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Call for major investment in hydrogen hub to help sector thrive in Northern Ireland

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Wrightbus Chief Executive Buta Atwal and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis

Wrightbus Chief Executive Buta Atwal and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis

Wrightbus Chief Executive Buta Atwal and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis

Northern Ireland is ready to become a global leader in a future hydrogen economy but needs investment of at least £15m from government, politicians have said.

A group of 10 MLAs and MPs, from North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley to Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan, have written to Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and Chancellor Rishi Sunak to call for support for the sector here.

Ballymena bus-builder Wrightbus has already developed a hydrogen electric double-decker bus.

But company owner Jo Bamford has said investment from government is required to help development of hydrogen buses.

Now politicians have joined the call for support. The group of eight, which also includes North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir and SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna, have written: "We stand ready to become a global leader in a future hydrogen economy that is set to be worth $2.5trn and create 30 million jobs by 2050. We are home to innovative manufacturers as well as leading academic research and development of hydrogen technology at Queen's University Belfast, Belfast Met and Ulster University.

"We also have the ideal natural resources for the production of hydrogen, wind and water. We are therefore at a critical moment, and if we act quickly, we can secure the creation of thousands of good jobs, unlock hundreds of millions in private investment, support net zero ambitions, strengthen our energy independence and export our products and services across the world."

They are urging Mr Sunak and Mr Lewis to give support by investing £15m in a hydrogen hub which could support hydrogen companies, secure high-skilled manufacturing jobs and support a green recovery.

In February Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a £3bn fund for 4,000 zero emission buses - but now the group has called for that plan to be expedited.

"A quick introduction of zero emission hydrogen buses in this region will stimulate significant levels of private investment in hydrogen production facilities. The two steps in parallel will drive down the cost of hydrogen energy and technology, strengthen our export potential and create more jobs, quicker.

Alliance Party MP Dr Stephen Farry, along with Antrim MLAS Jim Allister, Stewart Dickson, Paul Frew, Mervyn Storey and Robin Swann have also signed the letter.

The politicians called on the Chancellor to hold a meeting with the Business Secretary to discuss how the proposals can be advanced to "start driving green growth and creating new jobs, as soon as possible". Earlier this month, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis visited Ballymena's Wrightbus factory.

The business is now owned by industrialist Mr Bamford, who bought it after it went into administration in August last year. It now employs around 575 people.

Speaking at the time, chief executive Buta Atwal said: "We appreciate the opportunity to share our vision and plans for Wrightbus to support the decarbonisation of public transport across the UK and island of Ireland as we journey towards net zero emissions by 2050.

"Working at scale, Wrightbus has a clear plan in place to reduce the costs of the buses to be comparable to diesel for the total cost of ownership. Wrightbus believes that hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, manufactured in Ballymena, can and should be used and powered across the UK and island of Ireland.

"Not only will it secure and grow jobs at Wrightbus's factory in Ballymena, it will support the many other innovative businesses, supporting the growth of a hydrogen sector that will enable us to become a world leader in this low-carbon technology.

"A great place to start is investment in a hydrogen hub that will be a centre for new and emerging hydrogen businesses to move to Northern Ireland. As an Incubator for hydrogen companies it will ensure that the benefits of growth and investment is spread across different sectors."

Belfast Telegraph