A UAE-backed freeport on the river Thames won the support of the British government on Wednesday, after UK Finance Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled the eight winning bids to turbocharge post-Brexit Britain in his budget statement.
The Thames Freeport in East London's Thames Estuary is a digitally linked, special economic zone that includes DP World-owned London Gateway port, as well as Tilbury port and a Ford factory in Dagenham. It is one of eight new economic zones that will receive tax advantages and customs relief.
Alan Shaoul, chief financial officer at DP World in the UK, said on Wednesday that the Thames Freeport was “open for business”.
“Our London Gateway site alone has almost 10 million square feet of land that has planning consent, and the capacity to expand materially its operational area and therefore attract new foreign direct investment within the lifetime of this parliament,” Mr Shaoul said.
Freeports are areas that allow companies to import and export from the UK under simplified customs, tax and planning rules, one of Mr Sunak’s plans to help the country build back from the pandemic because they will attract investment and trade and boost jobs across the country.
The sites, which include ferry ports and airports, are eligible for stamp duty and business rates relief, with National Insurance relief, a lower rate of VAT and employment tax also offered to employers in some instances.
Goods can be imported into the freeport, then manufactured and exported again without facing standard tariffs or requiring normal customs checks.
Another two freeports in the devolved administrations of the UK are yet to be unveiled.
The bidding process for the UK freeports opened in November, with the government accepting bids from cities and towns across England with the aim to drive investment, create jobs and regenerate communities as part of a levelling-up agenda.
Mr Sunak unveiled the winning bids in his budget statement, with East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside all securing freeport status.
Mr Sunak said the eight sites, which will be up and running by the end of the year, will provide an “unprecedented economic boost across the UK”.
"Our freeports will have simpler planning – to allow businesses to build; infrastructure funding – to improve transport links; cheaper customs – with favourable tariffs, VAT or duties; and lower taxes – with tax breaks to encourage construction, private investment and job creation," Mr Sunak said.
Thames Freeport urged businesses looking to expand to take advantage of the tax benefits of relocating to the freeport and being part of a customs zone.
Thames Freeport will pump £4.5 billion of new public and private investment into the area and create more than 25,000 new jobs.
There will also be £400m of investment into the surrounding region, which houses 20 per cent of the UK’s most-deprived communities.
Thames Freeport said the concept is in its “DNA” because “DP World began as a free trade zone in Jebel Ali, while Tilbury was a freeport until 2012”.
Stuart Wallace, chief operating officer at Forth Ports, the owners of the Port of Tilbury, said Thames Freeport was “ready to hit the ground running” with the special economic measures set to "turbocharge the best of the private sector, attracting value and manufacturing activity to the ports, the Thames Estuary and the wider South-east, alongside supporting key infrastructure projects in the coming years".
"The Thames Freeport will be that catalyst to level up the left-behind communities along the estuary," Mr Wallace said.
About 30 ports and airports reportedly applied for freeport status, with the deadline for bids ending last month.
Bids in England were scored against different criteria, with one of the most important, according to the government, being how a site could bring economic opportunity to poorer regions and "level up" the country.
The consortium behind Thames Freeport said last month that its proposal was attractive because the area has direct shipping routes to every continent.
While supporters say freeports can help increase manufacturing, and encourage jobs and investment in areas that would otherwise struggle to attract them, critics argue that they create mini tax havens and simply move economic activity from one place to another at a cost to the taxpayer.