PRESELI MP Stephen Crabb has called on the Welsh Government to ‘get serious’ over the potential benefits of freeports in Pembrokeshire and in other key port communities across Wales.
Following the UK Government’s Budget, which announced the locations of English freeports were announced, focus has now turned to where freeports could be located in Wales. Any new freeport would require the cooperation of Welsh Government Ministers in Cardiff who, so far, have been slow to capitalise on this economy boosting policy.
Stephen Crabb has said that Pembrokeshire’s port of Milford Haven would be an ideal candidate for freeport status, helping drive investment and employment in the local area.
Pembrokeshire’s other MP, Simon Hart, said last week that Wales’ will get a freeport ‘come what may’. No freeport was announced for Wales in the UK Budget last week as UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the location of eight freeports across England.
Speaking at a UK Government lobby briefing on Wednesday two weeks ago, Mr Hart said it had been the UK Government’s intention to announce a freeport in Wales in last week’s budget, but the announcement was “held up by the Welsh Government.”
Mr Hart said it was disappointing a deal has not been struck with the Drakeford government but warned that the UK Government has the right to press ahead with plans without their cooperation.
Mr Hart said: “Technically and legally, there is a reserved freeport model. We want to be collaborative, but we do ultimately have the ability to proceed.
“Freeports will create and sustain jobs, create inward investment, and it was our intention to get freeports over the line simultaneously.”
“It is a source of frustration that we have not been able to strike a deal with Welsh Government. We thought we had got there but there has been a hold up.
“We will deliver a freeport in Wales come what May. I believe there may be some ideological resistance from the First Minister’s office.
“We were getting very positive vibes and then suddenly we got very negative vibes at the final furlong.”
Commenting that Milford Haven was the best place for a Freeport in Wales, Stephen Crabb MP said:
“The estuary is an ideal location given the dynamic mix of industries, skills and opportunities there, freeport status could be the catalyst needed to boost the local economy as we recover from the pandemic and capitalise on post-Brexit opportunities.
“Welsh Government now needs to get serious about the benefits of freeports and stop intentionally slowing down a policy that would boost economic activity.
“People want to see collaboration between Governments, not needless hold ups, and I will continue to highlight the Haven as an ideal location for freeport status.”
Crabb added: “With Pembrokeshire being included in the UK Government’s new Levelling Up Fund and Community Renewal Fund, now is a perfect opportunity for a joined-up agenda between the County Council, Port Authority, National Park and others, to deliver new projects that can make a difference here in Pembrokeshire.”
“Teesside, which was given freeport status by the UK Government during the Budget, has already seen General Electric announce £20m worth of investment and around 3,000 new jobs in the area since the status was granted.”
Freeport could be a £250m boost
Milford Haven Port Authority argues that a Haven Waterway freeport would ‘amplify economic development efforts to safeguard recovery and employment and build economic resiliency in the long-term.
The Authority says that the Port of Milford Haven is a nationally strategic energy asset and a key trade hub for the British energy supply.
‘A freeport will be an essential vehicle to help safeguard the existing professional energy jobs and skill sets to utilise for low-carbon ambition while regenerating the economy’, a spokesperson said recently.
Andy Jones, CEO for the Port Authority told this newspaper: “A Haven freeport has the existing resources, natural capital, hard infrastructure and skills base to stimulate the nationally significant energy and engineering cluster along the Haven Waterway as it continues its evolution. Whether supporting floating wind deployment or hydrogen production, this next chapter will make a massive contribution to the country’s Net Zero ambitions. We look forward to working alongside the Welsh Government on the specific details of the process in Wales,” commented
Cllr David Simpson, Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, said: “The importance of the Port of Milford Haven to the economy and prosperity of Pembrokeshire cannot be overstated. We support the Port’s bid for Freeport status to safeguard existing jobs and industry and support the evolution to exciting renewable developments and opportunities. We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with the Port.”
Hugh Kelly, Project Managing Director at Blue Gem Wind, said: “We set up our Blue Gem Wind HeadQuarters within the Haven Waterway Enterprise Zone in May 2020 as an ideal location to manage the development of Wales’ first floating offshore wind project. The Port of Milford Haven’s Freeport vision and focus on a future low carbon economy aligns well with our plans for the Celtic Sea.”
The economic potential of the proposed multi-site, supply chain connected “virtual” freeport model is significant. Modelling by Vivid Economics suggests a successful Haven freeport could support between 1,200 and 2,750 jobs and between £22 and £50 million in GVA annually for south west Wales after 20 years of freeport-related growth. This local growth would contribute to a total national impact of between 1,800 and 4,150 jobs and between £110 and £250 million in GVA across the national supply chain.