Councilors in Nottinghamshire have backed a draft document outlining comprehensive plans to create a ‘free port’ in the East Midlands – potentially bringing tens of thousands of jobs to the area.
Members of Nottinghamshire County Council’s policy committee met on Thursday February 10 to discuss the plan before it is submitted to the government in the coming weeks.
A “freeport” is a low or zero tax zone, allowing businesses to import and export while avoiding customs tariffs and reducing red tape. The idea has been put forward by the government to strengthen regional economies across England.
The East Midlands plans are among several touted for various locations across the country, with the region boasting the only inland site from those bidding on the government.
The full scale of the plans was revealed in September last year when the East Midlands Freeport Board submitted its business case to Whitehall.
The council includes representatives from councils across the region, as well as local universities and business partnerships. The idea was publicly backed by Tory and Labor MPs.
Councilor Ben Bradley (Con), Leader of Council and MP for Mansfield, confirmed on Thursday that the latest estimates suggest 29,000 direct jobs could be created at three Freeport sites.
These anchor sites are Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in Rushcliffe, East Midlands Airport and near Toyota Island in Derbyshire.
According to Cllr Bradley, an additional 32,000 indirect jobs could also be created through the project, which would create around 61,000 new jobs in total in the region.
And it is predicted that around £8.8billion could be added to the value of the East Midlands economy over the next 25 years, half of which directly linked to the three venues.
These projections are higher than the figures put forward by the board of directors when presenting its business case last year.
The jobs would boost industries including manufacturing, construction, distribution, logistics, transportation, clean energy and aviation.
And the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station site is set to become a “clean energy hub” once it is decommissioned in 2024.
Advisors have now approved the final draft of the full business case, which will be submitted to the government for approval in early April.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Bradley said: “The impact of this is quite significant – potentially 61,000 new jobs in the region, including 29,000 directly at Freeport sites.
“These are high-quality jobs in manufacturing, logistics, aviation and energy, which could add an additional £8.8 billion in value to our regional economy.
“It’s hugely impactful, especially in the context of the larger package that we’ve been discussing with decentralization, the integrated rail plan and everything that’s going on in our region.”
The full business case has not been made public due to the sensitive information it contains, the council said.
Documents released by Nottinghamshire County Council ahead of Thursday’s meeting add that some information in the draft plan “would add a limited amount to the public’s understanding” of the matter.
But he says releasing the information “would significantly harm the business position of the council and its partners.”
This raised concern from Councilor Kate Foale, leader of the Labor group, as the group abstained in the vote.
She said: “We support jobs, investment and business growth in Nottinghamshire.
“Our objections relate to what is before us today and what is publicly available.
“The Labor Group expects, given the lack of detail, that more discussion and decision will be needed on the Freeport issue in the future, as significant sections of the proposal remain unresolved.
“On the information currently exempted, I think Nottinghamshire residents should not be encouraged by the assumption that they will not understand this.
“It’s in all of our interests, so we all deserve to know what’s being discussed in greater detail, and I expect that information that can clearly be made public, because it’s in the public interest , be published after this meeting.”
The Independent Alliance has raised concerns about ‘job displacement’, security, tax evasion and the impact on businesses currently operating in the East Midlands economy.
In response, Adrian Smith, the council’s deputy chief executive, said: ‘There is a whole range of prescriptive guidance and regulations [businesses in the freeport] the zones will have to meet.
“In effect, they will be directly accountable to the government and the operators who benefit from the customs incentives have a direct relationship and will be regulated by both HMRC and Border Force.
“From the government’s perspective, this policy is about increasing economic activity, not displacing it and moving it across the country.
“We need to demonstrate to the government that these three sites will drive additional economic activity.”
The region is expected to get its freeport plans approved by the government, with the Leveling Up white paper mentioning the project last week.
The deadline for submitting the full business case has been pushed back from December to April, with the steering committee meeting again at the end of March to discuss the final submission one last time.
Leicestershire County Council is the coordinating authority for the submission, with Nottinghamshire giving its approval and support as a board member.