June Chair’s blog

June 9, 2022

Last week Vancouver-based Cornish Metals released its quarterly trading update confirming it had raised £40.5m towards reopening South Crofty tin mine and completed more than 10,000 metres of test drilling at United Downs.

A day later Cornish Lithium announced its institutional shareholder TechMet was investing a further £9m (on top of £9m already invested) following the results of a hard rock study at Trelavour near St Dennis.

This showed the brownfield china clay pit’s granite could produce 7,800 tonnes of battery grade lithium hydroxide a year, for the next 20 years.

On Tuesday last week RenewableUK’s latest market intelligence data showed that the UK has the biggest pipeline of floating offshore wind projects in the world, with 32GW. The Celtic Sea, off Cornwall’s coast, is earmarked for 4GW and there are more than 20 wind energy developers interested in its resource.

A week earlier, Celtic Sea Power (CSP) in Hayle launched two five-metre buoys out of Falmouth which are now 60 miles out to sea, beaming laser-measured wind speed data back to shore. CSP is working towards halving the current offshore wind development timeline – an ambition hailed by Energy Minister Greg Hands as just the sort of innovation the industry needs.

And in just a few months, Cornwall will make history with the first ever satellite launch from UK soil when Virgin Orbit flies a Boeing 747 out of Spaceport Cornwall at Newquay to 35,000 feet, and releases a 21-metre rocket for onward travel into space.

On board will be a payload of satellites for five different customers, ranging from the UK and USA governments to Welsh start-up Space Forge, which is testing the feasibility of manufacturing super-strong alloys and semiconductors in the weightlessness and vacuum of space.

My point is that all this is happening now and is real. This isn’t pipedream stuff or ambition, but hard investment that is coming into Cornwall, and the future potential is just huge.

The scoping study for the Trelavour lithium project alone talks of an initial capital expenditure of almost £200m to get to commercial production. Developing 4GW of wind power in the Celtic Sea will see billions invested.

But none of this happens by accident. Bringing these projects to fruition relies on partnership working between the public and private sector. In the case of Spaceport Cornwall, it has taken 10 long years and a lot of hard work by the LEP, Cornwall Council and industry partners to attract the necessary investment, and we’re still only at the beginning of what is possible.

With renewable energy, the LEP has been working with industry, Government and regulators for more than five years to create the regulatory framework to bring floating windfarms to the Celtic Sea. That is becoming a reality but there is still a long way to go. On the Isles of Scilly we’ve invested in the Smart Islands project to model how electric cars can be shared in a community and integrated into a local energy network.

With tech metals, the LEP has part-funded a pilot lithium geothermal extraction plant at United Downs, but more public investment will be required to help these industry pioneers deliver the scale of investment and jobs we know could follow.

Of course right now we are going through difficult times with record inflation, high energy prices and a cost of living crisis that is cutting deeply into our households and communities. Dealing with that must be a priority, but we must also look to the longer term.

That’s why we have been investing in high growth industries of the future, which can generate higher wages and a better standard of living and address some of our economic weaknesses.

But if we are to realise the potential of industries like metal mining, floating offshore wind and space to invest in Cornwall and create jobs, then we should also be using the Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund and Levelling Up Fund to de-risk that investment. We must make it as easy as possible to land these game changing industries.

As Cornwall pursues a County Deal with Government, which is supported by the LEP, we have a golden opportunity to build on the links and partnerships we have forged over the years. We must craft the right interventions with the maximum positive impact for our people and our economy, and not be swayed by expedience or short-termism.

No-one has a monopoly on Cornwall’s future. And it’s not about single points of view. The potential is vast, and together, we can seize it.