Proposals submitted by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership to Government today (Friday February 4) would create a new freeport at Gatwick Airport and the Manor Royal Business District, known as the ‘Gatwick Freeport’.
Freeports will benefit from generous tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures and wider government support. The idea is these new global hubs for trade, investment and innovation will create thousands of new jobs, regenerate communities and stimulate economic growth.
Manor Royal already has a strong cluster of high tech, high innovation businesses, such as Thales, Varian and Elekta.
But parts of the South East’s economy have been badly hit by Covid-19, with Crawley losing an estimated £2.5 billion in productivity since the start of the pandemic.
Traffic at Gatwick Airport declined by 78 per cent in 2020 and a large percentage of the Crawley workforce is either furloughed or claiming benefits.
Freeport status would support the safeguarding and creation of jobs and help the recovery of the aviation sector, avoiding the real risk of long-term, mass unemployment in Crawley.
Plans will provide import and export incentives, unlock major infrastructure upgrades and enhance the delivery of a potential new multi-million pound innovation centre.
Coast to Capital has worked in closely with a number of partners on the freeport bid, including Gatwick Airport, Crawley Borough Council, Manor Royal BID, and West Sussex County Council. If approved, proposals could be developed immediately.
Jonathan Sharrock, chief executive at Coast to Capital, said: “Gatwick and Crawley are among the most important parts of our regional economy. Both have been severely affected by Covid-19. The Gatwick freeport bid is once in a lifetime opportunity to attract more high value businesses into the area and cement our status as a leading part of the country driving innovation and trade.”
Henry Smith, Crawley MP, added: “Gatwick along with Manor Royal are important drivers for the local economy and employment which also represents a significant net contribution to the UK as a whole.
“However the Covid-19 pandemic is at real risk of levelling down the area, therefore with the new opportunities of global Britain, a free port based on Gatwick and Crawley’s Manor Royal business district has the real potential to build back better, stronger and more diverse, enhancing regional and national wellbeing.”
Peter Lamb, leader of Crawley Borough Council, added: “Crawley Borough Council is working very hard with partners to ensure that we can recover quickly from the devastating impact of Covid-19 on our local economy. The Gatwick Freeport bid is one of several major initiatives which confirm Crawley as a vital player in the UK economy.”
Bob Lanzer, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member for Economy, added: “I wholeheartedly support Coast to Capital’s bid to create a new freeport at Gatwick Airport and the Manor Royal Business District. The Crawley economy has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic and this innovative approach stands to bring a huge boost to Crawley and in turn the region’s economy. We look forward to working with our partners to make this a real success story.”
Steve Sawyer, executive director at Manor Royal BID, said: “Manor Royal is a fantastic business location with numerous world leading and innovative companies. However, there is no getting around the dramatic impact Covid-19 has had. Being designated as a freeport could supercharge our recovery by taking advantage of our established core assets and help the area fulfil its unrealised potential with the associated benefits for jobs, productivity and growth.”
Stewart Wingate, chief executive officer of Gatwick, said: “It is well documented what a devastating impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had to date on Gatwick and the local economy. As we start to shape our recovery plans I believe a successful freeport bid at Gatwick and the Manor Royal Business District would help to ensure a positive future for people, place and businesses within Crawley and the wider region.”
The ‘Gatwick Freeport bid’ was submitted today alongside an estimated 30 bids from across the UK. Ten bids are set to be announced by spring this year. The full bid will be available to read on the Coast to Capital website shortly.