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Hopes freeport bid could spark an industrial renaissance for Neath Port Talbot

22 Dec 2022 6 minute read
Port Talbot waterside. Picture: Neath Port Talbot Council.

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.

Prosperity

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.”

Jobs

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.”

Milford Haven waterway viewed from Dale. Picture by David Merrett (CC BY 2.0)

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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Dai Rob
Dai Rob
1 month ago

a TENTATIVE “yES” FROM ME….although we know very little of the detail!

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Dai Rob

““Zones are often established in locations for political reasons – essentially to make a specific constituency happy – rather than where they make economic sense,” says Dr Susanne Frick, a fellow in Local Economic Development at the London School of Economics. “In particular, zones are often located in areas that are economically disadvantaged, but those zones’ track record is particularly poor in terms of their ability to attract investments.” It is tricky to assume that a few tax breaks and some techno-baubles will suffice to convince companies to set up shop in those zones. “The question here in the UK… Read more »

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 month ago

TEN REASONS WHY FREEPORTS ARE BAD FOR CYMRU: “1) Freeports are bound to reduce the protection for workers. Light touch regulation always does in the end. Employers NIC is already going. Maybe it will be pensions next, and then what as desperate measures are taken to make this policy work? 2) Freeports increase the risk of criminals using the port, whether for drug or human trafficking, counterfeit goods or other illicit activity. 3) Having a border around the port will increase paperwork and costs for those using the port. Just look at Northern Ireland. 4) Regulation in freeports is going to… Read more »

Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 month ago

From the TUC website by Rosa Crawford: “There’s no evidence that free ports create jobs or stimulate growth – and they could be a Trojan Horse for watering down employment protections after Brexit. This week, the government launched a consultation on creating up to 10 tax-free ‘free ports’ across the UK. The government wants these free ports to sit outside the UK’s main tax and tariff rules, with lower regulations to attract investment and business. It argues that this is needed to bring jobs and prosperity to the UK in a post-Brexit world. Of course, there was nothing stopping the UK from… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Which bit of this lying, thieving, cheating. BS spouting, totally untrustworthy, treasonable, NHS destroying, murdering Government don’t people get ?

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
1 month ago

Clearly the people of Neath Port Talbot who were interviewed have no understanding of how a free port works, at the very least all they will achieve is divert economic activity from one area to another, thereby creating zero effect on the economy,

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
1 month ago

We will be very happy with that…..if we divert any economic activity from Cardiff/newport then it’s a win for us. NOTHING usually gets invested more than 5 miles from Cardiff.

The original mark
The original mark
1 month ago
Reply to  Dai Rob

I’m not going to bother to reply to this crass comment.

Ap Kenneth
1 month ago

This article has the feel of setting one desperate set of people in a rundown forgotten part of Wales against another set of desperate people from another rundown forgotten part of Wales, to set up (they do not know what really) a freeport that is designed to steal more resources for the already wealthy out of the pockets of the desperate.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Ap Kenneth

Most “economic activity” has either been hijacked or in the process of being hijacked by the large scale corporate sector with small businesses being forced to run at around break even or into losses just to exist in such supply chains. Governments encourage this model because the lazy types in government thinks it’s better to work with a few big corporations rather than with 1000’s of smaller scale business. Big government and big business is the biggest Axis of Evil since the days of Adolf & Co.

Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago

It would seem that the people of NPT, who fell for the Tory Brexit deal, are now prepared to fall for another Tory promise of “free beer tomorrow”.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Gareth

Spot on ! my thoughts exactly when I read it…several generations of hand-me-down lead poisoning could explain this repeat stupidity…

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Gareth

We have nothing to lose……Cardiff gives us sweet FA!!

Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago
Reply to  Dai Rob

Cardiff had a freeport for years, but the company was dissolved, if it was that good they would still be going. SNP partners the green party oppose freeports saying they encourage ” crime, smuggling, money laundering and low wages” Labour in London say freeports could be excluded from new Tory trade deals, as these deals carry over current EU law, and these ports will operate outside of said laws.

Llyn
Llyn
1 month ago

Although this bid appears that it will be far reaching, sustainable and more ambitious than the other freeport contenders. I won’t be surprised if it’s given to Holyhead as that is a port in a Tory marginal.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Llyn

.. more like a Tory terminal case !

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
1 month ago

If these freeports are so good – why aren’t there loads of them ? Why when there have freeports here and in Europe they’ve eventually been shut down? Because they are a hive of corruption, where workers rights are vitually non existent. Don’t fall for the Tory hype – freeports are a terrible idea.

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