Payback for investor

Payback for investor

One of the North East’s most celebrated industrialists is preparing for a year that will bring significant growth and could create more than 4,000 jobs. Peter Stephenson outlines Able UK’s plans to Andrew Mernin

For over 10 years Teesside entrepreneur Peter Stephenson has been investing heavily in land acquisitions at the North’s once-ailing ports anticipating a long-term reversal in fortunes.

In that time he spent over £100m amassing and developing key assets and now with the offshore wind, power generation, oil and gas and decommission industries all on an upward trajectory he is reaping the benefit.

On Teesside and Humberside Stephenson’s investment is fuelling key strategic, regional and national developments and the good news keeps on coming for Able UK.

Late last year its flagship development on Humberside – the Able Marine Energy Park – received a major boost when the Secretary of State at the Department for Transport authorised the granting of the Development Consent Order – the planning permission.

The Able Marine Energy Park (AMEP), covering 906 acres, is on the banks of the Humber estuary and is earmarked as the UK’s leading location for the offshore wind sector.

Once fully operational, the marine park will provide 1,300 metres of deep-water quayside, creating a potential 4,100 jobs in the renewable and related energy sectors.

In recent weeks the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership has successfully tapped into the Enterprise Zone Capital Grant Fund, with up to £14.94m being made available to assist in the delivery of vital infrastructure for the AMEP.

The grant will help to bring forward a first phase programme of general infrastructure works, set to be completed by March 2015, creating around 350 construction jobs.
It includes the development of 240,000 sq m of commercial floorspace, including 3.7km
of internal access roads, 1,355m of multi-rail sidings, as well as high-voltage electricity supply, together with mains water, gas and sewage services.

Stephenson, Able UK’s founder and executive chairman, said: “We are waiting for the formalisation of the Development Consent Order authorised by the Secretary of State for Transport in December. Like any large-scale application it is subject to legal challenge but, once that is out of the way, we will be on-site and that should be later this year.

“The grant offer is another very clear indication of the high level of Government support for the AMEP project and underlines the critical role that the development will play for the UK’s renewable energy sector.

“Furthermore it reflects the very significant economic impacts that AMEP will have locally, regionally and indeed nationally.

“This announcement is further good news and reflects the extensive investment plans of Able  both on the Tees and on the Humber. Plans which could lead to a total investment of more than £500m over the next five years or so.

“Over that time we are confident of creating at least a couple of hundred new jobs at Able Seaton Port (ASP) and, in time, AMEP could attract companies with the potential to create over 4,000 jobs.”

Closer to Able’s Billingham headquarters Stephenson anticipates significant growth in the energy-related industries with over £100bn of investment expected in the sector in the UK in the next 10 years.

Able’s Seaton Port hosts the world’s largest dry dock facilities and is supporting its renewed focus on the oil and gas sector.

Able sees increasing potential in securing contracts for the upgrade and maintenance of oil and gas drilling rigs and floating production facilities and decommissioning.

Stephenson said: “This has been a very welcome addition to activities at Able Seaton Port and has grown significantly since the first oil rig came in for maintenance in June 2009.

“Since that time we have received 20 rigs which have provided new, and much needed, opportunities for the wider Teesside supply chain.

“We anticipate that 2014 will see at least another eight rigs requiring maintenance and upgrading works and we are now accommodating both jack-up and semi-submersible rigs for an increasingly diverse ownership, in fact 2014 will see three new clients coming here for the first time.

“One of our key strategies has always been to stay ahead of the market and to anticipate future needs. Over the coming months we will be looking at further investment in new capital equipment – including the procurement of new cranes and associated equipment.

“In addition, we will also invest in new infrastructure and specifically in new quays.  One new quay will enable the receipt of single piece load-ins of redundant topsides and jackets for decommissioning and others to increase capacity for the handling of specialist cargoes including oil rigs and the deployment of offshore wind components.

“I am confident that we will secure new work in the field of oil rig decommissioning and contracts that will extend over a number of years.

“We should also be able to announce our first contracts linked to offshore wind. Equally the investments should further increase capacity for rig upgrades. Since its acquisition in 1996 Able Seaton Port has seen investment of around £50m and that is set to increase by a further £30m this year.”

While Able’s main offshore wind facility is located south of its Teesside base, Stephenson views the Humber, Teesside and the rest of the region as more of a ‘Greater North East’.
He said: “We believe, and others confirm this fact, that AMEP will be a significant national resource and that the benefits will extend beyond the Humber.

“We are set to be establishing a significant new business cluster – based very much on the fact that scale drives down costs – and to that end it is better for companies to participate directly and to join the party.

“The South Yorkshire region is one that works very hard to promote AMEP as they see that it will provide large demanding customers on their doorstep. The message is really the same for North East companies.”

Able has demonstrated its long-term commitment to Humberside through its involvement in the development of the Humber University Technical College in Scunthorpe along with major players such as Tata Steel, Centrica Storage, North Lincolnshire Council, and the University of Hull.

Stephenson along with the college’s fellow supporters believes it will help overcome the looming skills gap facing the energy and engineering sectors.

He said: “The labour market is pretty tight and recruitment is not always straightforward.  In fact, that is one of the reasons that on the Humber we have played a lead role in the successful bid to establish the Humber University Technical College – this is aimed specifically in getting our young people engaged and enthused in engineering and to provide a skilled workforce for the future.

“At the end of the day we are only as good as our people – they are our main asset.”  Stephenson is hopeful that the skills of his loyal workforce will help it win the prestigious dismantling contract for the tragic Costa Concordia.

Able has submitted a bid to dismantle and recycle the stricken vessel at its Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling facility at Able Seaton Port.

He said: “We will not know whether or not this contract has been secured until the summer. What I can say, with confidence, is that we will be offering the very best solution in terms of environmental performance and safety controls – the Best Practicable Environmental Option – but that we will certainly not be the cheapest. If secured, the contract would likely see over 100 new jobs for a period of around 12 months.”

Stephenson is proud of Able’s achievements and believes the ethos he has encouraged in his business helps it stand out from the crowd.

“There are a couple of areas that I’m sure set us apart from a number of other operators.  
“Firstly, we are privately owned and very much in control of our own destiny – we are not operating at the behest of city analysts with a clamour to maximize dividends and short-term returns.

“Instead we have been able to take a longer-term view – across a number of areas – to define a strategy and to stick to it. Secondly, we do the hard work in perpetually reviewing opportunities, identifying and addressing risks, getting deep into the needs of the market and, ultimately, putting our money where our mouth is.”