Work has begun on a significant investment programme at Blyth’s historic docks, with the removal of a 70-tonne dry-dock gate, funded by Innovate UK, the symbolic first step of the ambitious project.
The docks site, now occupied by leading offshore renewables technology and innovation centre the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, has a heritage of being a home for pioneers throughout its extensive history; the legendary mariner William Smith called Blyth his home port and the world’s first modern-style aircraft carrier, the HMS Ark Royal, was built there, launching at the start of the First World War in 1914.
Over the past five years, the docks have been the testing ground for some of the very latest next generation technologies being developed for the offshore renewables sector – from innovative cable laying techniques to trenchers and remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs).
This investment, beginning with the refurbishment of the gate, will help maintain the docks’ legacy of ground-breaking innovation, putting the site at the heart of the renewables energy revolution and enabling ORE Catapult to maximise the use of its saltwater testing environment to support businesses and bring new products to market. Future technologies to be tested there will include robotic underwater inspection vehicles and new anti-corrosive materials for wind turbine foundations.
ORE Catapult’s David Hailes is managing the project, which got underway with the removal of a 70-tonne gate between the dry dock and the Blyth Estuary that has been in place since the 1980s.
He said: “The history of the harbour is a source of great pride for everyone working here and it’s a constant source of inspiration to hear some of the stories from its past. This extensive refurbishment will mean we can continue to be at the forefront of innovation for years to come.”
The Port of Blyth dates back to the 1100s, with the first recorded mention of it as a haven for ships being made in 1138. Like much of the north east, coal was a mainstay of its operations from the 14th century, peaking at 5.5million tonnes per annum in the 1930s, making it the largest coal exporter in Europe.
The famed mariner William Smith was born in Blyth and his ship, The Williams was built and launched there in 1811. It was on that vessel in 1819 he discovered Antarctica while trying to take a quick route back home. He named King George Island and the South Shetland Islands.
Removing the dry-dock gate from its home of more than 30 years required a 750-tonne crane, with local consultant Fairhurst working alongside contractors KGAL and AMCO to complete its refurbishment.
David added: “Blyth harbour is at the very heart of this community so from the beginning we’ve determined to use local contractors wherever possible. We want as much of the local area to benefit from this extensive refurbishment as possible.”
The investment programme will also see significant upgrades to the Catapult’s state-of-the-art renewable energy test and demonstration facilities, which includes 50 and 100m blade testing halls, large-scale drive train test facilities, and world-leading materials and electrical laboratories.