A new trade campaign coalition has published a report calling on the Government to grant special economic status to airports and seaports in order to stimulate international investment, reshore manufacturing and ultimately lower prices for consumers in a post-Brexit Britain.
Port Zones UK is a new coalition of British airport and seaport operators, whose aim is to promote regional growth centred on key UK transport hubs, through the designation of enhanced ‘Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Zones’. Founding members of the new organisation include the British Ports Association (BPA), Regional and City Airports (RCA), the Port of Milford Haven, the Port of Tyne and the Institute for Exports.
The UK Government recently announced it was planning to create up to 10 free ports across the UK after Brexit allowing firms to import goods and then re-export them outside normal tax and customs rules. However, Port Zones UK, which was officially launched on Monday (9th September), has published a new report – ‘A Licence to Operate: ‘Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Zones’ – which looks in more detail at the potential policy measures needed to make a success of any contemporary free ports programme.
In its report, Port Zones UK states that the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union (EU) has created a fresh impetus for a new and innovative growth-generating policy in regional and coastal communities. However, business conditions need to be created which increase the flow of foreign direct investment, which is central to the future of Great Britain.
Specifically, the report states that ‘zonal’ enhancements to the terrestrial and marine planning systems, as well as modifications to business focused policies of enterprise zones, need to be overlaid with any free port designation.
The report reveals three key areas of detailed policy which the Government needs to focus on. These include:
- Speeding up the process and granting of planning permissions for development.
- Ensuring that the marine and terrestrial planning systems relating to ports are closely co-ordinated to expedite marine licences.
- Reducing delays arising from environmental legislation such as the Habitats Directive and environmental impact assessments.
Richard Ballantyne, from Port Zones UK, said: “As the UK recasts its global economic relationships, trade has never been so important to the fortune of the nation. Business, consumer and investor confidence are – and will be – inextricably linked to the future success of the British economy.
“However, to forge new trade agreements and transition existing ties, strong domestic foundations are needed to maximise the value of inbound and outbound business flows through our international gateways.
“Our report examines in detail the required changes to planning and the designation of enterprise zones. These need to be considered as part of the Government’s planned free port programme. If done successfully, they can bring critical benefits to the UK.
“In a global marketplace where competition for capital, resources and skilled personnel is fierce, it’s crucial that vital transport nexuses – like airports and seaports – are given the necessary business conditions to continue to grow.”
One of the key areas the report looks at is planning reform and the need to speed up the process for land-side development. For airports and seaports, the power to grant planning permission normally resides with a local planning authority. However, a number of special provisions have been introduced into the planning legislation, or exist, to reduce delays. Port Zones UK says the UK Government and devolved administrations should encourage greater use of these mechanisms, such as Local Development Orders, by introducing a statutory obligation or robust guidance in future frameworks to encourage greater use.
The report also examines the different forms that the ‘Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Areas’ could take as demonstrated by members of the new association.
These include the following case studies:
- The Port of Tyne proposes a ‘virtual’ free zone to bolster UK advanced manufacturing. This multiple site designation would utilise supply chain technology to create a unified Customs area across the North East region’s deep-sea port and the advanced manufacturing cluster including the Nissan car plant at Washington, the R&D development areas at neighbouring enterprise zones, the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) and, possibly, other seaports / airports such as Newcastle Airport.
- Regional and City Airports is promoting airport-based free trade development across their UK operations which includes Bournemouth Airport. The airport could offer free port development opportunities to boost regional connectivity and economic development. With significant international flows, and a runway capable of taking the largest aircraft, Bournemouth Airport, and the adjacent 200-acre Airport Business Park, offer a prime location for a free trade area.
- The Port of Milford Haven is seeking to create an energy and fishing focused free trade zone. The Haven Waterway is home to an array of oil and gas terminals, electricity transmission, fuel pipelines to key UK locations, exceptional deep water and strong tidal ranges. Making it the home of a fledgling marine renewable energy cluster and Wales’ main fishing port. A free trade area designation, aligned with the Haven Waterway Enterprise Zone, would seek to support UK oil and gas refining and processing capacity as it competes for global FDI, reshore fish processing capability and support tidal and wave energy development.