North of England could be biggest winner from green economy

Areas blighted by deindustrialisation to benefit from renewable energy and net-zero emissions initiatives

The port city of Hull in Humberside, north-east England, could benefit from the government's net-zero initiatives. Alamy
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The north of England, which suffered from decades of economic hardship, is expected to benefit the most from the UK's effort to develop a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy.

In a report, think tank the Social Market Foundation (SMF) analysed every area of the UK to establish their chances of benefiting from the creation of green jobs and industries.

The northern areas of England accounted for half of the top 20 places with the greatest opportunity to gain from the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Places such as Merseyside, Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear are among those with the greatest potential for gains from decarbonisation, the SMF found.

Scott Corfe, research director at the think tank, said northern areas could be presented with "golden opportunities" by the renewables sector.

“The next three decades will transform local areas throughout the UK, as governments, businesses and wider society come together to fulfil the country’s net-zero ambitions," he said.

“Many parts of Britain face a golden opportunity to reap the benefits of decarbonisation, including green jobs and cleaner modes of travel. And it is vital that we seize these opportunities, as the transition will also bring risk and disruption for some areas."

The calculations follow repeated poll findings showing that voters in those regions are positive about the benefits of moving to a low-carbon economy.

The SMF said its report underlines the potential for net-zero to contribute to “levelling up” the UK economy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to “level up” the economy by improving living standards across the UK and to boost the "forgotten" parts of Britain.

The North West dominates the SMF’s Green Opportunity Index rankings, with seven areas in the top 20. The North East has two, and Yorkshire and the Humber one.

Many of the areas were hard hit by unemployment and poverty after industries such as coal mining and steel working were run down in the 1980s and 1990s. The report said there was “a pattern of opportunity across the north of England, which experienced greater economic scarring from deindustrialisation”.

The Opportunity Index takes into account the spread of decarbonisation creating green jobs and the proximity of renewable energy sites and industrial clusters to communities in need of jobs.

Only two local areas in the South East, South West and London feature in the top 50 opportunity areas, with the capital the least likely to experience the benefits of net-zero, SMF said.

The report, Zeroing In, sponsored by Amazon, recommends that central government should give local authorities more revenue-raising powers as UK pursues its Net Zero 2050 target.

Parts of the North of England and the Midlands with devolved powers and mayors, such as West Yorkshire and Manchester, are well-placed to take advantage of the benefits of decarbonisation, the research found.

The report said that although two-thirds (66 per cent) of local authorities in Britain face relatively high levels of disruption from the transition to net-zero, it also found that they face similar levels of opportunity through the creation of businesses and green jobs.

It said that London is both the least likely to have opportunities from net-zero and face the least disruption because of its well-developed public transport and low reliance on employment in high-emission industries.

More than two fifths (42 per cent) of the areas in the North East were categorised as "high opportunity, low disruption" by the SMF research.

Updated: September 14, 2021, 4:34 PM