Exclusive: Free Port is ‘ours to lose’ as consultation ramps up

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Teesside is in the best position to be named a designated freeport area and it could be up and running by next year.

Speaking to Tees Business in the latest of our Business Leaders Facebook Live interviews (in association with FW Capital), mayor Ben Houchen said the earliest any government announcement could be made on the subject is likely to be November.

How it will look and where any potential boundary could be drawn are still up for debate. The North East Process Industry Cluster’s Philip Aldridge is drawing up the consultation response on behalf of Teesside’s vast process and chemical industry cluster and firmly believes the Wilton International and North Tees chemical sites should be included.

If Teesside is successful in its bid for the status, which would provide special freedoms to trade within a specific area around the port, creation could be as early as May 2021.

The subject is currently out to a consultation process which ends on July 13.

After that, said Ben, the government will consider all submissions before making any decision on if, when and where in the UK freeport status might be granted.

“I think it is ours to lose. It is absolutely ours to lose,” he said.

“We are in the best position, we have helped design the policy, we have got a chancellor who is extremely keen to see Teesside succeed, we actually helped physically design the policy that’s being discussed in Treasury at the moment.

“We have got the most compelling argument compared to everyone; there are needs in Teesside that are unique in terms of regeneration requirements, job requirements and I think it is ours to lose. If we are not careful, we might end up losing it, but at this moment we are in the driving seat.”

The case for a freeport on the River Tees has already been well documented, with the potential to create thousands of jobs and add billions of much needed pounds to the region’s economy.

Jerry Hopkinson, chief operating officer for PD Ports, thinks the status could be a catalyst for further growth in the Tees Valley.

“There is an imperative now to drive this through if we are going to go down this path of having a freeport in the Tees Valley,” he said.

“Whilst it is not a slam dunk, I can say with confidence that I can’t think of a river, port, region, set of hinter land and socio economic backdrop group of skill sets that present a more profound and demonstrable opportunity to bring this to fruition.”

How it will look and where any potential boundary could be drawn are still up for debate. The North East Process Industry Cluster’s Philip Aldridge is drawing up the consultation response on behalf of Teesside’s vast process and chemical industry cluster and firmly believes the sector should be included.

“We need to preserve and enhance the advantage of being on Teesside,” he said. “We have a large chemical industry, let’s grow it. There are an awful lot of winners in the pot, let’s make sure they win even more.”

He will submit his response to the government consultation by the July deadline.

“We may know results early next year,” he added.

“I’ll be batting for the chemical industry, it is the right thing to be doing, not only for them but for the whole of the North East.”

Click here to see the Tees Business Leaders Online Q&A in full.