Humber aims to be ‘front of queue’ for free port status

The Humber is aiming to be at the forefront of free port creation after the Government revealed it is to create up to 10 locations with the special trade status.

Ministers claim the new “business and enterprise hubs” will create thousands of jobs, with manufacturers attracted due to tax breaks on goods handled before they enter the domestic market – with no additional costs if they are re-exported.

Associated British Ports has described the Humber – the UK’s busiest ports complex – as ideal to develop such port-centric activity, with local politicians and business leaders delighted to have reached this point, having lobbied hard to secure the new status since the EU referendum.

And the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership has also welcomed the announcement, as it gears up to work with organisations across the region to develop a response.

A 10-week consultation has now opened, with the aim to name locations by the end of the year, opening for business in 2021.

Dr Ian Kelly, chief executive of Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, said: “We would like to be at the front of the queue for anything that makes this part of the world more attractive for business and international trade.

Dr Ian Kelly, chief executive of Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce.
Dr Ian Kelly, chief executive of Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce.
(Image: Hull Daily Mail)

“ABP is the key to identifying what works best for this area, and we will support anything that makes this area more competitive.”

He met with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss back in 2018 to discuss the prospect, with South Bank MP Martin Vickers a very early advocate.

His Cleethorpes constituency includes Immingham, the largest port in the UK by tonnage handled, and the jewel in the Humber’s quayside operations.

Mr Vickers, who has worked in Westminster with like-minded colleagues to push his Treasury and BEIS colleagues on the Conservative benches, said: “It is good news. It is a significant step forward and it is one that I and my free port group in parliament have been campaigning for.

“I have much hope that Immingham and the winder Humber ports will be in contention for this. I know Associated British Ports will be working hard to put a good case forward to government.

“It is a real opportunity to attract investment into the area, and I would sincerely hope we are chosen, and I will be doing all I can to lobby for inclusion.”

Work on the detail will begin now, with exactly what the status covers and whether the estuary would accommodate one over-arching site or even two separate locations, to be clarified.

A spokesperson for the LEP said: “The Humber Estuary is home to the UK’s largest ports complex and has the space to support further growth. As such, it is essential the region is considered as part of this proposal.

Port of Immingham and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.
Port of Immingham and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.
(Image: PA / ABP)

“As evidenced by the success of the Humber Enterprise Zone, giving an area special status can attract both investment and jobs and can bolster economic regeneration.”

The Humber Enterprise Zone, which was secured by the Humber LEP, is the largest in the UK and has helped the region to attract new manufacturing activity at locations including Greenport Hull, Marfleet Environmental Technology Park, the Humber Enterprise Park at Brough, Goole 36 and Stallingborough.

ABP is the leading UK ports operator, with the Humber the strongest complex in the group. Julian Walker, chief commercial officer, said: “ABP welcomes the Government’s announcement of a consultation on developing free ports. We believe that free ports have the potential to increase the ability of ports to drive trade and economic growth by boosting the UK’s manufacturing base and exports.

“In particular, our ports on the Humber and in South Wales offer ideal locations for port-centric manufacturing and this policy can help turn this ambition into reality.”

Launching on Monday, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, acknowledging the Humber in the same breath as the Mersey as an “international gateway” has said the proposals would “need to guarantee significant additional growth”, while Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell called it “another ideological move from a far-right government”.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak, was joined by Ms Truss, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom and Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick in championing the opportunity. He said: “Free ports will unleash the potential in our proud historic ports, boosting and regenerating communities across the UK as we level up.

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“They will attract new businesses, spreading jobs, investment and opportunity to towns and cities up and down the country.

“This is all part of our mission as an open, outward-looking country, championing global free trade with vibrant free ports that work for all of the UK.”

Free ports could be located inland as well as adjacent to ports, bringing air and rail-focused facilities into the fold.