Guiding freeport proposals in the Thames Estuary

By Kate Willard and Perry Glading | 07 December 2020

Our role as the Thames Estuary Growth Board is to make great things happen for the people of the estuary, creating opportunities for jobs, regeneration, infrastructure development, and ultimately, driving sustainable, economic growth.

We recently set out our key guiding principles for freeport proposals within the region, as we know freeport status will help us in our efforts to create change for those who need it.

By setting out key principles, we aim to use our collective clout and expertise to not only give direction and support to freeport bids, but also to ensure they align with our objectives so the residents and communities in the region reap the benefits.

Freeports have different customs and taxation rules to the rest of the country. Goods and services can be imported and exported tariff-free, so areas with freeport status are attractive to business and give a competitive edge in a global market, by drawing inward investment, both domestic and international. With 10 freeports proposed for the UK, our role needs to be focused on getting the best out of any estuary bid(s), providing a vital piece of this action for the estuary.

Our criteria for freeport proposals are based on six key areas: economic, investment, innovation, environment, regeneration and community.

Proposals must:

  • Demonstrate how freeport status would improve productivity, employment opportunities, boost trade, improve skill levels and overall prosperity across the Thames Estuary, and how it would support the Growth Board’s ambitions of £115bn additional GVA by 2050. (Economic)
  • Prove the public and private investment that freeport status would draw to the estuary. This includes the physical and digital infrastructure needed and how investment will support wider issues such as housing. (Investment)
  • Show how freeport status will drive innovation, including how it will be used to address wider issues such as climate change. Innovative approaches to training and development must be detailed and ensure that benefits are felt locally. (Innovation)
  • Show how negative environmental impact will be minimised and recognise the opportunity to develop innovative approaches, as well as how the natural environment will be protected and enhanced. (Environment)
  • Demonstrate the opening up of new opportunities, including new employment and training, and levelling up of the region. Proposals must show how they bring benefits to the Thames Estuary, articulating the economic, social and environmental benefit to the estuary’s community as a whole. (Regeneration)
  • Show how they will work with local communities to support access to training, how they will raise awareness of opportunities and aspiration, and how this will have a positive impact on a range of outcomes for local communities. (Community)

There are short- and long-term benefits from gaining freeport status. As freeports are less restricted by usual planning processes, construction can begin much more quickly, creating significant numbers of job opportunities.

In the longer-term, communities can grow around them; training and career opportunities appear, drawing people to the estuary. With more immediate jobs and longer-term prospects, there is greater opportunity to attract and retain the hard-working people which our economy and community needs to flourish.

We are fortunate to be situated in such an unparalleled location. Our proximity to London, excellent transport links and access to the Thames – the country’s most important waterway – make the estuary a thriving hub for import and export. But more than just the location, we have the people with the skills, drive and expertise to capitalise on freeport status and all the benefits it brings. As proposals are put together and submitted, the board will continue to support and guide wherever we can, and help make great things happen in the estuary.

Kate Willard is estuary envoy and chair of the Thames Estuary Growth Board, and Perry Glading is a member of the Thames Estuary Growth Board, leading on Freeports


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