In his Budget speech Chancellor Rishi Sunak named Liverpool city region as one of eight new English Freeports and it could lead to a jobs bonanza for Merseyside. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool city region’s newly announced Freeport status could boost its economy by an estimated £850m and lead to the creation of 14,000 jobs.
In his Budget speech to the House of Commons, Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed eight new freeport regions across the UK – Liverpool city region, Thames, Solent, East Midlands, Freeport East (Felixstowe and Harwich), Plymouth and South Devon, Humber and Teeside.
Freeports are designated zones where normal tax and customs rules do not apply. These can be airports or other hubs as well as maritime ports. At a freeport, imports can enter with simplified customs documentation and without paying tariffs.
In Liverpool city region the Freeport will cover multiple locations and will actually stretch as far as Port Salford at the other end of the Manchester Ship Canal. It takes in the Port of Liverpool, Wirral Waters, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, logistics sites in Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and West Lancs and the Stobart rail freight terminal in Halton.
Last month, business leaders from across the city region, as well as the Liverpool City Region LEP and industry body Mersey Maritime, came together to submit a comprehensive bid for Freeport status to the Government. They estimate a GVA boost of £850m and 14,000 new jobs as well as incentives to hit net zero carbon targets.
Leader in Merseyside’s £4bn powerhouse maritime sector believe the announcement could not have come at a better time for the region. With Brexit done the UK is looking to increase trade with the rest of the world, in particular the US. With Liverpool now the UK’s biggest western-facing port, the opportunities could be significant.
Mersey Maritime chief executive Chris Shirling-Rooke, who represents hundreds of local maritime businesses, said: “Our entire sector is over the moon with the announcement from the chancellor this afternoon, regarding the Liverpool Freeport bid.
“As an industry we understand the incredible opportunity this project will present for our coastal community. Working with other key sectors in the region and our partners at the LEP, we couldn’t have asked for a better example of public private partnership coming together for the good of the region to drive jobs, growth and sustainability.”
“Mersey Maritime has long championed the principle that innovation will be a driving force for regeneration and future prosperity in our region.
“We are particularly delighted that the Freeports announcement today will put the £23m Maritime Knowledge Hub in Wirral Waters at the heart of the opportunity this represents for this area to benefit from the levelling up agenda, so crucial as we emerge from the COVID-19 challenge and the impact that has had on our local economy.”
Peel Ports has invested more than £700m through the creation of the Liverpool2 deep water container terminal and new capacity along the Manchester Ship Canal and through to Port Salford. It is is currently investing an extra £140m at Liverpool2 in new cranes and 150 new jobs.
In the past few months it has secured a number of new freight services from some of the biggest shipping lines in the world. Maersk and MSC have both switched transatlantic container routes from southern English Ports to the Port of Liverpool.
On the Freeport announcement, Peel Ports chief executive Mark Whitworth said: “We are thrilled to hear that the Liverpool city region has been announced as a Freeport., this will offer a much needed boost to the region, creating investment, regeneration and redevelopment opportunities, all of which, will have a positive impact on local economic growth.
“Peel Ports is delighted to be part of the bid team. Our recent infrastructure investments provide a modern gateway for businesses in Northern England to trade globally more efficiently and the tariff and tax benefits offered by Freeports make the port and city region a perfect choice through which to invest in and trade internationally.
“In turn, Freeport status will also bring new opportunities for local businesses, employment, apprenticeships and training to the region and we’re looking forward to further driving long term, sustainable growth for many generations to come.”
The core opportunities of a Freeport Zone are:
- Increase trade through the Port of Liverpool and other city region gateways, improving efficiency of flows and driving employment growth.
- Develop a globally significant cluster of port, manufacturing, logistics and innovation activity.
- Be a central tool in attracting inward investment.
- Regenerate areas of deprivation and create sustainable job creation.
- Make a significant contribution in rebalancing UK freight and logistics.
- Improve links to national, regional and City Regional infrastructure assets.
- Support the enablement of national and local ambitions for net zero.
The Freeport will be shaped to support the delivery of the city region’s vision outlined in the Local Industrial Strategy and Economic Recovery Plan. Asif Hamid chair of the Liverpool City Region LEP, added: “This is a groundbreaking announcement for the city region.
“The multi-gateway, multi-modal Freeport will enable key sites across the Liverpool city region to attract new investment, create jobs, support the wider economy and increase levels of innovation.
“It also has the potential for future opportunities in hydrogen, offshore wind and tidal power, ensuring our City Region becomes a focal point of the Government’s Net Zero ambitions and a global beacon for investment in renewable technologies.”
Wirral Waters will be part of the Freeport zone and Anthony Hatton, director of strategic projects for owner Peel L&P, also said: “We’re proud that our Wirral Waters and Port Salford developments have helped to the strengthen the case. As a hub for global trade and investment, the Freeport will promote levelling up through regeneration, attracting foreign investment, creating new jobs and facilitating innovation, particularly in low carbon technology.
“Wirral Waters is a nationally significant regeneration site that will support manufacturing and, through the creation of a £23m Maritime Knowledge Hub, will be a focus for dedicated maritime and decarbonisation innovation. The inclusion of our Port Salford tri-modal freight facility and distribution park will provide an inland customs site with rail access to the Port of Liverpool and the West Coast Mainline.”
One of the other city region locations included is the logistics hub planned for the former Parkside Colliery close to Newton-le-Willows. Parkside Regeneration chairman John Downes, said: “This will deliver a step-change in the region’s economic output and strengthen its position as a global logistics hub.
“The port of Liverpool serves a huge hinterland stretching from the midlands to the Scottish border and provides shipping routes worldwide. Parkside has the potential to deliver a major boost to the port’s capacity, creating thousands of valuable jobs for St Helens whilst regenerating a blighted former colliery.”