwich’s strategic position within Freeport East.

The report said: “The proposed iconic innovation hub, inspired by successful models like OrbisEnergy in Lowestoft, is viewed as pivotal to this vision. Not only would such a facility be a testament to Harwich’s commitment to innovation, but it also holds the potential to boost economic development, innovation, and employment.”

In the short-term it is proposed a “pop-up hub” is established to showcase Harwich’s potential and commitment with a dedicated team to support the development of the innovation cluster.  As well as supporting local businesses it could also attract new companies and specialised workers to base themselves in Harwich’s historic maritime centre.

Councillor Ivan Henderson, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Growth, Regeneration and Tourism at Tendring District Council and Freeport East Board Member, said: “The concept of an Innovation Cluster is a pioneering step for Harwich and the broader region. This cluster aims to create a vibrant ecosystem where industries, startups, researchers, and the local community converge, collaborate, and co-create. It builds on Harwich’s maritime legacy and will show how sustainable innovation can drive economic growth.

“We want local businesses and local people to support the development of these plans, share their ideas and also help us identify opportunities such as skills and workforce development.”

The recommended next steps are to establish an Innovation Taskforce with representatives from key stakeholders to lead the project. This will initially look to drive forward the concept of the pop-up innovation hub, fitting within the wider Freeport East Innovation Cluster which is already under development. As well as supporting development of a new Innovation centre in Stowmarket at the Gateway 14 site, Freeport East has also announced a new Innovation & Skills Fund which could be a first step to providing some of the funds required.

The partners plan to host an event in Harwich in early 2024 to discuss with local businesses and other partners how the plans could be progressed. To register your interest, please email enquiries@freeporteast.co.uk.

The new hub would be a focus for bringing businesses together, develop links with universities and other research bodies, and offer support services and networking opportunities.

The report suggests a series of actions, starting with supporting stronger connections between local businesses, the University, and national innovation agencies. Subsequently, the plan involves securing sustained funding to support the project in the long-term.

Director of Research and Enterprise at the University of Essex, Dr Rob Singh, said: “Together, we embarked on this journey to understand Harwich’s strengths, challenges, and, most importantly, its immense potential. The resulting report is not just a strategic blueprint but a reflection of collective aspiration. It draws from the past, envisions a future anchored in innovation and clean energy, and lays down tangible steps to make that future a reality.

“The report shows the level of ambition we have for Harwich. We think the right approach will deliver sustainability, and prosperity, and make Harwich a global leader in this sector. This is the beginning of an exciting journey to realise Harwich’s renewed destiny.”

Essex County Council has also warmly welcomed the report. Lesley Wagland OBE, Councillor and also Board Member for Freeport East said: “Positioning Harwich to maximise on future growth sectors is crucial for creating jobs and inspiring aspiration for young people in our community. This report serves as a blueprint that key partners can get behind to deliver positive change for Harwich and contribute to the vital sectors of our future economy. Harwich is home to outstanding businesses, and I urge them to endorse these plans, not only for the benefit of our town but also for their own prospects.”

Steve Beel, Chief Executive at Freeport East said: “We welcome the excellent proposals in this report, which align with the broader Freeport East Innovation Cluster and the goals of the Innovation and Skills Fund we have launched. The proposed innovation hub has the potential to be transformative for the area, complementing our efforts in establishing the Green Energy Hub at Bathside Bay.

“Leveraging our ties with government departments and various central innovation agencies, we are ensuring Harwich’s capability to contribute to the UK’s clean energy ambitions is recognised. We are committed to working with our partners to advance these proposals quickly.”

The report says a development manager should be appointed as soon as possible to lead the project and outline the objectives, milestones, and key performance indicators.  They will also lead funding bids, develop the plans for the planned pop-up hub and oversee its launch.

The pop-up hub will support the formal launch of the innovation cluster. This first phase will lead to the scoping and design process for the iconic hub, which is expected to be supported by investors, grants and other sources.

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