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Marine futures in northern Devon - an exciting new era!

Andy Bell, North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

The new South West Institute of Technology at Petroc hosted the "Northern Devon marine- opportunities ahead" on Thursday 25th November. Organised by Torridge District Council, and falling under the wider "Ocean Futures" banner for the South West, the event brought together true experts from across a range of marine-focused activities- and the Advanced Engineering focus of the host creating the ideal setting. The session provided not only an expert insight into the work that is going on, with a clear Net Zero focus, but also a perspective on how northern Devon businesses could benefit from those "opportunities ahead". Described by Paul Coles, CEO of the South West Business Council as a "Great event, great speakers and hugely timely" this was a great start to what is seen as a series of future events.

The tone was set by the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and their commercial arm, the Biosphere Foundation. Having just received the largest national award for a Net Zero project under the Community Renewal Fund (part of the levelling up agenda), there is exciting work ahead, creating the conditions for growth and both economic and environmental gains for both local communities and businesses. Expert input was provided by Martin Sutcliffe on the aquaculture explosion in Dorset and East Devon- with a focus on innovation creating productivity and opportunity.

At the forefront of that local opportunity is the resurgence of the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Appledore. With high profile new contracts recently having been secured with, the RNLI,  Tom Hart, the General Manager for Appledore shipyard outlined both the history and the exciting, diversified future for the site. The focus has shifted from a pure defence focus into a range of fields, including supporting the rapidly-growing offshore floating wind sector which is developing around the approved test and demonstration zones in the Celtic Sea. The advances on that work, in terms of technology, maximisation of benefits and also the minimisation of any ecological and visual impact were outlined by Neil Farrington, the Strategic Offshore Development Manager of Celtic Sea Power- with supply chain and support routes focusing heavily on the northern Devon and Cornwall regions, ensuring that carbon savings from renewable energy aren't offset by other carbon implications.

The current context and support available to businesses, who were well represented from the northern Devon region with over 60 people attending, were outlined by Maritime UK (SW) and by Ocean Futures. Marine businesses looking to innovate and develop their own products are able to utilise the Plymouth Smart Sound for data-focused product testing, with support also available to access government support, for example through the innovation Catapult network. 

Alongside the core thread of floating wind also came the underpinning theme of future clean mobility, with the SW leading the way in research to move away from traditional diesel fuels. The sense of free support and expert collaboration shone through in the presentation by Professor Chris Smith from the Centre for Future Clean Mobility at the University of Exeter, and also from a number of local businesses who are innovating in the field. Both Professor Smith and presenters from the University of Plymouth emphasised the huge opportunity presented by Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)- in effect, university-employed figures embedded at the heart of your business and wearing your branding, strengthening your links with academia and providing genuine expertise at the heart of your work. To reinforce that message, Mark Tibbert from the Barnstaple Chamber of Commerce emphasised that R&D not only doesn't have to mean breaking completely new ground, but also that it doesn't have to cost as much as can be feared, with tax credits on offer to support.

For more details, including follow-ups and future events please follow Torridge Economic Development on Facebook.

Andy Bell, North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Neil farrington, Celtic Sea Power
Prof Chris Smith, Centre for Future Clean Mobility

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