A plan to build a new port on the Thames estuary could generate thousands of jobs for people in Kent, according to the team behind the project.
Thames Freeport has this week submitted a bid to build a hub of industry in the estuary, following the government’s plan to establish 10 ‘free ports’ to ‘turbo-charge’ trading in the post-Brexit economy.
Self-proclaimed ‘Britain’s trading future,’ the project is spearheaded by DP World and Fourth Ports, who hope to convince the government to grant them permission to build a free port incorporating Tilbury Docks, near the Dartford Crossing, as well as London Gateway.
The group claims around 25,000 jobs will created and the project would bring with it £400million in investment.
Going even further, the wider estuary regeneration aims to contribute £115billion to the national economy by 2050.
The bold vision is being driven by Kate Willard, chairman of the Thames Estuary Growth Board (TEGB).
She hopes the free port – somewhere normal tax and customs rules do not apply – will form part of growing investment in the estuary area, including the support of Kent-based projects such as the London Resort in Swanscombe, a project which had its application accepted by the Planning Inspectorate last month.
According to Kate, a free port linking up Kent, London and Essex could offer a sizeable boost to local economies and the job market.
She said: “Free ports are quite a bold statement, but I think necessary and particularly for the estuary where we haven’t, arguably, in the last 40 years been able to capitalise on strategic growth across the estuary.”
Now Britain has left the EU, the estuary envoy said big ideas were needed to push Britain in the direction of economic growth.
She said: “I think what government’s trying to do is to think of strategic initiatives which it can use to help build growth.
“We’ve left the European Union and whatever side of the fence you or I are on that is fact now, so we’ve got an issue with building a new trading economy in a new set of global relationships.”
Speaking in support of the huge free port project, she added: “If we do ‘same old,’ we’re going to get ‘same old’.”
The unique location of the estuary would mean freight has access to every continent, potentially increasing the ability to do trade with other countries across the world.
And the chair has not ruled out an expansion of free ports across the Kent coast, including locations such as Ramsgate.
Last year, Manston boss Tony Freudmann told KentOnline he hoped the opening of the airport could encourage a game-changing trade route to the capital, with freight landing in Thanet and using ships to deliver cargo via the Thames.
A successful bid to open a free port on the estuary could bring that vision closer to reality, according to the TEGB chair.
Kate said: “I think it’s not beyond possibility that we might be able to have almost a modular build of free ports around the estuary and adding other zones and areas as they became a sensible and legitimate part of that free port.
“We’re pushing for that, and that would provide colleagues at Manston, Ramsgate and indeed at other airports like City, London Southend and other places, the opportunity to become part of that free port cluster.”
The board is also backing the development of the Lower Thames Crossing, which Highways England revealed last month could be worked on by around 22,000 people.
The TEGB’s action plan has been titled ‘The Green Blue’, with the aim to create ‘the greenest estuary on the planet’.
The use of hydrogen power and moving freight onto the river and off the road is part of their eco-friendly concept and the creation of the free port would factor green technologies into its development.
The decision whether to successfully award the Thames Freeport with the bid will be made by ministers in the spring.
How does a free port work?
A free port is a port where the normal tax and customs rules do not apply.
Goods can be imported into a free port without paying tariffs and with simplified customs documentation.
It also means businesses which operate inside the free port areas are able to manufacture goods using imports and export them again without having to pay full tariffs.
The UK government announced its proposal for creating up to 10 free ports last year, in the hopes of bolstering trade with other countries.
At the time of the announcement, Liz Truss, International Trade Secretary, said: “Freedoms transformed London’s Docklands in the 1980s, and free ports will do the same for towns and cities across the UK.
“They will onshore enterprise and manufacturing as the gateway to our future prosperity, creating thousands of jobs.”
But free ports are not a new concept for the UK – there were seven such ports between 1984 and 2012, including Tilbury.
Legislation in 2012 meant these sites were not renewed, but the last decade and the departure from the EU has made government rethink the positive impact they could have on trade and local economies.
— to www.kentonline.co.uk