The West of England Combined Authority is bidding to host a Great Western Freeport that could create up to 50,000 jobs in the region and 90,000 nationally.
The Combined Authority has put together the bid – which goes in to Government today – (Friday 5 February) – working with public and private sector partners, including large-scale businesses across the aerospace and nuclear sector, the region’s universities and colleges, innovation centres, local authorities and business networks.
A Great Western Freeport would be based around Bristol Port, the UK’s most centrally located deep water port, with additional tax and customs sites at Avonmouth and Severnside, Junction 21 Enterprise Area and Gravity Smart Campus. Economic modelling shows it could bring in an economic return of £3 billion each year to the regional economy.
It would bring regeneration and jobs and boost the region’s reputation as a global leader in high-value design and innovation, building on strengths in aerospace, nuclear and food manufacturing. A freeport would also encourage significant growth in green manufacturing and technologies, for example developing the next generation of low carbon aircrafts, nuclear fusion and digital engineering.
West of England Mayor Tim Bowles said: “This is a huge opportunity for our region. The Great Western Freeport will see our area become a national hub for green manufacturing and trade, playing a vital role in the recovery of our region from Covid-19 and creating up to 50,000 decent, well-paid jobs.
“It will help us deliver our aspiration for green and inclusive growth, regenerating areas, attracting new businesses to grow and locate here and create jobs and skills opportunities for residents across our urban and rural communities.
“This is a highly competitive process, but we have a strong story to tell. Now we need the whole region to back the bid so we can make a clear case to Government that there is widespread support for the Great Western Freeport.”
Government wants to create up to 10 Freeports around the UK. Freeports are areas designated by Government with tax and customs incentives in order to encourage economic activity and growth. They are designed to create space for businesses to import goods and materials, add value to them (by manufacture), and export them. This creates conditions for inward investment, business growth and job creation.
Steve West, Chair of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Our region has a rich heritage of innovation and creativity driving developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and virtual reality. With a Freeport, we can use these strengths to secure major employment and investment opportunities which will create new jobs and training opportunities for residents in the West of England.”
Leader of South Gloucestershire Council Cllr Toby Savage said: “We are very pleased to support WECA’s bid to develop a Great Western Freeport, which could potentially deliver really significant numbers of new jobs and a range of economic benefits for the region, notably within our Severnside Enterprise Area.
“A Freeport in our area would help build on the region’s heritage of innovation and become home to a host of low carbon manufacturing and technology industries ensuring that we remain at the forefront of the UK’s green economy.”
Councillor Dine Romero, Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “We always champion investment in economic growth for the area to create job opportunities and so we welcome this bid for the Great Western Freeport. It will support the whole region as we work together to recover from the impact of Covid-19. I’m pleased to see the proposal focuses on green economic growth as this also supports our climate emergency priorities.”
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol said: “We recognise that Freeports are a key part of the government’s planning for economic recovery and so we are committed to working alongside city partners to ensure they deliver clear benefits for the people of Bristol. We need to take full advantage of the contribution a Freeport can play in retaining and creating jobs for local people while supporting our economic recovery from the impacts of Covid-19, our sustainability goals and ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030.”
Cllr Mark Canniford, North Somerset Council’s executive member for business, economy and employment, said: “We have worked closely with WECA colleagues on this and I’m very pleased that our J21Enterprise Area has been included in the Freeport bid. I have every hope that the bid will be successful and it could have a transformative impact on our ability to attract inward investment to North Somerset.
“We will be following the bid closely to ensure that the promised economic benefits are realised for our residents.”
Successful Freeport locations will be announced by Government in the Spring.