Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has confirmed Teesworks will bid for freeport status as the government announced the process for applications was now open, while Teesport owner PD Ports has also welcomed the launch of the bidding process.
Supporters of freeports believe it is an opportunity set to turbo-charge post-Brexit trade, boosting the economy, creating thousands of jobs and transforming the outlook for socio-economically challenged regions.
The government has announced the bidding process has opened to establish up to 10 freeports across the UK, with the first expected to be open by the end of 2021.
Bidders will need to submit bids by February 5 next year, with an assessment panel reviewing the bids in March and decisions made later in spring 2021.
Areas given freeport status will benefit from a wide package of tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures, streamlined planning processes to boost redevelopment and government support to promote regeneration and innovation, helping to create thousands of jobs and boost post-Brexit growth.
Teesworks’ bid for freeport status would make it the largest freeport in the UK. A detailed policy paper submitted to government in 2019, developed by mayor Houchen, found that a freeport on the River Tees could create up to 32,000 jobs and add £2bn to the regional economy.
Mayor Houchen said: “For years I have been pushing a case for a freeport right here in Teesside – it was a policy made on Teesside for Teesside – so it is great we are now at the stage where official bids can be made.
“Teesside isn’t just in a great position to secure freeport status, we can have the first, the biggest and the best freeport in our region.
“It would be revolutionary for our amazing river businesses, our manufacturing and logistics plans for the Teesworks site, and of course all the exciting projects we have in the pipeline for Net Zero Teesside and offshore wind.
“Announcing Teesside as the UK’s first freeport will be crucial in this government’s commitment to levelling up. In the last election, voters in the Tees Valley placed their faith in this government, many for the first time, on the promise that investment would finally be coming their way, and that included a freeport.
“Teesside is the perfect place to take a lead in post-Brexit international trade with the first freeport in the UK. This would be a massive opportunity for our area and would help bring huge investment and jobs for local people in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, putting more money in their pockets for them and their families in the process.
“Announce Teesside as the UK’s first freeport and the government will unleash potential that will be welcomed by local people for generations to come. We are ready to be first out of the blocks and to lead the way for the rest of the UK to follow.”
As statutory harbour authority for the River Tees, PD Ports is committed to delivering a successful freeport bid that maximises new jobs and investment opportunities throughout the Tees Valley.
PD Ports’ COO and vice chairman Jerry Hopkinson said this is a positive step forward and explained why the Tees Valley is a prime location to unlock the full potential of freeport status.
“As longstanding supporters of the freeports initiative, we are delighted that the official bidding process is now underway and we will continue to work together with key partners and stakeholders in business, education, our communities, as well as local and national government to drive this forward and make this a reality for the Tees Valley.
“The River Tees is one of our region’s, and indeed the north of the UK’s, greatest assets, able to handle some of the largest vessels in the world, already offering state-of-the-art port facilities and infrastructure, and having the availability of thousands of acres of strategically located development land.
“As the legal guardians of the river, it is our duty to ensure we manage it safely and effectively whilst enabling it to play its full part in supporting the future growth of our region.
“At PD Ports, we have a proud and proven track record when it comes to delivering private inward investment and creating high quality, sustainable jobs in the Tees Valley. In the last decade, we have attracted over £1billion of private investment, boosted international trade, created 2,600 new jobs and helped secure 22,000 jobs in the wider supply chain.
“The freeport opportunity is a once in a generation prospect. Building a shared vision that reflects the aspirations of our customers and stakeholders is undoubtedly key to a successful bid. That’s why we have invited key partners and stakeholders to help shape the bid for the Tees Valley at our virtual freeport forum on December 2.
“Freeport status for the River Tees lies at the heart of our plans to drive future economic growth and regeneration, and we very much look forward to continuing to work closely with all our partners to deliver the prosperity our region deserves.”
Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer, said: “Our new freeports will create national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, levelling up communities across the UK, creating new jobs, and turbo-charging our economic recovery.
“As we embrace our new opportunities as an independent trading nation, we want to deliver lasting prosperity to the British people and freeports will be key to delivering this.”