Hampshire to get 'freeport' that could create 25,000 jobs

By Darren Slade

Business editor

Hampshire to get 'freeport' that could create 25,000 jobs

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HAMPSHIRE has been given the go-ahead for the “freeport” that its supporters say could generate 25,000 local jobs.

Southampton-born chancellor Rishi Sunak announced at the end of his Budget speech that Solent was one of eight areas to have its freeport bid approved.

Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which submitted the application, has said more than £2billion could be invested in the region under the proposal, which would mean lower taxes and less red tape for businesses in designated areas.

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Freeport sites will see the usual customs rules, planning policies and business taxes lifted, so businesses can import materials and components and then export them without the normal tariffs or regulations

Solent LEP’s proposal would set up a range of low-tax and customs-free sites across the area.

Solent LEP chair Brian Johnson said: “The Solent has a very proud maritime heritage, but we don’t live in the past. Today's announcement represents the start of a new era for the Solent as we begin our work with Government to create jobs, drive innovation and build sustainable, long-term opportunities now and in the future. The wide coalition of public and private partners brought together by the LEP puts us in the strongest possible position to bring this vision for a Solent Freeport to reality.

“As the nation's global gateway, the Solent Freeport will be critical to ensuring that the UK can remain competitive on an international stage in the years ahead and the LEP is committed to ensuring that our local communities - and in particular our young people - can benefit from the opportunities created."

Royston Smith, Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen, said: “The announcement by the Chancellor today is game changing for Southampton.”

“The Solent Freeport will help to drive the economic recovery and growth in the city which I have long been campaigning for. The government promised that it would seek to provide more opportunities for every region of the United Kingdom and today it is delivering on that promise.”

“This scheme creates the opportunity for billions of pounds of investment in Southampton and across the region and promises to create thousands of jobs across the next few years.

“As I have always said, levelling up is about opportunity not geography. The chancellor has listened and he has responded.”

New Forest District Council leader Cllr Barry Rickman, a member of the Solent LEP board, said: “Today's announcement is fantastic news for the Solent area and our economy. As a coastal area, we have communities that have been very badly impacted by the pandemic and today's news represents an opportunity for us to start to recover and create much needed new jobs in those areas. 

“Over the longer-term, we see the Solent Freeport as an investment in all our futures that will enable us to secure investment in new technologies, sectors and environmental innovation. We look forward to working with government over the coming months to further develop the Solent Freeport for the benefit of our local businesses and communities.”

Steve Szalay, operations director at Southampton Airport – which is awaiting a decision on plans to extend its runway – said: “We have been working closely with the Solent LEP on their bid as the airport is a vital component to the freeport. We are optimistic about the pivotal role that we can play in repositioning and rebuilding the region.

"That is why we are calling on our councillors to approve the runway extension to ensure that we are able to continue to connect the central south, nationally and internationally.”

Peter Taylor, chair of Southampton Chamber of Commerce and managing partner at law firm Paris Smith, said: "The announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a new Freeport in the Solent region is a significant endorsement of the strategic role which the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth as well as Southampton airport have for the region and the UK. It will undoubtedly create business opportunities and jobs across the city.

“The freeport status supports the shared ambition across stakeholders and businesses in Southampton to develop a thriving global port destination city, rich in culture, talent and creativity in which residents and those working in the city can have a real sense of pride."

Southampton Test’s Labour MP Alan Whitehead said the news was “potentially good news for Southampton”.

“However, going forward the government must make sure that the freeport actually benefits the people of Southampton and doesn’t just serve big businesses with large tax breaks,” he added.

Robin Shepherd, of the Southampton planning consultancy Barton Willmore, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Solent has been granted freeport status. The Solent region is recognised as an international gateway, not only to the EU but also to the rest of the world, and a significant amount of trade passes through the Solent port as a result.

“So it’s great news for the Solent but it’s also great news for the UK, and we look forward to the investment that follows, to provide yet further improvements to the infrastructure to support the ports and help fuel economic growth in the Solent – from which all benefit.”