BUSINESS chiefs were last night urged to seize the opportunity and not miss out on a £500m energy bonanza from the construction of a giant windfarm off the Suffolk coast.

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Bosses at Vattenfall and ScottishPower Renewables yesterday submitted a planning application for the first phase of their joint East Anglia Offshore Wind (EAOW) project.

The development, known as East Anglia ONE, will require up to 325 wind turbines and cover an area of 300km2 in the North Sea - stretching from Lowestoft to Orford, with electricity likely to come onshore at Bawdsey.

It would generate 1,200MW of electricity - enough to power 770,000 homes.

Bosses claim that over the project’s entire lifespan it could boost the regional economy by £500m and provide nearly 1,800 jobs.

More than 1,600 construction jobs could be supported in the East Anglia region alone, adding more than £100m to the regional economy annually during the building phase, they say. Once completed bosses expect up to 170 engineers and technicians will be required to provide operations and maintenance support.

These jobs will be required for more than 20 years and will add over £10m to the local economy on an annual basis, the companies claim.

Nationally it is thought the development could provide 2,700 jobs across the UK during the construction phase, representing more than £170m for the UK economy for each year of building work.

The news has been welcomed as a vital shot in the arm to the regional economy but business chiefs have been warned that they must not rest on their laurels.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said: “It’s very positive news but we must make sure we seize the chance and ensure our local firms can meet the requirements. They [the business opportunities] won’t just fall into our lap. We will be competing against others from the UK and Europe who are just as capable of winning the contracts.”

Waveney MP Peter Aldous added: “It’s tremendous news but we have to make sure that we are in a position to get the best out of it and people have the skills to take advantage of the jobs that will be available - not just in construction but in the operation and maintenance of the windfarm as well. Places like Lowestoft College and the enterprise zones in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth are already doing a lot of work and we need to ensure that continues.”

He also stressed the importance of the Government’s Energy Bill, which gets its second reading in Parliament tomorrow, to establish a secure framework for investors.

“It will encourage companies to set up here so that we’re not just importing and assembling it - we want the manufacturing process to be based in East Anglia as well,” Mr Aldous said.

If given the go ahead East Anglia ONE could be the first of six potential projects off the East Anglian coast.

John Dugmore, the chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “This investment is a real vote of confidence in Suffolk, its people and its economy.

“Firms large and small in the county are working harder than ever. Not only are the jobs that will be created from this decision very welcome but the knock on effects, such as the supply chain opportunities, will make a real and lasting difference.

“As we head into 2013 the Chamber will continue its work with further education and higher education bodies to ensure the demand for skills are met and that investment such as these are just the first of many.”

His comments were echoed by Judy Terry, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member responsible for economic development, who said they had been working with offshore energy industries to ensure the right skills will be delivered. “We have also developed a supply chain strategy to help businesses understand the opportunities and prepare to capitalise on them,” she added.

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