How a Humber freeport can transform the North – Simon Bird

WE have reached a hugely exciting moment for the Humber and indeed the rest of the North of England and into the Midlands too.

A consortium involving major businesses, two local enterprise partnerships and four local authorities have just submitted to the Government the most compelling bid for freeport status they will receive.

ABP’s Humber Ports combined already make up the UK’s busiest port complex including the four major ports of Hull, Goole, Immingham and Grimsby.

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Handling 17 per cent of the nation’s trade, the Humber ports play a vital role as strategic assets in the fabric of the nation, supplying 10 per cent of the nation’s energy, 25 per cent of the UK’s fuel for our vehicles, almost a third of our national timber supply and underpin the farming, food, retail, construction, automotive and pharmaceutical sectors across the UK.

The Humber ports are seeking Freeport status to boost trade and job opportunities.
The Humber ports are seeking Freeport status to boost trade and job opportunities.

The Humber is the largest carbon polluting region in the country. It therefore has a unique opportunity to blaze a trail for de-carbonising our economy as well as build on the area’s status as the most exciting place for growth in green energy.

In addition to hosting the largest hub for the operations and maintenance of offshore wind in the world in the Port of Grimsby, and the blossoming manufacture of offshore wind blades in the Siemens Gamesa plant in Green Port Hull, there are projects for boosting green energy and de-carbonisation.

This opportunity will act as a catalyst to accelerate growth in all of these endeavours. In Goole, Immingham, Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby, there are communities with high levels of deprivation and a large potential workforce who with the right skills investment and opportunities can help to transform the economy of the area.

The freeport has a bold ambition. Where in some parts of the UK they have confined their bids to small areas and limited scope, the Humber has decided to embrace a plan that takes in the whole area and will seek to boost jobs in several sectors.

Freeport status could be on the cards for the Humber ports.

What is especially pleasing is the strength of the coalition that has been created to make the case. For a part of the world with a troubled history of cross-area collaboration, the sense of unity behind this proposal is both satisfying and hugely compelling. A new freeport company limited by guarantee will be created to run the freeport, with membership on the board drawn from local authorities, LEPs and local 
business.

From the outset, it will contain new customs zone sites including the four main ports. It will also establish three new tax sites on both banks of the Humber that will incentivise growth in new manufacturing, research and development and green energy jobs.

One site is located to the east of the Port of Hull, taking in port land, as well as the Saltend Chemicals Park, the Yorkshire Energy Park and part of the new Humber International Enterprise Park. There will be a big focus on green energy jobs at this site, including a potential new hydrogen de-carbonisation project.

Another site is located on development land in Goole. This site will focus on an innovation centre, the rail industry and huge growth in supply chain jobs, seeking to capitalise on the close proximity of the M62.

The Humber Estuary could become a freeport under new plans.

The third tax site will be located on the Able Marine Development Park in Killingholme. Once again, there will be a big focus on green energy jobs, this time especially in the offshore wind sector. The coalition has in part been held together by an early decision to pool the resources brought in from the Freeport.

An agreement to complement tax sites by targeting significant seed capital resources to ensure the benefits of freeport status are felt across all four Humber local authority areas has proved crucial.

It guarantees that this is truly a Humber-wide proposal which will benefit the whole area.

The hope is that we will secure significant inward investment from blue-chip multi-nationals with the potential to attract and drive both supply chain and innovation ecostructures. There is also a strong commitment to utilise local labour to help tackle the issues of deprivation across Yorkshire.

We already know that thousands of jobs in parts of the UK well beyond the Humber are directly reliant on the ports. This proposal will have a significantly beneficial impact in many areas around the UK.

No other part of the UK can boast the unique combination of an existing pivotal role in UK trade and energy supply with the potential to level-up, tackle deprivation and de-carbonise our economy through the growth of green jobs, which is why there is such a buzz in the Humber about what the future will bring.

Simon Bird is Humber director 
of Associated British Ports.

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