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A sense of place

Industries can be a focal point in the local community. They tower over the landscape and frame the experiences of those living nearby, sometimes shaping local identities for generations and instilling a sense of pride in the local area. These businesses are often actively engaged in the community, running events, funding local projects, and directly and indirectly supporting livelihoods.

They tend to be drivers of prosperity for the surrounding area as employers. The average wage of steel industry employees is 18% higher than the UK average and 36% higher than the regional average in Wales and Yorkshire & Humberside. The Humber cluster generates approximately £4.8 billion of value to its surrounding area, representing nearly a quarter of the region’s total Gross Value Added (GVA).

However, industrial activities can cause negative impacts on the environment and local communities[1]. Environmental issues to be managed include high water usage, quarrying and acquiring raw materials, releasing emissions into the atmosphere and water ecosystems, and waste generation. Alongside this, noise pollution increases as industries and associated transport grow. Safety considerations include the transport and use of dangerous chemicals, heavy machinery, and energy-intensive processes (using high temperatures, complex activities and producing potentially dangerous side-products). Therefore, businesses need to have strict safety protocols and procedures in place to mitigate risks to their employees, local communities, and the environment.

Change on the horizon

The industrial transition to net zero could mitigate some existing environmental risks and raise some new ones such as arising from the transport of hydrogen or captured CO2. Local communities will want to know more about any changes to processes, be reassured about the people and the environment being protected, and see evidence-based decision making in place.

Decarbonisation will look very different in different parts of a country – from waste handling to decisions about the location of new infrastructure. For example, South Wales is similar to most international clusters around the globe and does not have immediate access to geological storage for carbon dioxide: CO2 will need to be transported to the coast and shipped away from the area. Conversely, the Scottish cluster is central to industrial decarbonisation for the whole of Scotland, with plans to reuse gas pipelines, and use existing offshore oil and gas infrastructure.

If successful, industrial decarbonisation can reshape industries (for example, focussing on recycling scrap steel in the UK) and achieve environmental and economic gains. In doing so, this would ensure industries remain or return to an area, protecting and creating jobs and bringing increased investment.

Involving those who will be affected


Involving local communities


Workers and local communities should be involved in conversations and given practical help if this transition is going to be trusted by local communities. This requires consistent, open, and two-way engagement between businesses and communities over the long term. Local government should take the lead in this engagement as they can develop and manage multiple trusted pathways of communication.

Specifically, in the UK, councils, local authorities, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and mayors are vital to the planning system, convening relevant local stakeholders and offering support and information for local community groups.  Local knowledge should be fed into planning authorities, ensuring they are aware of the context and facilitating engagement with affected individuals, businesses, and institutions.

However, the role of local authorities is limited. Consent for offshore clean energy generation, for example, is typically granted through Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning (NSIP) which can over-rule local interests – this can be damaging to local trust and support.

What to expect

Meet the Jones family – they are from Port Talbot, South Wales. Industry has a significant presence in their community as an employer, funder of community initiatives, as well as an unmistakeable part of the landscape. What changes can they expect in their town as industries come in line with net zero legislation?
  • Could decarbonisation of industries positively impact the local area?

The major opportunities from industrial decarbonisation include economic security, knowledge transfer and environmental improvements. Retrofitting CO2 capture equipment, for example, could enable the continued operation of existing plants, infrastructure, and supply chains, but with significantly reduced emissions. And greater UK competitiveness could lead to increased long-term employment security.

Decarbonisation could also create opportunities to share new skills and ideas. One example is “Glass Futures”, a research technology organisation which is developing a pilot plant for decarbonised glassmaking on the site of a former glass works in St Helens, Merseyside[2]. It will provide a global Centre of Excellence for research into glass decarbonisation, building on the local industrial history to develop skills and existing supply chains.

Alongside this, decarbonisation should also have positive impacts on the local environment. It should lead to better air quality and less polluted water due to the reduction in air, water, and soil contamination with pollutants. This reduction in emissions, particularly air pollution through reduction in NOx, SOX, and CO2, should improve the health of people and nature in the local area.

Whilst these positives impacts are possible, it is important to remain pragmatic. The route to achieving these benefits may be bumpy and not always successful. It will be important to maintain shorter term pragmatism and strategic planning to overcome challenges and difficulties.

  • How could it affect our energy bills?

A key effect could be the lowering of energy bills through improved local area energy planning. Local authorities could work with anchor organisations (e.g., schools, trade unions, businesses, industry) to develop a smart local energy plan for how electricity and heat is produced, stored and distributed locally. Industries would play an important role through shifting the time they produce and consume energy, supporting flexibility and resilience in the system. In the UK, local energy planning (to make it smarter and more flexible) could contribute to savings of up to £10 billion per year by 2050, some of which will be passed onto customers[3].

However, using flexible technologies, integrating infrastructure between industrial sites and local communities would require levels of coordination which do not currently exist. There is a risk of ‘energy islands’ with companies relying on storage and retreating from the grid – potentially leading to higher energy bills.

  • What are the downsides?

There are potential negative impacts from decarbonisation activities, some of which will be a continuation or slight adaptation of existing activities. These could include temporary increases in traffic due to construction, as well as additional infrastructure, such as pipelines, which could go through local areas. There are specific risks related to the safe transport and storage of hydrogen, captured CO2 and chemicals to and from industrial sites[4]. Some sites will also require pipelines - either repurposed pipelines or new - and shipping routes. Populated or protected areas are often along the transport routes, requiring careful management of safety, noise, and environmental impact.

Other sites will need an increased supply of electricity and energy storage facilities, with 27,000TWh of electricity required in 2050 for steel production alone (for a perspective, the total global electricity generation in 2021 was around 27,000TWh)[5]. One of the issues, and potential constraints, will be grid capacity to supply the huge amounts of green electricity required for industrial sites.

Planning and safety will continue to be carefully regulated, with standards and procedures being developed to regulate new technologies proportionately, but without stifling innovation. For example, there are processes in place on existing high-pressure pipelines that allow for continuous monitoring – these will need to be assessed for suitability for hydrogen and CO2 pipelines to assure asset integrity[6]. It will be important that local planning and consultation with those directly affected is undertaken to minimise the impacts on local people. This could lead to the provision of a form of compensation where appropriate, such as in Scotland where the Scottish Government encourages wind farm developers to make an annual payment to local areas impacted by the building of a new project[7].