"Game changing" plans to bring a freeport to Teesside submitted to government

The Tees Valley Combined authority is championing a policy to bring thousands of jobs to the area. Credit: PA Images

A plan to bring one of the UK's first new freeports to Teesside has been hailed as "game-changing" by the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen.

Supporters of the bid say it could create more than 18,000 jobs and generate £3.2 billion for the local economy.

Freeports are special economic zones where businesses can benefit from tax exemptions and simplified custom arrangements.

The scheme has the backing of the five councils in the Tees Valley - Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton.

A separate bid involving the ports of Tyne, Blyth and Sunderland, as well as Newcastle International Airport and the Nissan plant on Wearside, was submitted to the government on Friday.

Some trade experts are critical of freeports, arguing they do not generate new jobs and investment but encourage businesses to relocate from other areas.

A report from the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex found the benefits will be "very limited in the UK context."

Sunderland MP Bridget Phillipson says that while it makes "obvious sense" for local councils to bid for freeports in their areas, there is "very limited evidence that free ports create jobs."

If the Teesside bid is successful, the freeport would be the largest in the country, incorporating Teesworks, Wilton International, Teesside Airport, the ports of Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, Liberty Steel and LV Shipping.

The government is expected to announce which areas have been selected as freeports in the Budget on March 3. The first tax and customs incentives could be in place by September.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: "Make no mistake, the Teesside Freeport will absolutely be game-changing for Teesside - it will turbo-charge the local economy over the coming years and create thousands of good-quality jobs for local people."

"When I set out on this journey three years ago with the new Chancellor, many people said the UK would never introduce Freeports and that no government would make such sweeping changes to trade and customs policy.

"But with our bid now with government, we could have a decision in just a matter of weeks making Teesside home to the UK's first and biggest Freeport.

"Despite what detractors of Freeports say, these free-trade zones are not about reducing environmental protections or workers' rights. Our bid builds on our region's enviable global reputation as the go-to place when it comes to engineering, chemicals and processing.

"It will allow us to become a magnet for even more international investment and create opportunities to re-shore manufacturing jobs that we haven't seen in this country for decades."

  • North East Conservative and Labour MPs clashed over the plans on Twitter:

Labour's candidate for the Tees Valley Mayor, said: "Beyond covid, we need to restore hope, jobs and opportunity to this area.

"Freeports aren't the silver bullet for bringing good jobs, but if we do it right we can make a Freeport work for us.

"I will do all I can to make that happen, but also to ensure there are the important protections needed to ensure it creates good local jobs and local businesses."