West Midland manufacturing firms that have diversified to supply wind farms are being denied much-needed growth opportunities because of the “treacle of bureaucracy” surrounding the planning system.
On the day the UK’s only wind turbine factory is due to close with the loss of hundreds of jobs, West Midland companies involved in supplying wind turbine manufacturers have waded into the row over the slow pace of the UK planning system responsible for holding up the construction of many UK wind farms.
The issue has been cited by Vestas, the Danish owners of the Isle of White factory which is being occupied by workers, as a major factor in their decision to close their UK plant.
The West Midlands is home to hundreds of manufacturing firms, many of which evolved within the automotive supply sector, who have been assisted to diversify into supplying wind turbine manufacturers through the Wind Supply project run by the Business Council for Sustainable Development United Kingdom (BCSD-UK).
BCSD-UK chief executive David Middleton said the firms he had helped convert to the sector which seemed so promising three or four years ago were now suffering from “disillusionment”.
“The process is struggling through a treacle of bureaucracy slowing it down so much to discourage the supply side,” he said. “The same applies to offshore as well as onshore – the biggest offshore wind plant in the world – the Thames Array - is bogged down because it can’t get planning permission for the on-land connection system.
“It has started to cause them to become uninterested because the market is driving forward so slowly it doesn’t give them the opportunities they desperately need for survival.
“The Crown Estate have said that the addition of seven offshore sites takes the total UK wind energy industry value up to £80 billion and at the same time the potential supply side continues to be in decline because of lack of business. It’s utterly stupid.”
The Wind Supply project has hundreds of West Midlands firms on its database, for example Rugby-based Converteam which supplies power converters for wind turbines, Wednesbury-based Hydratight which offers bolt tightening and metal pipe connecting products and Alston Power Electronic Systems in Stafford.
Another firm supplying the sector is Birmingham-based manufacturing and electrical engineering firm Transmag Power Transformers.
As well as supplying the rail and glass furnace sector, Transmag Power Transformers, which has a staff of 40 at its base in Kitts Green, makes reactors for Scottish wind farms and transformers for wave energy plants.
Transmag Power Transformers managing director Jeff Hinks said it was frustrating to see so many UK onshore windfarms held up in the planning system.
“We’re unique to a certain degree as there are not too many companies like us about,” he said.
“There’s lots of companies like us that have gone out of business in the UK and in particular in the West Midlands.
“I think we are still trying to play catch up in the UK when it comes to renewable energy. I don’t think it has taken off quite as well as it should have.
“We have got these planning problems and it all seems to grind to a halt – that’s what’s so frustrating.
“We talk to people who have got projects in the pipeline and we are expecting and hoping for business to come from it then we hear it’s slowed down because planning is a problem.
“And the other thing is finance as the banks are not actually supplying the money that they are going to need.”
Transmag Power Transformers, which currently has a turnover of £6 million, would like to increase the share of income provided by the renewables sector from the current 15 per cent.
“We are very diversified but we do see the renewables sector as being a fairly big part of our turnover for the future,” said Mr Hinks.
“I would hope that in two to three years it will be 25 to 30 per cent.”
Mr Middleton said it was frustrating for him to see how the hold-ups in building UK wind farms were affecting local companies.
“The expectation was that it was going to mature quickly and it was going to deliver quickly but it hasn’t – it’s been held up by planning,” he said.
He added that there were other issues: “It’s also the inaccessible funding and complexities with dealing with government departments who no cohesive connection between them.”