Tug of war over freeport bid
A formal application will be made by the combined authority to reinstate the Port of Liverpool’s freeport status despite opposition from Sefton Council on environmental and social grounds.
Port of Liverpool operated under freeport status, which brings customs tariff relief, until freeports were abolished in 2012 by the coalition government.
This government consulted on a new round of 10 freeports last year. Each will offer streamlined planning to aid brownfield development, tax relief and simplified customs checks.
Critics say freeports have minimal economic impact as they tend to divert jobs from inland locations. The Centre for Cities said similar enterprise zones created in 2012 have generated only a quarter of the jobs they were intended to produce.
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority believes freeports are emerging as a “flagship post-Brexit policy” and will benefit areas with the status in future. As Liverpool City Region seeks to remain competitive against other regions, the authority said, it must bid to become a freeport.
If successful, the combined authority can expect to receive around £17m in grant aid to support creation of the freeport. Customers of the freeport may be charged a levy on each container which supports the operating cost of the port.
However, Sefton “strongly opposes” recreating freeport status unless the environmental and social impacts of growth, particularly road traffic, at the port are mitigated. Sefton set out its position to the government in its own response to freeport consultation, and did not form part of the city region’s response.
The Port of Liverpool straddles Liverpool and Sefton boroughs, with the main operations at Seaforth docks in Sefton. Peel Ports, operator and port authority, supports the freeport bid.
In December, Sefton backed recommendations by Arup to use alternative technologies and freight logistics solutions used elsewhere in the world including tunnels and inland ‘hub and spoke’ ports to improve freight movement efficiency and reduce the impact of the port. The council said it remained “severely concerned” about the impact of growth on local communities.
Addressing the challenges raised by Sefton, the combined authority said “part of the work undertaken so far has been to understand the concerns about possible community and environmental impacts of any potential expansion of activity around the port. These concerns need to be taken seriously because of the impact on city region residents and because of the importance of the green agenda… Indeed, much of the freeport bid will be focused around developing future low carbon solutions.”
In addition to the main customs freeport, the government is allowing for separate “tax sites” within each bid. These would allow for retention of business rates and act as a “focal point for where all envisaged freeport tax reliefs will apply,” the combined authority said.
The LCRCA said: “These sites are primarily designed to attract new/relocating business operations and incentivise inward investment and new developments. Therefore, this should be a sizeable area of underdeveloped land. Whilst Government would prefer one tax site per freeport, it will allow up to three should there be an economic rationale.”
The three development areas proposed for tax sites in the Liverpool City Region bid are:
- Peel’s Wirral Waters
- Langtree’s Parkside, St Helens
- Stobart’s 3MG, Widnes
The LCRCA is due to submit its bid with support from consultant Amion before the 5 February deadline.