£1bn Saudi green aviation fuel investment splits opinion on Teesside

The Alfanar Group is the latest Saudi Arabian firm to pump investment into the North East, by pledging £1 billion to operate the Lighthouse Green Fuels Project at Port Clarence, Teesside.

Announced during Boris Johnson's visit to the Kingdom, it comes off the back of the Newcastle multibillion pound takeover by the Saudi Public Investment Fund and the Saudi firm Sabic's announcement last year that it was reopening the Wilton hydrocarbons cracker with an £850m investment.

Noaman Aladhami, from the Alfanar Group, told ITV News Tyne Tees: "There’s several reasons for choosing Teesside. It’s an industrial area and has very well good connections and infrastructure, which serves this type of project in the UK.

"Also it is served by very good facilities like the airport, the port and the storage facilities close by. The availability of man power and skills, which are needed to develop this project."

Welcoming the news, Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen said the investment yet again puts Teesside on the map for green energy production.

He said: "We’re starting to create this cluster. We’ve got this carbon capture facility that’s starting to be built. We’ve got huge amounts of hydrogen being produced in Teesside. We’ve got all sorts of other net zero technologies, but now, what we’ve got is the full set.

"We’ve got sustainable aviation fuel that’s part of that mix, which truly solidifies Teesside, not just as a UK cluster, but a world cluster for net zero technology."

The project will create 700 construction jobs next year, followed by around 240 permanent roles. The workers at the site, where the former Air Products project operated, will produce sustainable aviation fuel, which could help decarbonise the aviation industry by up to 80 per cent.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a tour of the manufacturing facility at SABIC Headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Credit: PA Images

During his visit to Saudi Arabia, the Prime Minister met the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and was quizzed by journalists over whether Britain should be doing business with a state that had just executed 81 people and that has a bad human rights record.

He said: "I’ve raised those issues many, many times when I was Foreign Secretary and beyond and I’ll raise them all again today. I mean you talk about Saudi Arabia, they’re announcing today a £1 billion investment in Teesside in green aviation fuel and that is the kind of thing that we want to encourage. It doesn’t in any way mean that we can’t stick to our principles and raise those issues that we all care about."

For people in Teesside, there was split opinion on whether the investment was appropriate for the area.

One woman said: "I’m pretty sad about the people over there, but that’s brilliant news, do you know what I mean, that’s what I want to hear. If it stops pollution, I don’t mind."

Another woman said: "People say life is cheap, but for those people who’ve lost people they know that it’s not cheap and I think human rights come first."

Sentiments shared by some younger women, who added: "Obviously I know we’ve got jobs here and we haven’t got enough, but human rights over jobs, definitely."

A man said: "We need the investment but it’s the wrong way to go isn’t it? And the way it’s going in Russia, we shouldn’t be getting it off them either should we really? We’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t."