Competition heats up for Welsh Freeport contenders
Dale Spridgeon, local democracy reporter
The competition is heating up in a race which could see Anglesey benefiting from 26 million pounds in UK Government funding, to help create jobs and halt decline on the island.
Anglesey is just one of three areas in Wales bidding for Freeport status which would give the area reduced taxes for businesses.
The Anglesey Freeport Bid is jointly developed with Stena Line, owners of Holyhead port, and Anglesey County Council.
Stena’s executive director Ian Hampton describes it as providing a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to boost the North Wales economy.
Whilst Anglesey County Council’s chief executive, Dylan J Williams, said it could attract £1 billion in investment, creating up to 13000 jobs.
Anglesey politicians on all sides are also backing the scheme.
Ynys Môn MP Conservative Virginia Crosbie hails it as a potential “game changer.”
Ynys Môn Plaid Cymru MS/AS Rhun ap Iorwerth, says he is a “supporter,” although, highlighted a “funding battle” which initially had to be won for Wales, before he gave it his full backing.
He is “confident” that the council and Stena put together a “compelling bid” but also calls for assurances over workers’ rights and the environment.
The UK and Welsh governments have been working in partnership to select a freeport area in Wales, the decision is due in spring.
Competition comes from The Celtic Freeport bid (covering Pembrokeshire to Neath) and The Newport Freeport (including Cardiff Airport).
This week, Anglesey’s bid won further support from high profile MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum.
They called on the Government to approve the island’s offer during an event in London, on Tuesday.
MP Virginia Crosbie joined 28 Members and Peers at Portcullis House, Westminster where consortium members showcased the bid.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting service afterwards: “I remain confident about Anglesey’s bid for freeport status. I am doing everything I can to secure it although I recognise there is competition.
“It would be a game changer for our island with huge incentives for investment and jobs after decades of underfunding.
“If we are going to make a difference to islanders’ lives, then this sort of innovative and impactful initiative is the way forward.”
On Wednesday, a debate was also tabled in the Senedd, in Cardiff.
Mr ap Iorwerth had made the case for Holyhead and Anglesey.
He said: “I’m confident that Anglesey Council and Stena have put together a compelling bid. It’s about creating new economic opportunities, and whilst there’s no silver bullet when it comes to regeneration, we need to look at how we can use all economic levers.
“However, we needed some assurances first. Originally UK Government offered £8m to a Welsh freeport, compared with £26m for each one in England – clearly unacceptable. Welsh Government negotiated the same funding package for Wales and crucially backed my calls to negotiate assurances around workers rights and the environment. It’s in that new context that I’ve been working with the bid team, and making sure that we’re in strongest possible position.”
The bid could “bring investment, provide job opportunities, encourage entrepreneurship on the island and across the north,” whilst slowing decline in Holyhead.
Anglesey Council Chief Executive, Dylan J. Williams said the bid, was “an extremely strong and positive” proposal.
“We look forward to continue our long term collaboration with Stena Line,” and said it had backing from 17 major businesses, including Rolls Royce, Bechtel, Last Energy, and educational partners including Bangor University.
“Securing Freeport status can deliver real, transformational change for communities across Anglesey and the wider North Wales region.” He said.
“According to initial modelling estimates, the freeport would attract £1bn of much-needed investment, including new, high-salary jobs, in the range of 3,500 to 13,000 across the region.
“It could help arrest this decline of our communities, ensuring young people, would not have to leave their communities to look for work; and enhance and strengthen the Welsh language and culture on the island.”
Ian Hampton, executive director of Stena Line added: “It was great to see many politicians coming to our event in Westminster this week, to pledge their support for our bid for a Freeport in Ynys Mon/Anglesey.
“The benefits of such a strong partnership between Stena Line and the Anglesey Country Council, backed up by Holyhead Port, was clearly evident.
“Our Freeport bid provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to boost the economy of North Wales by attracting much-needed businesses, jobs and prosperity to the region, we are very confident of its success.”
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