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Business leaders backing Holyhead freeport status urge UK and Welsh governments to end impasse

Business leaders say securing freeport status for Holyhead would be a “once in a generation” opportunity to turbo-charge the North Wales economy.

According to the North Wales and Mersey Dee Business Council, it would help attract billions of pounds of investment and create thousands of new jobs.

The influential organisation’s commercial director, Ashley Rogers, spoke out after meeting Anglesey MP Virginia Crosbie, who is leading the freeport campaign, and a senior figure from Rolls-Royce who could build mini-nuclear reactors on the island.

UK and Welsh governments have been at loggerheads over a freeport in Wales.

UK ministers have urged the Welsh Government to seize the opportunity but Economy minister Vaughan Gething says they should match the funding being given to freeports in England, and that no firm proposal has been put on the table.

It is understood Wales has been offered £8m seed funding for a freeport – compared to £26m for Liverpool port.

Supporters say that setting up a freeport would help the local and regional economy bounce back from the pandemic. Companies which operate within freeports do so with the benefit of VAT suspension, paying lower business rates and employment tax, as well as relief when it comes to purchasing land and enhanced capital allowances.

Goods could be imported, manufactured, and exported again via a freeport without facing standard tariffs or requiring normal customs checks.

Earlier this year a Merseyside-based company, Tratos UK, said it was considering opening a factory for offshore wind power mega-cables on Anglesey, creating 300 jobs, but says it could only happen if the island has freeport status.

Ashley Rogers said: “From the Business Council’s point of view, under the right conditions, North Wales could benefit hugely from the establishment of a freeport on Anglesey.

“It would build on our existing expertise in research and development, energy, advanced manufacturing and our transport connections between the A55 and the port.

“Having a freeport would attract highly skilled, well paid local jobs and substantial inward investment. At the same time, it would support local businesses to give them access to new markets and added benefits and incentives for new businesses to relocate here.

Ashley Rogers, Commercial Director of the North Wales Mersey Dee Business Counci

“It would also provide added incentive for the likes of Rolls-Royce to pump in billions of pounds of investment.

“Building the Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) could happen relatively quickly, providing reliable, low-carbon energy for local manufacturers and all the jobs that go with that.

“We need to get these major investments up over the line and I believe freeport status for Anglesey would be the spark that would create that.

“One of the major sticking points between governments seems to be the amount of seed funding available for a freeport in Wales versus the existing ones in England.

“Our message to both governments would be to focus on how much a freeport in Wales might need, rather than what English freeports will receive.

“Let’s see some compromise for the sake of our businesses and communities, concentrating on the massive transformative benefits this once-in-a-generation opportunity would bring.”

The support of the North Wales and Mersey Dee Business Council was welcomed by MP Virginia Crosbie who has set up and chairs a consortium to back the bid.

Other members of the Anglesey Freeport Bidding Consortium include representatives from M-SParc, Coleg Menai, Bangor University, Stena Line and Anglesey County Council as well as the North Wales Economic Ambition Board.

Business leaders backing Holyhead freeport status urge UK and Welsh governments to end impasse
Stena Line and Irish Ferries vessels at Holyhead port

The MP said: “Young people on Anglesey want to buy their own homes and stay in their own communities and the way we can do that is to give them skills and good quality jobs.

“We haven’t seen any traction from the Welsh Government and meanwhile we have Liverpool, which has been granted freeport status booming and sucking investment from the north of Wales.

“I really would urge the UK government and the Welsh Government to work together.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “It is deeply disappointing that the UK Government have launched freeports in England while failing to bring forward firm proposals for Wales.

“We have been clear that any Welsh freeport must receive the same financial support as the English sites and that joint decision making is in place to ensure smooth delivery across both levels of government. It must be delivered in line with our fair work and climate policies to protect people and our environment.

“The UK government is fully aware it is not possible for one government to deliver this in isolation, and it is unfair to leave Welsh businesses in the dark indefinitely. No formal offer has been presented to the Welsh Government and we continue to urge the UK Government to resolve this as a matter of urgency.”

Harry Keeling, the Vice-President for Strategy and Business Development for SMRs at Rolls-Royce, said they were looking to produce competitive clean energy for residential housing and to decarbonise industry.

Business leaders backing Holyhead freeport status urge UK and Welsh governments to end impasse
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He said: “Here on Anglesey, we think that’s a beautiful coming together for industry with competitive, clean energy and a freeport.

“It means that industry could produce their products cheaply and carbon free but also export them.”

Mark Blackwell, a director of DU Construction, said: “I think any major investment brought into Anglesey will filter down through all the supply chain that we’re involved with and it’s an investment the whole island will benefit from.”

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