The application window for ports in England to apply for freeport status closes on Friday 5 February. The BPA is aware of approximately 35 organisations or consortia that have expressed an interest in bidding, publicly or privately, including 27 in England.
The industry has welcomed the recognition of governments across the UK that ports have an important role to play in industrial policy, supporting innovation and prosperity in coastal communities and beyond. The BPA has been making the case for several years that ports are more than just gateways for passengers and freight but are and have the potential to be hubs of industrial activity, jobs and growth.
Whilst welcoming the focus from government, the BPA has warned about how intervention in a competitive market could have unintended consequences. Since major reforms to the industry thirty years ago, the industry has operated entirely independently of government in terms of its funding and governance and this has brought huge benefits: ports invest hundreds of millions of private capital every year in infrastructure and contribute £2bn a year to the Exchequer.
The BPA is now calling on governments to ensure that:
1. The selection process must be fair and transparent
o The BPA remains concerned that the benefits of freeports will be offered to a small and arbitrary number of 'winners', picked by government. This could disrupt a well-functioning and competitive market.
2. They continue to work with industry to ensure a sound regulatory environment is established, for all ports to flourish
o Government have stated that they will allocate more than 10 Freeports if they receive a high number of high-quality bids, but they must ensure that benefits are given to ports in an inclusive way to unlock growth at all ports. The BPA is particularly excited to examine the possibility of expanding planning levers that form part of the Freeports package out to all ports and would be happy to work with Government to consider how this might be deployed.
3. There is a level playing field across all UK nations
The BPA was pleased to see Scotland’s acceptance of the UK Government’s Freeports offer, but industry is still waiting on key details to ensure these designations are equally beneficial. We strongly encourage that the Welsh Government and Northern Irish Executive follow suit to avoid displacement to English and Scottish ports.
Commenting on the application deadline, Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, Policy Manager and Economic Analyst, at the British Ports Association said:
"The BPA has been lobbying for this freeports package for years, so this is a welcome and exciting milestone. We have long argued that ports can play a wider role in local and regional economies and we are delighted that ministers have recognised this.
"We hope that the Government will assess each bid on its merit and not place an arbitrary cap on our ambitions. We would be surprised if there are not more than 10 high quality and compelling bids so we hope government will assess each on their merits and retain an open mind on numbers.
"The industry is looking forward to working with Government to continue to look at how ports can be placed at the heart of industrial policy across the UK and not just in areas selected as freeports."
The British Ports Association has set out three priorities for the establishment of freeports for UK governments ahead of the deadline for bids closing in England this Friday.