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Councillors to support full business case for East Midlands Freeport

Nottinghamshire councillors have backed a draft document outlining the full plans for a ‘freeport’ to be created in the East Midlands – potentially bringing tens of thousands of jobs to the region.

Members of Nottinghamshire County Council’s policy committee met on Thursday 10 February to discuss the plan before it is submitted to the Government in the coming weeks.

A ‘freeport’ is a low or zero-tax area, allowing businesses to import and export while avoiding customs tariffs and reducing red tape. The idea was brought forward by the Government to strengthen regional economies across England.

The East Midlands plans are among several being touted for various locations across the country, with the region to benefit from the only inland site of those bidding to the Government.

The full scale of the plans were revealed in September last year when the East Midlands Freeport Board submitted its outline business case to Whitehall.

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The board includes representatives of councils from across the region, plus universities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.  The idea has been backed publicly by both Conservative and Labour MPs.

Councillor Ben Bradley (Con), leader of the council and Mansfield MP, confirmed on Thursday the latest estimates suggest 29,000 direct jobs could be created across three freeport sites.

These anchor sites are Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Rushcliffe, East Midlands Airport and near Derbyshire’s Toyota Island.

An additional 32,000 indirect jobs could also be created off the back of the project, Cllr Bradley says, leading to around 61,000 new jobs in total across the region.

And it is projected about £8.8 billion could be added to the value of the East Midlands economy over the next 25 years, with half of this relating directly to the three sites.

These projections are higher than the figures put forward by the board when its outline business case was revealed last year.

The jobs would boost industries including manufacturing, construction, distribution, logistics, transport, clean energy and aviation.

And the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station site is touted to become a “hub for clean energy” once it is decommissioned in 2024.

Now councillors have approved the latest draft of the full business case, which will go before the Government for approval at the start of April.

Speaking in the meeting, Cllr Bradley said: “The impact of this is quite significant – potentially 61,000 new jobs around the region, 29,000 of those directly on the freeport sites.

“These are high-quality jobs in manufacturing, logistics, aviation, energy sectors, which could be an additional £8.8 billion in added value to our regional economy.

“That’s hugely impactful, particularly as part of the wider package we’ve discussed with devolution, the Integrated Rail Plan and everything else that’s going on in our area.”

The full business case has not been made public due to sensitive information included within it, the council says.

Documents published by Nottinghamshire County Council before Thursday’s meeting add some information contained within the draft plan would “add a limited amount to the public understanding” of the issue.

But it states publishing the information would “significantly damage the council’s and partners’ commercial position”.

This led to concern from Councillor Kate Foale, leader of the Labour group, with the group abstaining on the vote.

She said: “We are pro-jobs, pro-investment, and pro-business growth in Nottinghamshire.

“Our objections are to what is being presented in front of us today and to what is publicly available.

“The Labour group expects, given the lack of detail, that more will need to be discussed and decided upon regarding the freeport issue in future, as significant sections of the proposal aren’t resolved.

“On the information that is currently exempt, I believe Nottinghamshire residents shouldn’t be patronised by an assumption they won’t understand this.

“It’s in all our interests so we all deserve to know what’s being discussed in more detail, and I would expect the information which clearly can be made public, as it is in the public interest, should be released following this meeting.”

The Independent Alliance raised concerns about “job displacement”, security, tax fraud and the impact on businesses currently operating within the East Midlands economy.

Responding, Adrian Smith, the council’s deputy chief executive, said: “There is a whole raft of prescriptive guidance and regulations [businesses in the freeport] zones will need to meet.

“In reality, they will be accountable directly to Government and operators who benefit from the customs incentives have a direct relationship and will be regulated by both HMRC and Border Force.

“From a Government perspective, this policy is about growing economic activity not moving it and displacing it around the country.

“We have to demonstrate to the Government that these three sites will lead to additional economic activity.”

The region is expected to get its freeport plans approved by the Government, with the Levelling Up White Paper mentioning the project last week.

The deadline for submitting the full business case was pushed back from December to April, with the policy committee meeting again at the end of March to discuss the final submission for a final time.

Leicestershire County Council is the authority responsible for co-ordinating the submission, with Nottinghamshire giving its approval and backing as a board member.

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