Ports industry leader says 10 freeports will not be enough

Addressing members of Mersey Maritime online, British Ports Association CEO, Richard Ballantyne, called for the Government to be more ‘ambitious’ in its freeports plan. Tony McDonough reports

Port of Liverpool
The Government wants to introduce freeports across the UK

 

A ports industry leader is leading the call for the Government to expand its plan to create freeports across the UK.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association (BPA) says the demand for freeports across the UK was such that the initial plan to create 10 will come nowhere near to satisfying that demand.

Addressing members of industry body Mersey Maritime in a virtual seminar, Mr Ballantyne said there were 125 cargo-handling ports across the UK as airports and rail hubs, many of who may be expected to apply for freeport status.

He also said the introduction of freeports presented a huge opportunity for the offshore wind sector as the UK Government looks to significantly increase the volume of energy generated from renewable sources.

Freeports are a designated zone 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.

Businesses operating inside designated areas in and around the freeport can manufacture goods using the imports and add value, before exporting again without ever facing the full tariffs or procedures. If the goods move out of the freeport into another part of the country, however, they have to go through the full import process, including paying any tariffs.

The Port of Liverpool was a freeport until 2012 when the zones were abolished by the then coalition Government. The idea has the support of Liverpool city region’s £4bn maritime sector. Representative body Mersey Maritime is backing the policy as is Port of Liverpool operator Peel Ports.

Richard Ballantyne
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association

 

A report by consultants Mace, estimates a freeport in Liverpool could add £739m to Liverpool’s economy every year – equivalent to £1,500 for every household in the city – as well as creating 12,000 high-value jobs.

The Government has started a consultation process which has now been extended to July due to the coronavirus crisis. Following that, it is expected formal bids will be invited in the autumn. And Mr Ballantyne is calling on the Government to scale up its ambitions.

“We are calling for maximum ambition from the Government in terms of the scope and the scale of freeports… we are asking for the limit of 10 to be raised to take into account the level of interest,” he said. “We are looking for an open and inclusive policy.

“The Government is still committed to freeports so I also think there will be some financial support – some modest sums to make sure the policy is a success.”

And on the opportunity for offshore wind, he added: “The Government has said that 60% of future offshore wind production has to be rooted here in the UK so, together with the freeports policy, it provides an economic stimulus that offshore wind manufacturers can benefit from.”

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