Hopes freeport bid could spark an industrial renaissance for Neath Port Talbot
Lewis Smith, local democracy reporter
With plans for a Freeport bid in south West Wales being unveiled in November, many locals and business owners in the towns of Neath Port Talbot are starting to feel a growing sense of excitement at what success in such a campaign could mean for them.
The bid for freeport status, in what would be known as the Celtic Freeport, would cover the ports of Milford Haven and Port Talbot, and include a number of clean energy developments, a power station, fuel terminals, as well as heavy engineering and the steel industry which includes Tata Steel.
The current bid was set up by Associated British Ports (ABP) earlier this year, alongside Neath Port Talbot Council, Pembrokeshire County Council and the Port of Milford Haven, with the aim of becoming Wales’ first freeport.
Freeports are special areas within the UK’s borders where different economic regulations apply, such as tax incentives for eligible businesses within them. They also offer simplified customs procedures, and streamlined planning processes intended to boost redevelopment in their vacinity.
Backers for the south west Wales region say a freeport focused on green energy would create over 16,000 new jobs and generate up to £5.5bn of investment if given the nod ahead of competing bids in places such as the Port of Holyhead in north Wales.
Speaking to residents in the town of Port Talbot there is a sense of hope that the bid could bring a new form of prosperity to the area, in a move the local council described as a potential “industrial renaissance.”
Tony King, 73, lives in Baglan and says the bid in Port Talbot would be great for the town as well as the wider borough of Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire if it were to go ahead.
He said: “I think it is a brilliant idea for the two area’s of Port Talbot and Milford Haven to band together and try to get this freeport, and for me I am hopeful that it will go ahead.
“Hopefully locals get behind the idea as well, as they could really benefit from this sort of development down at the harbour for years to come. Of course we have the deep water harbour here in Port Talbot which is as good as anywhere in the world, and combined with the one in Milford Haven I’m sure it would make one of the best sites in the UK for it, so fingers crosed.”
Gareth Capper, 40, is from Port Talbot and also thinks this could be very beneficial to the local economy if they were to be succesful in the bid.
He said: “I think bringing any sort of project or investments like this into the area is very positive thing for the people who live here as well as the local economy in general. From what I’ve seen if they do get the bid for the freeport it could bring a lot of jobs here, and that means money in the pockets of local people and businesses at the end of the day.
“Personally I don’t see a negative side to it, as it’s a very forward thinking idea that would boost the economy all across this part of Wales. Also with us not knowing how long the steel works has left here in Port Talbot, it gives us the chance to keep the area going with well paid jobs and industry in the future.”
Local cafe owner Sarah Short has lived in Port Talbot for 30 years and says she feels more jobs in the area would ultimately mean more customers coming through her doors on a daily basis.
She said: “If this idea is one that will create more jobs in the area then I think it is a good thing and as a community we have to get behind it. The more people who are working here earning a good wage the better it will be for businesses like mine, as they will come in to the town with more available income to spend.
“If they also bring their families with them, as they would in lots of cases the knock-on effect it could have for shops on the local high-streets could be massive in places like Port Talbot.”
On the opposite side of the street Angela Lewis of Swansea runs a start-up business, and says if the Celtic freeport was to go ahead she hopes they would manage it the right way in order to make sure that everyone feels the benefit.
She said: “I don’t know enough about the technical aspects of this bid to know whether or not we will get it but, if it does come it seems like it could generate a lot of jobs and money for the area.
“That’s good, but my only hope would be that the benefit is spread out so that people are encouraged to use the town, as opposed to opening new sites with chain restaurants, shops and cafe’s that take all the trade.”
A spokesperson for Neath Port Talbot Council said: “The Celtic Freeport will be transformational for the South West Wales economy – creating an industrial renaissance which will deliver an accelerated pathway for Wales’s net zero economy.
“The bid is expected to generate more than 16,000 new jobs and generate up to £5.5 billion of new investment. It proposes an ambitious skills agenda that will harness the skills-base, industrial assets and education providers of today for the jobs of tomorrow through a series of dedicated green skills programmes.
“The Celtic Freeport bid consortium is comprised of Associated British Ports (ABP), Neath Port Talbot Council, Pembrokeshire County Council and the Port of Milford Haven.
“The Celtic Freeport will accelerate significant inward investment in new manufacturing facilities to support the roll-out of floating offshore wind (FLOW) from the Celtic Sea, while providing the backbone for a cleaner future based on the hydrogen economy, sustainable fuels, carbon capture, cleaner steel and low-carbon logistics.
“The Celtic Freeport will see large amounts of inward investment in new manufacturing facilities to support the roll-out of floating offshore wind (FLOW) from the Celtic Sea, while providing the backbone for a cleaner future based on the hydrogen economy, sustainable fuels, carbon capture, cleaner steel and low-carbon logistics.
“As Wales heads towards a greener future, the bid programme will help the ports of Milford Haven and Port Talbot be at the centre of the green energy sector in the UK.
Council leader Steve Hunt added: “The development of new offshore floating wind and other green energy technologies here in Neath Port Talbot and with our partners in West Wales could be truly transformational for this region.”
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