13 August 2019
Ports and airports across the UK will be invited to bid for Freeport status, with as many as 10 Freeports being created under plans announced by the Government.
It is expected that the first new Freeports will be established once the UK leaves the EU, to — in the words of the Department for International Trade (DIT) — “turbocharge growth and ensure towns and cities across the UK benefit from Brexit trade opportunities”.
Commenting on the announcement, Richard Ballantyne, the Chief Executive of the British Ports Association (BPA) said he was pleased that Ministers recognise the vital economic role that ports play.
A Freeports Advisory Panel has been established, to advise on the creation of the zones, which will, the Government claims, reduce costs and bureaucracy while also encouraging manufacturing businesses to set up or to bring production back to this country.
The most successful Freeports globally, it notes, attract businesses and create jobs for local people through liberalised planning laws. Critics, however, have warned that companies might simply be encouraged to move from existing locations, taking their jobs with them, rather than creating new ones.
The European Commission has also expressed concern, confirming that it sees Freeports as threatening attempts to tackle money laundering.
Although it welcomed the news, the BPA also sounded a note of caution over the impact of Freeports on other locations.
While Freeport status could be transformational for some locations, Mr Ballantyne warned, there will need to be some balance to ensure that ports which do not have such status are not disadvantaged.
That is why, he explained, the BPA is proposing a similar, but wider concept of a Port Zone status, covering all UK ports as a way to encourage the industry to grow cohesively.
Meanwhile, DIT said that more details on how ports and airports across the country will be able to bid for Freeport status will be announced shortly.