Newport preparing to bid for freeport status despite Welsh Gov reservations
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
Newport will be among the areas bidding to get freeport status in Wales, despite reservations from the Welsh Government, the leader of the city council has signalled.
Eight areas in England which are to become freeports were announced in the UK Government budget last month, but none in Wales.
The UK Government has said it wants at least one freeport in Wales, but the Welsh Government has voiced reservations around the policy. It is understood that there disagreements over the impact the introduction of freeports will have on the Welsh Government’s ‘fair work’ and environmental goals.
However, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has said he is ready to overrule the Welsh Government on this issue and impose one without its consent. Hart has said Wales will get a freeport “come what may”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said freeports will help the economy, with businesses in these areas benefitting from tax breaks.
But critics argue that freeports do not have much net economic benefit, saying they displace business activity from other areas and don’t boost overall employment.
In a written question to the leader of Newport council, Conservative councillor Joan Watkins asked for details of what the authority is doing to support the city become a freeport “with all the benefits that that will bring”.
“Newport is in the race to be afforded the same status and there is a body of evidence to support an application on the city’s behalf here in Wales,” Cllr Watkins said.
In response, council leader Cllr Jane Mudd said: “Newport City Council has appointed AECOM to assist in developing the business case for the Port of Newport achieving Freeport status.
“AECOM are a leading consultancy with significant specialism in ports, marine operations and economic development, and were instrumental in achieving the successful Teeside bid.
“The detail on the bidding process for Wales remains unpublished, but this commission will ensure Newport’s readiness to bid once the competition opens.”
Associated British Ports (ABP) has voiced support for freeport status to cover its ports in in the south of Wales, which includes one in Newport.
“Our ports in South Wales are strong candidates for freeport status, which could prove transformational for those areas and play an important role in supporting the UK Government’s ambition to drive economic growth and innovation, decarbonise and level up the economy,” a spokeswoman for ABP said.
The locations expected to bid for freeport status in Wales include Holyhead, Milford Haven, Port Talbot, Swansea, Newport, Cardiff, Cardiff Airport and Barry.
It is understood more than 30 locations in England bid to be given freeport status, with eight being approved: East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber region, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside.
Each freeport is expected to receive around £25 million from the UK Government, which has promised to introduce one each in Wales and Scotland.