‘Now we capitalise on the Humber’s freeport status’ – MP who championed creation

A key voice behind the creation of freeports has urged the Humber to make the most of its new status as he celebrates his home turf getting a speedy consent.

Cleethorpes and Immingham MP Martin Vickers headed up the evidence gathering for the new model, a headline act of the Budget.

The UK’s largest port is on his patch.

Mr Vickers said: “When the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, then a backbench MP, published a report some years ago indicating his support for freeports I recognised what a boost this could be for my constituency that includes the Port of Immingham. After speaking to local business leaders it was clear there was widespread support and I set-up Parliament’s All-Party Group to lobby the Government to pursue the policy.

“For Immingham and the wider area it opens the doors to more investment as freeports can be a magnet for businesses to locate within their boundaries. With investment comes jobs and an opportunity for us to train our young people for skilled, well-paid work.

“We are also heard from the Chancellor that there is further Government funding to develop the Able UK port and marine energy development in Killingholme. All-in-all it’s a good day for our area.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has backed the Humber big in the Budget 2021.

Mr Vickers has urged old battles to be forgotten as ABP and Able UK are brought together to maximise the impact a freeport can have.

Looking ahead, Mr Vickers said: “The key is to capitalise on this news now. We have got the go-ahead which is great, and I’m amazed he announced eight in weeks of the bids closing.

“It is good news, and while we await the small print, the steering group wll become a management board and it is important once established, that it will feature ABP, the councils, the LEPs and also Able – with it now sat on a tax zone.

“It needs them to get together once we have the detail from the Treasury and we have got to make the best of it. The potential is huge, it is a magnet.”

Elected in 2010, Mr Vickers said Able Marine Energy Park was in his in tray as it was unwrapped, and was delighted to see significant funds heading to finally start quaysuide building.

“It is almost 11 years since I was elected now, and I recall they contacted me within days of the election – it has been a very long haul.

“There was the dispute with ABP, it dragged on, lost a lot of time and there was a lot of bad blood at the time. They have patched up the relationship and work well together now, which is good news because once we got approval there was no point in fighting against it. We have got to work together and develop the area.”

A new visualisation of how Able Marine Energy Park will look.
A new visualisation of how Able Marine Energy Park will look.
(Image: David Lee Photography Ltd)

Since the Eighties privatisation of the ports ABP has dominated the Humber, with Grimsby, Immingham, Hull and Goole under its control.

North Killingholme’s emergence and the potential for at-scale development brought a long-running contesting of planning and the necessary compulsory purchase of what became known as the ‘Killingholme Triangle’ a small but vital envelope of land in ABP ownership. It ended up in parliament after a series of challenges, before ABP finally conceded.

A lot of water has passed since, and it has been widely acknowledged that the work to get the bid across the line has seen a strong united front on the Humber. In fact it was the public sphere that then brought perceived challenge, with the backdrop of a pan-estuary devolution deal sinking and the economic entity’s local enterprise partnership about to disband.

With no elected mayor the securing of such a status will be seen as an even stronger success for the Humber.

East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Liverpool, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside join it in the first wave.

Mr Sunak said the freeports will have “simpler planning”, “cheaper customs – with favourable tariffs, VAT or duties”, and lower taxes – with “tax breaks to encourage construction, private investment and job creation”.

He said the freeport policy is “on a scale we’ve never done before” and will be key in creating jobs, making it easier and cheaper to do business.

An artist’s impression of Humber International Business Park – another key freeport zone, although it still requires planning consent.

“I see old industrial sites being used to capture and store carbon, vaccines being manufactured, offshore wind turbines, creating clean energy for the rest of the country, all located within a freeport”, he told the House of Commons in his Budget speech.

The Humber has two carbon capture proposals in a separate funding competition.

Chair of industry body Maritime UK, Sarah Kenny, said: “It’s an important step to see the locations of freeports announced, but the Government must also address coastal deprivation in the many areas that won’t be freeports.

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“Maritime UK and the ports sector have set out measures to help boost trade and investment in all our regions, including through planning reform, and other levers such as enhanced enterprise zone status, capital allowances and research and development tax credits. These can happen outside the freeports programme.

“We therefore call on the government to work with us to spread a number of the low cost elements of the freeports package more widely across coastal communities all around the UK as soon as possible to accelerate levelling-up and Covid-19 recovery.”

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