48.In their written evidence, Associated British Ports summarised some of the key variables that would determine the potential success of a site as a freeport:
Marine facilities allowing global trade with corresponding strong intra-UK connectivity;
Proximity to large centres of population with the ability to train and sustain the workforce required within the freeport;
Availability of industrially zoned land to build facilities;
Excellent hinterland connectivity; and
Potential impact on the broader freeport area in reducing unemployment, raising local GVA and addressing long-term structural issues in the local economy.
49.The evidence we received suggested that a number of sites in Wales could be considered as locations for freeports. Milford Haven Port Authority suggested that a “limited number of high-quality zones is most effective”, based on the international experience of freeports, and recommended that only one or two sites should be considered in Wales. Associated British Ports added that creating a single entity with multiple facilities would “maximise benefits and flexibility to the Welsh economy”.
50.Professor Potter believed that a number of terminals could be considered as potential sites for freeports in Wales, including seaports, airports such as Cardiff Airport and St Athan as part of a wider Enterprise Zone, as well as rail terminals. The merits and constraints of some sites, based on the evidence we receive, are considered below.
51.Stena Line Ports Ltd said that their current business case for developing Holyhead is based on increasing berthing capacity for larger cruise vessels, and that freeport status could attract investment. The port has already submitted applications to expand the land used for storage, space and new berths, and that this “quay side space” could be suitable for some freeport work. However, the port also highlighted the need to work with industrial areas in close proximity:
It should however be highlighted that this additional reclaimed valuable quay wall space may not be enough to carry out significant ‘Freeport’ work so therefore we suggest that thought be given to granting industrial areas close to the port a ‘Free Trade‘ status which in turn would complement a Ports ‘Freeport’ status. The underutilised Parc Cybi Industrial Site located approximately one mile from the Port of Holyhead might well be a perfect example of this.
52.Professor Potter outlined the main rationale for a freeport at Holyhead port based on its connection with the Republic of Ireland:
Once the transition agreement expires, then there will be significant import/export activities through the port. Freeport status may assist in smoothing the flow of goods to and from the port by allowing goods to remain in storage until required. For land bridge flows to the rest of the EU, Freeport status may facilitate a smoother transfer through the UK, as well as potentially supporting modal shift to rail, either within the UK or through the Channel Tunnel.
53.Milford Haven Port Authority have declared their interest in bidding for freeport status, and believed that there will be “wider national growth benefits that Wales will experience”. The Port made the case for being designated as a freeport:
The Port of Milford Haven is well placed in relation to the Atlantic basin and its international energy markets. It is also in close proximity to abundant renewable energy resource. Therefore, a freeport that focuses on the existing energy, emerging renewables and the hydrogen sector would promote local economic development and nation-wide innovation and decarbonisation. The existing resources, infrastructure and skills at the Port, along with a cluster of niche energy companies and momentum gained from projects like Pembroke Dock Marine would also ensure low risk of displacement from other regions.
54.Professor Potter described the model for Milford Haven that would be in line with the criteria set out in the UK Government consultation, with freeport status a means to “support value adding industries in the port industry”. He added:
There would likely be products there both for the UK market and for export without crossing the UK duty border. Beyond this, some opportunities for Irish freight flows may exist, although the volume of traffic is significantly lower than Holyhead.
55.Milford Haven Port Authority also outlined constraints that would need to be addressed in gaining freeport status. The Port raised concerns about land availability in terms of disparity and scale compared to other potential freeport sites, and indicated that they could create a virtual freeport that uses technology to monitor shipments and connecting several sites of economic activity.
56.The Port also highlighted their capacity to develop maritime infrastructure, especially the need to adapt and expand facilities to suit particular cargoes that would require consent. At present, consent is a lengthy process and “at odds with market and investment decisions,” and therefore any developments would require change in planning processes to be accelerated.
57.The Port also raised concerns about the impact of developing a freeport on landscape, seascape and biodiversity, as raised by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Authority. The Port stress that drawing land and marine boundaries with planning and development consents would be “critical” to the Port’s success.
58.Professor Potter outlined an opportunity for a “multimodal Freeport model” which could combine the seaports of Newport, Cardiff and/or Barry with Cardiff airport and Wentloog rail terminal:
Such multi-terminal schemes are being considered by the UK Government although governance and coordination may be more challenging. Looking more widely, there could even be an opportunity for including ports around Bristol. While this would be a large area geographically, the various terminals do complement each other. For example, the Bristol area lacks a container road/rail terminal.
59.As discussed in paras. 6–9, ports policy (including development consents) is generally, with the exception of reserved trust ports, devolved to the Welsh Government, while responsibility for associated issues such as road and rail planning and connectivity is shared between the UK and Welsh Government.
60.In his written evidence, Professor Potter emphasised the importance of working across governments to ensure the successful establishment of freeports, including areas such as taxation, customs, transport and planning, economic development and trade. He also stressed the need for alignment in appraising freeport initiatives, considering the differences in planning processes and regional development between England and Wales. He recommended that the two Governments should engage in “timely communication and trust,” ensuring transparency during the process. Associated British Ports agreed that policies such as planning should be aligned between England and Wales to ensure that Welsh ports are not disadvantaged, thus encouraging them to operate on a “level playing field” and ensure widespread economic growth.
61.Given that Ports policy in Wales is generally devolved to the Welsh Government, and so are the policy areas that support Ports activity such as road, rail and land use planning, implementing freeports successfully in Wales will require close cooperation with the Welsh Government.
62.The UK Government must not allow the complexities created by the devolution settlement to disadvantage the bids submitted by Welsh ports. For its part, the Welsh Government should recognise the potential opportunities provided by the freeports concept and work constructively with the Welsh ports to deliver outstanding bids to the UK Government.
63.The UK Government must neither artificially cap the number of potential freeports in Wales, nor create a ‘Welsh freeport’ purely for optical or political purposes. All bids should be assessed on their merits even if that results in no freeports, or several, being awarded to Wales.
43 Associated British Ports (FRE0002)
44 Port of Milford Haven (FRE0006)
45 Associated British Ports (FRE0002)
46 Professor Potter (FRE0003)
47 Stena Line Ports Limited (FRE0005)
48 Professor Andrew Potter (FRE0003)
49 Port of Milford Haven (FRE0006)
50 Professor Andrew Potter (FRE0003)
51 Port of Milford Haven (FRE0006)
52 Port of Milford Haven (FRE0006)
53 Port of Milford Haven (FRE0006)
54 Professor Andrew Potter (FRE0003)
55 Professor Andrew Potter (FRE0003)
56 Associated British Ports (FRE0002)
Published: 8 May 2020