Humber-wide freeport proposal to focus on scale and opportunity

An all-embracing Humber-wide freeport taking in Humberside Airport is to be sought for the region.

ABP’s ports director, Simon Bird, outlined the scale of opportunity – and the area’s proposal – as he gave evidence to the government’s International Trade Committee on the creation of the zones.

Located around the country, freeports would benefit from trade tariff breaks and other incentives, from planning to tax relief, and are seen as a bold post-Brexit statement of intent for the UK.

And Mr Bird used the Siemens Gamesa plant in Hull as an example as what could emerge on the South Bank – flagging up Able Marine Energy Park as ripe for development – a site fiercely opposed by his employer in years gone by.

Mr Bird said: “ABP is a supporter of free ports for a variety of reasons. It is seen as an opportunity to attract new business to our ports across the Humber, that will drive investment, will see manufacturing opportunities in those freeport zones which create employment and, ultimately, create global trading hubs.

Simon Bird, ABP Humber ports director.
Simon Bird, ABP Humber ports director.
(Image: ABP)

“The Humber is the largest port cluster in the UK in terms of tonnages, we have a lot going for us in terms of the multiplier effect that a freeport would bring to the region.”

He called for planning to be at the fore to unleash opportunities, and when asked about job creation, cited the 1,000 now building offshore wind turbine blades on a previously “redundant dock in Hull”.

 “From a standing start there’s a factory that is making the blades being used now and well into the future as that sector gathers pace and there’s more capacity established in the North Sea – there is the sort of model we would see,” he said.

“There is a fully consented site on the South Bank outside the ABP ports, consented to develop a site for manufacture of blades, towers and nacelles to be exported and used in the North Sea. The world is looking at offshore wind and if you have these manufacturing centres in a freeport clearly they will be looking to export around the world.

“I know Taiwan, US, plenty of nations are developing, where they are looking to source in the UK. A freeport will add impetus to that, add more bang to the buck in that respect.”

Mr Bird also underlined the importance of building in corridors, with for example if both granted – Liverpool and the Humber being able to send goods across the M62 from port to port without ‘leaving’ freeport status – with a big push on technology for customs and compliance.

How Able Marine Energy Park was envisaged.
How Able Marine Energy Park was envisaged.
(Image: Able UK)

Pulling in the likes of British Steel as a huge export-boosting opportunity was also highlighted, with Mr Bird urging the government to be ambitious. 

Martin Vickers, Cleethorpes and Immingham MP, sits on the committee, and during the campaign referred to the airport’s potential as “an industrial estate with a runway attached to it”.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “It is a great bid, but politics will determine it to some extent,” flagging up the need for a geographical spread.

“If we call get together and put in a strong bid I think we can pull it off.  The big thing we have going for us is he Energy Estuary, and government’s commitment to offshore wind.

“We have got to work hard on it – we are in the frame.”


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