Report outlines policies needed to deliver UK freeports

Trade campaign Port Zones UK has published its founding report during London International Shipping Week, calling on the UK government to grant special economic status to airports and seaports in order to stimulate international investment, reshore manufacturing and ultimately lower prices for consumers in a post-Brexit Britain.

In its report, Port Zones UK states that the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union (EU) has created a fresh impetus for a new and innovative growth-generating policy in regional and coastal communities. However, business conditions need to be created that increase the flow of foreign direct investment, which is central to the future of Great Britain.

Specifically, the report states that zonal enhancements to the terrestrial and marine planning systems, as well as modifications to business focused policies of enterprise zones, need to be overlaid with any free port designation.

The report reveals three key areas of detailed policy which the government needs to focus on. These include:
• Speeding up the process and granting of planning permissions for development.
• Ensuring that the marine and terrestrial planning systems relating to ports are closely co-ordinated to expedite marine licences.
• Reducing delays arising from environmental legislation such as the Habitats Directive and environmental impact assessments.

One of the key areas the report looks at is the planning reform and the need to speed up the process for land-side development. For airports and seaports, the power to grant planning permission normally resides with a local planning authority. However, a number of special provisions have been introduced into the planning legislation to reduce delays. Port Zones UK says the UK government and devolved administrations should encourage greater use of these mechanisms, such as local development orders, by introducing a statutory obligation or robust guidance in future frameworks to encourage greater use.

The report also examines the different forms that the Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Areas could take as demonstrated by members of the new association.

These include the following case studies:
• The Port of Tyne proposes a virtual free zone to bolster UK advanced manufacturing. This multiple site designation would utilise supply chain technology to create a unified customs area across the North East region’s deep-sea port and the advanced manufacturing cluster including the Nissan car plant at Washington, the R&D development areas at neighbouring enterprise zones, the International Advanced Manufacturing Park and, possibly, other seaports / airports such as Newcastle Airport
• Regional and City Airports is promoting airport-based free trade development across their UK operations which includes Bournemouth Airport. The airport could offer free port development opportunities to boost regional connectivity and economic development. With significant international flows, and a runway capable of taking the largest aircraft, Bournemouth Airport, and the adjacent 200-acre Airport Business Park, offer a prime location for a free trade area
• The Port of Milford Haven is seeking to create an energy and fishing focused free trade zone. The Haven Waterway is home to an array of oil and gas terminals, electricity transmission, fuel pipelines to key UK locations, exceptional deep water and strong tidal ranges. Making it the home of a fledgling marine renewable energy cluster and Wales’ main fishing port. A free trade area designation, aligned with the Haven Waterway Enterprise Zone, would seek to support UK oil and gas refining and processing capacity as it competes for global FDI, reshore fish processing capability and support tidal and wave energy development.

Port Zones UK is a new coalition of British airport and seaport operators, whose aim is to promote regional growth centred on key UK transport hubs, through the designation of enhanced ‘Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Zones’.  Founding members of the new organisation include the British Ports Association (BPA), Regional and City Airports (RCA), the Port of Milford Haven, the Port of Tyne and the Institute for Exports.

Click here to read the report.