08 Jul Cornwall drills to get off the rocks
A poverty-stricken county is reviving itself with geothermal energy and space tech.
The Towanroath engine house in north Cornwall, which appears in the Sunday night TV drama Poldark
As the holiday season in Cornwall hits its peak at the end of August, a fleet of 75 lorries will wind its way along the A30, the main trunk road west to Land’s End.
The juggernauts will carry the components of a huge drilling rig from Finland —part of an ambitious £18m project to bring mining back to Poldark country. Not for tin, however, like the hero of the BBC’s Sunday night drama; this rig will test for geothermal energy at the Porthtowan Fault near Redruth.
“This is about proving that in 10 or 20 years, a large portion of Cornwall’s power can come from the hot rocks under the ground,” said Peter Ledingham, managing director of GeoScience, which is helping to run the project.
It is one of several initiatives intended to help Cornwall tackle a fundamental problem. The county’s tourist-friendly image belies a difficult reality for many of its residents. Cornwall is one of the poorest regions in northern Europe.
The central belt, including former mining towns such as Camborne and Redruth, is about as removed as you could imagine from the west London-on-sea enclaves of north Cornwall.
The average annual wage across the county is less than £19,000. Household incomes are below 75% of the EU average.
Polzeath beach, where David Cameron has been known to sun his “dad bod”, and “posh Rock”, where Prince Harry used to holiday and where the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay bought a house for a reported £4.4m, are not the norm.
Cornwall has claimed more than £1bn in EU aid since 2000, yet voted strongly for Brexit. Only the relatively wealthy areas around Truro backed “remain”.
With EU funds about to dry up, the county council has proposed a radical plan to boost the economy after Brexit. It focuses on areas such as space technology, lithium mining and combating plastic pollution in the sea. Cornwall has also requested devolved powers to make decisions on health and social care.
Entrepreneurs and small businesses are at the heart of the region’s New Frontiers plan, which supporters claim will create 38,000 jobs by 2030.
To come anywhere close to that, Cornwall will need to attract skilled workers from the rest of the country. Kate Kennally, the council’s chief executive, said tech firms were already relocating from London, attracted by the prospect of offering a better lifestyle for their staff.
“We have a fintech sector in Penzance trading on the international money markets,” said Kennally.
“We think Cornwall has a way for people to lead their lives the way they want in the 21st century.
”Perhaps the most startling element of the post-Brexit plan is to make Cornwall the centre of Britain’s space industry. Newquay airport is a frontrunner to be selected this month as one of the sites of the UK’s first commercial spaceport.
The first rocket could be launched as soon as 2021. It is estimated that the project could create about 500 jobs.
Winning the spaceport would build on foundations laid through a £24m investment in Goonhilly Earth Station by the financial services billionaire Peter Hargreaves.
Goonhilly is in partnership with the European Space Agency to become the first private operator in the Deep Space communications network. From a command centre on the southernmost tip of Britain, spacecraft can be tracked on missions to the moon and Mars.
From drilling deep into the earth in search of energy-rich hot rocks to flying thousands of miles above it, Cornwall’s plans to boost its economy are nothing if not ambitious.