Eight English sites have had their bids for freeport status approved by the British government, which sees them as a key part of its post-Brexit economic model.
The new freeports will be based in East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool city region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside.
The locations will be special economic zones, benefiting from tax relief, simplified customs procedures and wider government support, in an effort to make doing business easier and cheaper.
Delivering his Budget speech, British Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated: “Our freeports will have simpler planning to allow businesses to build; infrastructure funding to improve transport links; cheaper customs with favourable tariffs, VAT or duties; and lower taxes – with tax breaks to encourage construction, private investment and job creation.
“Freeports will be a truly UK-wide policy – and we’ll work constructively with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations.”
The freeports would help to unlock billions of pounds of private sector investment, generating trade and jobs up and down the country, he added.
The UK Major Ports Group will be establishing a Freeports Industry Users Group to take forward key aspects of implementation.
Tim Morris, chief executive of the UKMPG, said: “We very much welcome today’s announcement by the Chancellor of eight locations for next generation freeports in England. It’s good to see ambitious and exciting bids all around the coast of the UK recognized.
“However, freeports alone are not a silver bullet for addressing deprivation in coastal communities. The government should look at extending some of the low cost, pro-investment measures in the freeports ‘tool box’ to port areas more widely.”
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, called for the government to reconsider unsuccessful bids and consider how benefits could be extended further.
He stated: “Some elements of the freeports programme could easily be spread much further, helping to create more productive and high quality jobs without incurring significant costs to the exchequer or requiring complex oversight or administration.
“This would also help ease fears from sections of the industry about the government’s intervention and perception of ‘picking winners’.”
Among the successful bidders is Freeport East, which is centred upon the Port of Felixstowe and Harwich International Port, both owned by Hutchison Ports.
It features a partnership with Ryse-Hydrogen and EDF, operators and developers of the nearby Sizewell nuclear power station, to develop a hydrogen hub.
Clemence Cheng, executive director of Hutchison Ports, said: “Freeport East is the perfect location to develop a new Freeport. Its position on the main global shipping routes, and with frequent services over to Europe, makes it the ideal place to attract inward investment.
“It has 50% of the UK’s offshore wind capacity on its doorstep and, working with our partners we will help drive developments in green energy for use in the transport sector as well as across the wider economy.”
Meanwhile, Thames Freeport is a digitally linked economic zone connecting Ford’s Dagenham engine plant and the global ports at London Gateway and Tilbury.
Alan Shaoul, chief financial officer at DP World in the UK, which owns London Gateway, commented: “Our London Gateway site alone has almost 10m sq ft of land that has planning consent, and the capacity to expand materially its operational area and therefore attract new foreign direct investment within the lifetime of this parliament.”