The business case for an East Midlands Freeport, potentially supporting more than 25,000 jobs, has been submitted to government.
The East Midlands Freeport Board’s outline case for the plans suggests it could boost the region’s economy of £8.4 billion across 25 years.
And it says a further 30,000 indirect jobs could come off the back of the project, helping to improve locally-based supply chains and energise the region’s economy.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak gave his backing for the Freeport along with seven others around the UK at the spring budget.
Freeport sites would get streamlined planning rules, tax reliefs and business rates reliefs, and allow businesses to import and export while avoiding tariffs and reducing red tape.
The region’s scheme would take in three sites: East Midlands Airport and the industrial sites around it; the Ratcliffe on Soar power station site, which is a due to be redeveloped after closing in 2025; and the 5.2 million sq ft East Midlands Intermodal Park near the Toyota plant in Derbyshire.
The airport is second to only Heathrow in the UK when it comes to handling cargo, while the 700 acre Segro logistics park next door is already partially filled, with its own rail interchange and easy access to the M1.
Meanwhile, plans to replace the power station at Ratcliffe on Soar, with a zero-carbon technology and energy hub, now include a bid for the world’s first nuclear fusion power station.
And the intermodal park near Toyota will have its own rail freight Interchange and could eventually provide space for up to 6,000 new jobs.
Scott Knowles, chief executive of East Midlands Chamber said it was exciting to see the plans for the Freeport move forward.
He said: “Our region already has fantastic national and international trading links – something highlighted during the pandemic – and freeport status means we can cement our role at the centre of Britain’s post-Brexit global trading relationship.
“We are in a unique position as the only inland freeport among the 10 designated zones, which is testament to East Midlands Airport’s reputation as the country’s most important mover of international freight and the catalyst for the explosive growth we’ve witnessed in our region’s logistics sector in recent years.
“This free trade zone, which will have a focus on innovation, low carbon and trade, signals the direction of travel for the East Midlands economy – giving investors something tangible to back in order to deliver the inward investment and jobs that will enable growth.
“For our workforce, it will provide much-needed new opportunities for high-skilled, well-paid and more productive jobs.”
The East Midlands Freeport Board includes representatives of councils from across the region, plus universities and local enterprise Partnerships and has been backed by Conservative and Labour MPs.
The public-private sector partnership would see more than £2 billion invested into the region initially.
A skills academy is also planned within the package, focusing on upskilling the East Midlands population in key industries to create high-skilled, well-paid and more productive jobs.
In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service ahead of the bid’s submission, Nottinghamshire Conservative MPs Ben Bradley and Ruth Edwards revealed more detail about the plan to make the region a “hotbed of innovation”.
“It’s worth saying that there are one million people who live within a half-an-hour drive from those sites, and that’s a lot of people accessing those jobs and support,” said Mr Bradley.
“Each site has its own plan for getting people in and out of work, transport wise, and when you start to add in Robin Hood Line improvements, the Toton-Chetwynd link road, suddenly you’re getting people from Mansfield to the freeport sites quite quickly.
“It’s not just the jobs on-site but the wider supply chain, half the jobs will be created not on the sites themselves, but around the rest of the region.”
One of the three sites will be based within Mrs Edwards’ constituency, with the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station to become a “hub for clean energy”.
Loughborough-based company Intelligent Energy already has plans to develop a renewable energy Hydrogen Gigafactory at the site, which could create up to 1,000 skilled jobs.
The company has also committed to bringing its supply chain with it, bringing, it says, thousands more jobs and making the region a “powerhouse for green manufacturing”.
Latest detailed analysis by the project board indicates 55,220 direct and indirect roles will be created over the 25-year lifetime of the freeport. In that time, the board’s plan estimates the value of the region’s economy will increase by £8.4 billion.
All of these would be extra new jobs in the region, rather than existing roles being moved to the sites.
And a document seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service estimated the Nottinghamshire site could benefit from the bulk of new jobs.
But while Mr Bradley, the Mansfield MP and Conservative Nottinghamshire County Council leader, insisted the jobs won’t come “overnight”, he believes the overall package is “really positive”.
The bid forms part of a wider regeneration project planned across the East Midlands, hooked on four major schemes: the freeport, HS2, the East Midlands Development Corporation, and a potential devolution package.
Doubts have recently been cast over the future of HS2’s eastern leg, but Mr Bradley is confident Toton will be included in the upcoming Integrated Rail Plan.
He says the freeport is “interrelated, not dependent” on HS2, with plans to deliver the freeport regardless of the rail project’s outcome.
Concerns have been raised by thinktank UK in a Changing Europe, which fears freeport plans could move jobs rather than create new ones, and may not be a “magic bullet” to fixing local economies.
Assuming the outline business case is approved, the full freeport plan is expected to be lodged in November ahead of possible Government approval in December or January.