Trade coalition seeks to galvanise free ports

Port Zones UK Port Zones UK is a new coalition of British airport and seaport operators

A new trade campaign coalition has published a report calling on the Government to better assess free port policy measures and grant special economic status to airports and seaports to stimulate international investment, reshore manufacturing and lower prices for consumers in a post-Brexit Britain.

The UK Government recently announced it was planning to create up to 10 free ports across the UK after Brexit allowing firms to import goods and then re-export them outside normal tax and customs rules. However, Port Zones UK, a new coalition of British airport and seaport operators launched on 9 September, has published a new report – ‘A Licence to Operate: ‘Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Zones’ - which looks in more detail at the potential policy measures needed to make a success of any contemporary free ports programme.

The aim of Port Zones UK is to promote regional growth centred on key UK transport hubs, through the designation of enhanced ‘Enterprise, Development and Free Trade Zones’. Founding members of the new organisation include the British Ports Association (BPA), Regional and City Airports (RCA), the Port of Milford Haven, the Port of Tyne and the Institute for Exports.

Richard Ballantyne, from Port Zones UK, and chief executive at the BPA, said: “Our report examines in detail the required changes to planning and the designation of enterprise zones. These need to be considered as part of the Government’s planned free port programme. If done successfully, they can bring critical benefits to the UK.”

FDI focus

In its report, Port Zones UK states that the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union (EU) means business conditions need to be created which increase the flow of foreign direct investment.

Specifically, the report states that ‘zonal’ enhancements to the terrestrial and marine planning systems, as well as modifications to business focused policies of enterprise zones, need to be overlaid with any free port designation.

The report reveals three key areas of detailed policy which the Government needs to focus on. These are speeding up the process and granting of planning permissions for development, ensuring that the marine and terrestrial planning systems relating to ports are closely co-ordinated to expedite marine licences and reducing delays arising from environmental legislation such as the Habitats Directive and environmental impact assessments.

One of the key areas the report looks at is planning reform and the need to speed up the process for land-side development. For airports and seaports, the power to grant planning permission normally resides with a local planning authority. However, several special provisions have been introduced into the planning legislation, or exist, to reduce delays. Port Zones UK says the UK Government and devolved administrations should encourage greater use of these mechanisms, such as Local Development Orders, by introducing a statutory obligation or robust guidance in future frameworks to encourage greater use.

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