Mayor urges business to have their say on freeport bid

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Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen is urging local businesses and industry, whether or not they depend on the River Tees, to have their say on the freeport bid being developed for the region.

The move comes following the announcement earlier this week that the mayor is spearheading a comprehensive bid for a Freeport in the Tees Valley and will be submitting the bid to government on behalf of the region to become home of the country’s first and largest freeport.

Mayor plans to consult with industrial and other businesses over the coming weeks as part of the process.

Over the last three years mayor Houchen has worked to deliver a freeport in the Tees Valley, first calling on the government, then led by Prime Minister Theresa May, to look at how freeports could be created in the UK, shortly after being elected Mayor in 2017.

Following the vote to leave the European Union Mayor Houchen continued to lobby Whitehall, inviting ministers to the area and publishing a 100-page White Paper setting out how these new low-tax zones would work in the UK.

The mayor’s White Paper found that a freeport in the Tees Valley could provide a net boost of £2billion to the UK economy and up to 32,000 new jobs for local workers over 25 years.

On a visit to the region last year International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the region was “ahead of the game” to become one of the accepted bids for a freeport and there was a “huge appetite” for the concept on Teesside.

Mayor Houchen has continued lobby the government to ensure the Tees Valley is announced as the UKs first Freeport when the first of the free trade zones are announced early next year.

“Over the past three years I have done all I can to bring real freeport’s to the Tees Valley because I know how truly transformational they could be for our region,” said the mayor.

“A freeport here will bring investment, the reshoring of manufacturing and thousands of good-quality well paid jobs for local people, meaning more money in their pockets for them and their families.

“When I started out on this journey to bring freeports to the UK, many thought it couldn’t be done, that the government of the time was against the idea and that no government would make such a seismic change in customs and trade policy.

“Then we voted to leave the EU and had a Prime Minister who was a full-throated supporter of free trade and freeports, who recognised the advantages such free trade zones could bring to areas such as Teesside.

“Getting this far has not always been an easy journey, there’s been twists and turns and a setback or two, but we’re nearly there, the bidding process is now open, and we have a clear path to the finish line.

“I would urge all our amazing businesses, whether they rely on the river or not to have their say on our bid.”

Mary Lanigan, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, who must approve the bid before it is submitted to government, stressed it was crucial that all parties work together to make it as strong as possible.

She said: “Freeport status would be hugely significant – it really could have a positive impact on our economy for generations.

“That’s why it is crucial our wonderful businesses get engaged and get involved as soon as possible as they so often have done before.

“We at the council are working very closely with the Mayor and we are also urging all our businesses and all our partners to continue work together once again.

“We must all do our bit to grab this opportunity and give our Freeport bid the best possible chance as we work to fulfil the huge potential of our borough and the Tees Valley.”

Local people and businesses have until December 18 to send their submissions and feedback on the mayor’s plans for a Tees Valley freeport and can do so by emailing freeport@teesvalley-ca.gov.uk.

Areas given freeport status within the Tees Valley would 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.

Freeports provide special freedoms to trade, within a specific area around a major port. Freeport status supports the expansion of international trade by offering exemptions from certain operational, regulatory and customs requirements.