Invest North: Freeports – a gateway to prosperity?

Freeports are a key post-Brexit economic policy from the Government to stimulate economic activity through incentives and reliefs.

Supporters see them as opportunities to create successful clusters that can kickstart wider regeneration and investment. So how significant are these opportunities and how can the North make the most of its new freeports?

These questions were tackled by Invest North Conference speakers John Lucy, director of Liverpool Freeport and Dafydd Williams, head of policy, communications and economic development (Humber) at Associated British Ports.

The discussion was chaired by Yorkshire editor, Ben Ormsby.

Williams said the Humber Freeport should gain final Government approval in early April.

He explained the new Freeports coming to the UK could be more accurately characterised as “Maritime Enterprise Zones”, designed to be as attractive as possible to investors.

“We’ve got three tax zones around the Humber, each of which has powers to speed up the planning process, provide National Insurance contribution holidays for employers and the ability to retain money from business rates,” he said.

“It’s about creating a very business friendly place in which to invest.”

Williams noted that even without the Freeport scheme, ports already act as catalysts for economic growth, with the Humber alone having 42,000 jobs associated with it.

He added the Humber Freeport is expected to create about 7,000 more jobs, though stressed this is a conservative estimate.

“The litmus test is not only how many jobs created but the quality of the jobs,” he said. “We’re targeting investment in skilled manufacturing and future-based jobs based around decarbonisation.

“We’ve already secured investors and in 18 months time we’ll see people starting to recruit for jobs.”

Lucy said the final business case for the Liverpool Freeport is being submitted, with Government approval expected in July.

“Freeports are accelerators of development and they will turbocharge investment,” he said, adding that there are currently around 3,500 freeports around the world which have all demonstrated success.

“We’ve got 800 hectares of development land ready now and have some exciting developers and investment lined up,” he said.

“We already have shovels in the ground to create a new motorway junction and within 18 months we will have begun cleaner, greener freight movements using the latest technology for commercial vehicles.”

He said the estimated number of new jobs likely to be created by Liverpool Freeport is 10,000, though like Williams he noted this is a conservative figure, which is based on there being 26 million sq ft of development space.