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Boost to emerging sector

Monday 7 January 2013 6:00

The North East's burgeoning low carbon vehicle sector is to receive a new multi-million pound boost.

Gateshead College is to create an International Centre for Low Carbon Vehicle Development with the purchase of an existing 2,000sq m facility in Sunderland.

Adjacent to the Nissan Sunderland plant and the new Turbine Business Park, the centre, once developed, will support the future growth of the region’s low carbon vehicle industry.

Gateshead College has purchased the Barmston Court facility – once home to Nissan’s Design Centre – to build on the success of its neighbouring Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation (SASMI), which opened last year.

Richard Thorold, principal and chief executive of Gateshead College, said: “Our investment in this centre marks the next phase in our strategy for low carbon vehicles. Gateshead College has already achieved a global reputation as a leader in training and skills for the sustainable manufacturing sector that is so critical to our region’s future economic growth.

“SASMI has been a huge success and is already operating at full capacity. We believe this new centre will echo that success but in different ways, supporting high level research and development and training in the low carbon vehicle sector in North East England.”

The open access centre will be managed by Zero Carbon Futures, a subsidiary company of Gateshead College that was established last year to oversee the development of the low carbon vehicle sector.

The centre’s remit will include R&D to support the creation of new products and the development of existing vehicles and components.

Key areas of work will include infrastructure development, research into batteries and energy storage including battery second life and the development of home energy management systems (HEMS) linked to the vehicle.

The centre will also be home to pioneering partnership work between Gateshead College, sustainability experts tadea, transport consultancy TRL and low carbon vehicle advocates Zero Carbon Futures and home to their new driver training centre.

Barmston Court lies within the designated A19 Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Enterprise Zone, which the Government recently expanded by a further 40 hectares.

With its proximity to the Turbine Business Park and the UK’s only LCV Performance Track, the centre is ideally placed to form strong links with the automotive industry, with its neighbours including Nissan Manufacturing UK and many Tier 1 automotive suppliers. The site is adjacent to the new £22m Vantec warehouse facility.

Dr Colin Herron, managing director of Zero Carbon Futures, said: “Low Carbon Vehicle development and research is an area of real economic growth for the area. We have a global reputation for low carbon innovation and this centre will bring together the specialist expertise to help us to maintain that position and drive it forward for the benefit of the North East.

"The development of this centre is a cornerstone of our strategy to place us at the centre of worldwide product knowledge, development and research.”

Barmston Court was originally built as the Nissan Design Centre before NMUK relocated this department to Cranfield in 1991.

Most recently it belonged to the Forensic Science Service; some of the laboratories from this period will be re-used as clean rooms for the development of low carbon vehicle technologies, particularly batteries.

Gateshead College purchased the centre and the surrounding 6.4 acres, providing significant scope for future development. Zero Carbon Futures is currently raising funds to refurbish the building and link it to the Performance Track. It is already in talks with several companies interested in relocating to the new centre.