The envoy for the Thames Estuary has said a bid to develop one of the UK’s new freeports on the river would be “transformative” for the region.
Kate Willard, who is spearheading redevelopment attempts along the Thames, was speaking after Forth Ports and DP World unveiled their plan for a freeport on the estuary at Thurrock.
Encompassing the Port of Tilbury, Thames Gateway, and Ford’s engine plant at Dagenham, the two firms said that the project could create up to 20,000 jobs.
“Our proposal will re-connect Britain’s biggest market with its industrial engine. A Thames Freeport will be a magnet for new investment, jobs, skills development and the adoption of greener technology”, they said in a statement.
Willard told City A.M. that the proposal hit all of the Thames Estuary Growth Board’s criteria for such a project.
“We are pleased to see that, from what we have seen to date, the emerging Freeport submission is hitting all of our priority areas, including how freeport status would boost employment opportunities, trade, and overall prosperity across the Thames Estuary, and how it would support the Growth Board’s ambitions of £115bn additional GVA by 2050”, she said.
Local MP Jackie Doyle-Price said the case for such a project was without doubt.
“The Thames is at the heart of Britain’s history as a Maritime Nation and the case for a Thames Freeport is unarguable. Today the docks have moved East and can play their part in fostering economic growth in the Thames Estuary.
“The Port of London remains the nation’s second largest Port and most of that tonnage is landed in Thurrock’s Ports. I fully support this bid which will underline Thurrock as the ports’ capital of the UK.:
Back in November the Treasury started accepting bids for the first seven of 10 planned new freeports around the UK. The initial ports are due to be established this year.
Willard said that a freeport in the area would help reduce inequality along the estuary, one of the most deprived parts of the country.
According to DP World and Forth Ports, Thurrock is among the country’s top 25 most skills-deprived areas, while Barking and Dagenham is ranked in the top five local authorities for deprivation. The borough’s unemployment rate is 74 per cent higher than the national average.
“In the longer-term, communities can grow around freeports; training and career opportunities appear, supporting the Government’s levelling up agenda and drawing people to the estuary”, Willard said.
“With more immediate jobs and longer-term prospects, there is greater opportunity to attract and retain the hard-working people which our economy and community needs to flourish.”
The consortium says that there are nearly 1,000 acres of land ready for development if the project is given the status, and £400m in port infrastructure spending waiting to happen.
“No other port cluster in the south of England can come close to matching our offer to deliver meaningful economic change and linked community benefits in the lifetime of this Parliament”, the firms said.
If it does get the go-ahead, it would see the Port of Tilbury regain the free port status it lost back in 2002.
What are freeports?
Free ports are specially designated economic zones where normal tax and customs rules do not apply.
All forms of port are included under the status – ferry ports, airports, and rail ports.
In such ports, goods can be imported, manufactured, and exported again without facing standard tariffs or requiring normal customs checks.
Companies which operate within free ports do so with the benefit of paying a lower rate of VAT tax and employment tax, as well as relief when it comes to purchasing land.