North East Connected

New report outlines policies needed for freeport success

Port Zones UK – a new coalition of British airport and seaport operators – calls for planning reforms as part of an economic package to stimulate investment.

A new trade campaign coalition has published a report calling on the 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.

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.

The UK Government recently announced it was planning to create up to 10 free ports across the UK after Brexit allowing firms to import goods and then re-export them outside normal tax and customs rules. However, Port Zones UK, which was officially launched today, has published a new report – ‘A Licence to Operate: ‘Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Zones’ – which looks in more detail at the potential policy measures needed to make a success of any contemporary free ports programme.

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 which 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:

Richard Ballantyne, from Port Zones UK, said:As the UK recasts its global economic relationships, trade has never been so important to the fortune of the nation. Business, consumer and investor confidence are – and will be – inextricably linked to the future success of the British economy.

However, to forge new trade agreements and transition existing ties, strong domestic foundations are needed to maximise the value of inbound and outbound business flows through our international gateways.

Our report examines in detail the required changes to planning and the designation of enterprise zones. These need to be considered as part of the Government’s planned free port programme. If done successfully, they can bring critical benefits to the UK.

In a global marketplace where competition for capital, resources and skilled personnel is fierce, it’s crucial that vital transport nexuses – like airports and seaports – are given the necessary business conditions to continue to grow.”

One of the key areas the report looks at is 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, or exist, 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:

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