It’s time for the North to capitalise on its freeport destinations and lead the clean energy sector
4 mins read
The North has a proud industrial heritage, and now it has a huge opportunity to become a world class leader in the emerging clean energy sector.
The three northern freeport designations in Teesside, the Liverpool City Region and Hull can help to lead the way.
Freeports are secure customs zones located at ports where business can be carried out inside a country’s land border but where different customs rules apply. The new freeports will reduce administrative burdens and tariff controls, provide relief from duties and import taxes, and ease tax and planning regulations. Freeports will not only have a big impact on helping the UK to reach its net-zero emissions target by 2050, but they will also encourage entrepreneurs, research and development (R&D) and bring opportunities to upskill the local workforce.
Fuelling growth in the clean energy sector
Each freeport is based on a comprehensive bid which outlines the delivery plan and key outcomes it is trying to achieve. What is clear, is that the northern freeports are all proposing growth in the clean energy sector.
Teesside Freeport is the largest designated freeport in the UK, covering 4,500 acres. It is expected to create more than 18,000 jobs and provide a £3.2 billion boost to the local economy over the next five years.
Global giant GE Renewable recently confirmed it will be locating its major wind turbine blade manufacturing facility within the Teesworks. It was encouraged by the freeport status and the proximity to the Dogger Bank wind farm. The GE Renewables facility will create 750 direct jobs, with a further 1,500 jobs in the supply chain.
Net Zero Teesside, a world class carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) project, will also be located within Teesworks. It aims to decarbonise a cluster of carbon-intensive businesses by as early as 2030 and deliver the UK’s first zero-carbon industrial cluster.
The Liverpool City Region Freeport will be a more modest 300 hectares of land and will take in a diameter from the western point Wirral Waters to the eastern point of Port Salford. The key sectors that it will work with and attract include maritime and port sectors, advanced logistics and clean energy, particularly hydrogen-specific sectors as there is already a strong cluster of activity within Halton.
A North West Hydrogen Alliance has been established, made up of public, private and academia partners, to identify markets for hydrogen. Hynet North West is an innovative project which involves developing a network to produce, store and distribute hydrogen to decarbonise the North West of England and North Wales.
The hydrogen-based interventions could dovetail the Mersey Tidal Power project which is a unique opportunity for the Liverpool City Region to use its natural assets of the estuary of the River Mersey and the Bay of Liverpool. The Mersey Tidal Power project has the potential to generate enough energy to power up to 1 million homes and make the Liverpool city region a world leader in tidal energy.
The Humber Freeport area covers the ports of Goole, Grimsby, Hull and Immingham and is expected to stimulate the growth of more than 7,000 jobs.
One of the tax zones within the freeport boundary includes the Able Marine Energy Park, which has recently received £75 million of funding. This will deliver a globally significant integrated offshore wind manufacturing cluster and bespoke port facility, ultimately employing 1,600 people. Hull East is another tax zone, where the newly approved Yorkshire Energy Park will be located. This will include a business park aimed at attracting firms specialising in green energy technology.
Although all of the freeport bids had to demonstrate how the local labour force will be upskilled to align with the needs of the firms and sectors being targeted, there is no guarantee that these new jobs will benefit local communities. In fact, one of the main criticisms of freeport policy is that rather than creating new jobs, the policy diverts business from other areas of the country. The response from the Government is that it hopes the freeport policy will displace activity from overseas, rather than elsewhere in the UK.
Although the new freeport policy is in its infancy, and time will tell whether it will bring true sustainable economic recovery to the North, it’s exciting to see freeports being used as a mechanism to attract innovation and industry to the region. This is a vital opportunity for the North to transform its identity into the leader of the clean energy revolution.
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Principal Planning Consultant, Capita
Vanessa is a Principal Planning Policy Consultant working for Capita in Manchester and has experience in both public and private sector. Vanessa works with a range of local planning authorities across the country and gives advice and support on Local Plan preparation and evidence bases. She has a particular interest in the levelling up agenda, planning for green infrastructure and is fascinated by the Smart Cities movement.