Freeport plans could create almost 26,000 jobs and boost East Midlands by £8.4bn

The full scale of plans for a ‘freeport’ in the East Midlands have been revealed for the first time – showing an estimated 25,789 direct jobs and potential boost to the region’s economy of £8.4 billion across 25 years.

Sunday, 12th September 2021, 6:30 am

Another 30,000 indirect jobs are also estimated off the back of the project, helping to improve locally-based supply chains and energise the region’s economy.

The East Midlands Freeport Board has submitted its outline business case to the Government, detailing what two Nottinghamshire MPs described as an ‘extremely ambitious package’.

A ‘freeport’ is a low or zero-tax area, allowing businesses to import and export while avoiding tariffs and reducing red tape.

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East Midlands Airport is earmarked as a freeport hub.

The idea was created by the Government to strengthen regional economies across England.

The East Midlands Freeport Board includes representatives of councils from across the region, plus universities and Local Enterprise Partnerships. The idea has been backed publicly by both Conservative and Labour MPs.

Based across three sites in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, the project is designed to create tens of thousands of jobs in industries like manufacturing, construction, distribution, logistics, transport and clean energy.

The public-private sector partnership will see more than £2 billion invested into the region initially, supporting the development of three anchor sites at Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, East Midlands Airport and near Derbyshire’s Toyota Island.

Coun Ben Bradley, Nottinghamshire County Council leader and Mansfield MP.

The three sites are expected to become operational by March and will provide incentives for businesses in terms of tax levies, lower import and export tariffs and reduced business rates – making the creation of new jobs more affordable.

A skills academy is also planned within the package, focusing on upskilling the East Midlands population in key industries to create high-skilled, well-paid and more productive jobs.

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Jobs boost

Coun Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield, said: “It’s worth saying that there are one million people who live within a half-an-hour drive from those sites, and that’s a lot of people accessing those jobs and support.

“Each site has its own plan for getting people in and out of work, transport wise, and when you start to add in Robin Hood Line improvements, the Toton-Chetwynd link road, suddenly you’re getting people from Mansfield to the freeport sites quite quickly.

“It’s not just the jobs on-site but the wider supply chain, half the jobs will be created not on the sites themselves, but around the rest of the region.”

Mrs Edwards, Rushcliffe’s Conservative MP, says the bid is focused on the region’s ‘industrial strengths’ and will build on existing skills initiatives between universities and the private sector.

She said: “The great thing about the freeport is it plays to our strengths, with sites across Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

“It’s brought together local government across all three counties, the public and private sector, and it’s really important that we do work together to maximise the region’s potential.”

One of the three sites will be based within Mrs Edwards’ constituency, with the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station to become a ‘hub for clean energy’.

Loughborough-based company Intelligent Energy already has plans to develop a renewable energy Hydrogen Gigafactory at the site, leading to the creation of up to 1,000 skilled jobs.

The company has also committed to bringing its supply chain with it, bringing, it says, thousands more jobs and making the region a ‘powerhouse for green manufacturing’.

Latest detailed analysis by the project board indicates 55,220 direct and indirect roles will be created over the 25-year lifetime of the freeport. In that time, the board’s plan estimates the value of the region’s economy will increase by £8.4 billion.

‘Really positive’

All of these would be extra new jobs in the region, rather than existing roles being moved to the sites – and papers suggest the Nottinghamshire site could benefit from the bulk of new jobs.

But while Coun Bradley, Nottinghamshire Council leader, insisted the jobs won’t come “overnight”, he believes the overall package is “really positive”.

The bid forms part of a wider regeneration project planned across the East Midlands, hooked on four major schemes: the freeport, HS2, the East Midlands Development Corporation, and a potential devolution package.

Doubts have recently been cast over the future of HS2’s eastern leg, but Mr Bradley is confident Toton will be included in the upcoming Integrated Rail Plan.

He says the freeport is ‘interrelated, not dependent’ on HS2, with plans to deliver the freeport regardless of the rail project’s outcome.

But he said the infrastructure surrounding HS2 and the freeport, and travel plans associated with the bid, will bring people from all corners of the region closer to accessing the benefits of the projects.

It is hoped the plans will dramatically improve the East Midlands economy – the region currently receives the lowest per-head level of Government investment in the country.

However, concerns have been raised by thinktank UK in a Changing Europe, which fears freeport plans could move jobs rather than create new ones, and may not be a ‘magic bullet’ to fixing local economies.

Following the approval of the outline business case, the full freeport plan is expected to be lodged in November ahead of an estimated Government approval in December or January.

The plan has been welcomed by the East Midlands Chamber.

Scott Knowles, chief executive, said; “We are very excited to see these plans for the freeport, which illustrate the huge benefits it will bring to the East Midlands economy and the confidence it will give to businesses as we return towards normality.

“Our region already has fantastic national and international trading links – something highlighted during the pandemic – and freeport status means we can cement our role at the centre of Britain’s post-Brexit global trading relationship.

“We are in a unique position as the only inland freeport among the 10 designated zones, which is testament to East Midlands Airport’s reputation as the countr’s most important mover of international freight and the catalyst for the explosive growth we’ve witnessed in our region’s logistics sector in recent years.

“This free trade zone, which will have a focus on innovation, low carbon and trade, signals the direction of travel for the East Midlands economy – giving investors something tangible to back in order to deliver the inward investment and jobs that will enable growth.

“For our workforce, it will provide much-needed new opportunities for high-skilled, well-paid and more productive jobs.

“We are particularly enticed by the prospect of a skills academy.”

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