The north of England could benefit from decarbonisation – but the government must avoid the mistakes of the past

Wind turbines next to Drax power station in Selby, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The Northern Powerhouse, quite literally, powers the country. Between 2005 and 2014, the region produced an impressive 48 per cent of all renewable electricity in the UK; it’s home to the largest number of coal and gas power stations in England, too.

When it comes to energy policy, however, communities in the North are no strangers to challenge. And the challenge of decarbonisation is one which will need to be dealt with thoughtfully by the national government.

Climate change is the single biggest threat facing our planet. Decarbonisation is therefore a vital and urgent part of the action needed to mitigate the effects of global warming. However, it is clear that steps must be taken to protect the livelihoods of those people who work in carbon-based energy, because decarbonisation stands to have a profound impact on the landscape of the Northern energy sector and the people and communities it supports.

Last week, IPPR published a report which estimates that – as we move to a future in which we see a transition from carbon based to clean energy – 46,000 new green jobs could be created in the north of England by 2030. However, 28,000 carbon-based jobs could also be lost in this time.

It is imperative that the government recognises and prepares for the risk of job losses by ensuring a ‘just transition’ for workers in carbon-based industries. This involves securing the future and livelihoods of people and communities whose jobs are at risk, by supporting workers to access new green, high quality jobs.

Of course, this just transition is particularly important when we consider that the jobs losses in manufacturing and coal in the 1970s and ‘80s devastated whole communities. The impact has been particularly long-lasting because of a lack of policy support. In fact, in 2014, one in seven adults of working age in coalfield regions were out of work, well above the UK average.

As many northern communities continue to the feel the lasting effects of these jobs losses and closures, the transition to a low carbon economy cannot be allowed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

To avoid these mistakes, there are three key policy areas which the government must urgently address. In IPPR’s upcoming energy skills report in March 2019, we will be exploring each of these issues in more detail and provide in-depth policy recommendations for each; but the nature of the challenges must urgently be recognised and discussed here and now.

Firstly, the government’s Clean Growth Strategy and broader Industrial Strategy is not ambitious enough and needs to provide greater long-term certainty to renewable developers. Without this certainty, the opportunities for job creation will not be realised in the first place.

Secondly, the concept of a just transition must be embedded in the heart of decarbonisation policy. While the Scottish government has set up a Just Transition Commission to consider and mitigate the negative impacts of decarbonisation, the UK government does not mention it once in either its Industrial Strategy or Clean Growth Strategy. This must be urgently rectified.

Thirdly, the skills system is currently ill-equipped to provide retraining for workers in carbon-based generation who do not have skills that are readily transferable. In fact, according to IPPR’s Skills 2030 report from 2017, the adult skills budget is set to be cut in half between 2010 and 2020. This trajectory must be reversed and skills training must be better aligned with the demands of local economies.

The inadequate skills system is also problematic in the context of Brexit, where freedom of movement, and hence employment, of EU workers could be restricted. If renewable developers cannot acquire the skills they need in the UK, there is a risk that they will not invest here.

The North has the proud history, the capability, and the potential to continue to power the country far into the future. But this will only happen if the government takes the critical policy action needed to ensure that the transition to a low carbon economy is one which works for the people and communities who, quite literally, power the powerhouse.

Joshua Emden is a research fellow at IPPR. He tweets @joshemden.


Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.

What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.