The go-ahead for the East Midlands freeport that will create 60,000 jobs and export opportunities will be a "game changer" for the region, business leaders and MPs said.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced eight freeports would be set up across the country during Wednesday's (March 3) Budget speech, including the East Midlands Freeport. He also announced the Humber Freeport, which contains Immingham Port in Lincolnshire.
The East Midlands Freeport is the only inland port to be created.
It will centre on three main sites:
- The East Midlands Airport Gateway and Industrial Cluster (EMAGIC), located around the UK’s largest freight airport at East Midlands Airport.
- Uniper’s site at Ratcliffe on Soar, where the existing coal-fired power station will be decommissioned and replaced with a zero-carbon technology and energy hub.
- The East Midlands Intermodal Park (EMIP), just off Toyota island on the A50/A38 junction, which will become a next-generation, rail-connected business park with links to the rest of the country and beyond. It will have a new strategic Rail Freight Interchange incorporating approximately 5.2 million sq ft of manufacturing and distribution space.
An East Midlands bid for freeport status had been submitted to the Government by a consortium led by the two Local Enterprise Partnerships that represent Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Leicester, and Leicestershire.
The bid, which said it could create up to 60,000 jobs, included private sector businesses and local authorities, with support from universities, business groups, local MPs and the proposed Midlands Engine Development Corporation.
East Midlands Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles said: "This provides a much-needed boost to confidence for businesses in our region as planning continues for the post-pandemic full reopening of the economy.
“This is something we have been campaigning for since 2018, when we published our Delivering a Great Future manifesto at Westminster and presented what we called The Big Opportunity for the region, featuring a free trade zone linked to East Midlands Airport. It was great to see a fantastic collaborative effort from our region during the bid process – including 15 of our MPs coming together to offer their support. We are in a unique position as the only inland freeport among the eight designated zones, which is testament to East Midlands Airport's reputation as the country's most important mover of international freight and the catalyst for the explosive growth in logistics in the region in recent years."
Mr Knowles added:
"This free trade zone, which will have a focus on innovation, low carbon and trade, signals the direction of travel for the East Midlands economy – giving investors something tangible to back in order to deliver the inward investment and jobs that will enable growth."
The three sites are designed to provide a range of employment and skills opportunities across the East Midlands and grow industrial strengths in advanced manufacturing, automotive and logistics.
At its heart is the opportunity to accelerate the region's commitment to decarbonisation and boost the area's status as a leading innovation hub for green energy supporting small to medium businesses and large regional employers including Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Bombardier.
Clare James, East Midlands Airport’s Managing Director, said: “I’m delighted that the Government has recognised enormous potential in the East Midlands and how it will be enhanced by a freeport in the region.
"This will shine a spotlight on a part of the country which has so much to offer investors, existing businesses that wish to grow, and the supply chains that are linked to them. The global connectivity that East Midlands Airport brings to the bid is more important than ever as the UK looks to strike trade deals around the world."
And Sir John Peace, chairman of the Midlands Engine, added:
“Taken together, both the East Midlands and Humber freeports within the Midlands Engine will be transformational catalysts for widespread changes and a key component of levelling up the Midlands. They will play a crucial role in driving up economic potential, rapidly accelerating existing initiatives, tackling skills and productivity gaps, increasing investment and delivering long term growth in our region. Most significantly, the two freeports will further enhance the central role of the Midlands Engine as a global gateway for the UK – building on our position as a proven powerhouse of international trade."
Transport links are a key component of ensuring the freeport is effective.
An East Midlands freeport will enjoy the unique intersection of air, rail and road connectivity, with links to major deep-sea ports elsewhere in the country.
Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, which is the transport partner of the Midlands Engine, said:
"It's fantastic news. We will now work in earnest with local authorities to make sure these site are well-connected, and that businesses have the road and rail infrastructure needed to trade with local, national and international partners."
What is a freeport?
At a freeport normal tax and customs rules do not apply. These can be airports as well as maritime ports. Imports can enter with simplified customs documentation and without paying tariffs.
Businesses operating inside designated areas in and around the port can manufacture goods using the imports and add value, before exporting again without ever facing the full tariffs or procedures.
These taxes are only paid if the goods leave the freeport and are moved elsewhere in the UK. Otherwise, they are sent overseas without the charges being paid.
Companies inside the sites will also be offered temporary tax breaks, mostly lasting five years.
These include reductions to the tax companies pay on their existing property, and when they buy new buildings. Employers will also pay reduced national insurance for new staff.
Previously, Britain had several free ports operating up from the 1980s to 2012 when their licences were no longer renewed.
Cross-party MPs who came together to back the proposal also included: Sarah Dines, Derbyshire Dales; , Heather Wheeler, South Derbyshire; Darren Henry, Broxtowe; Brendan Clarke-Smith, Bassetlaw; Lee Anderson, Ashfield; Lilian Greenwood, Nottingham South; Ben Bradley, Mansfield; Tom Randall, Gedling; Ruth Edwards, Rushcliffe; Mark Fletcher, Bolsover; Lee Rowley, North East Derbyshire; Luke Evans, Bosworth; Andrew Bridgen, North West Leicestershire; and Jane Hunt, Loughborough.
Bolsover MP Mark Fletcher said:
"This is an absolute game changer for our region’s economy. The freeport will deliver thousands of jobs directly, but will also have huge benefits for residents and businesses across the region. This is an absolute triumph for so many people who have fought to deliver this project. D2N2, Derbyshire County Council, other local councils, and the MPs who have worked tirelessly for a year to make this project a reality. This has been a real team effort. After such a difficult year, it is great to have a roadmap out of lockdown and a freeport to deliver new jobs and investment.”
Councillor Kay Cutts, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, said that the combination of the East Midlands and Humber freeports would be helpful to the area.
"Alongside the seaport at Immingham, which would help Lincolnshire and the wider Yorkshire and Humber region, this new freeport will create jobs, skills and business across the East Midlands and attract investors from all over the world. Having this freeport here in the heart of Britain will boost productivity and growth, and ultimately improve lives in the years ahead."
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