After chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget announcement of England’s new freeport locations, eight areas had good reason to rejoice. Both Sunak and the Government are committed to making freeports a post-Brexit success with a raft of tax breaks, grants and economic boosts promised to the chosen few.
For the local authorities in those eight areas – East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside – there will be challenges around transport and infrastructure. Upgrades to major routes are already planned. But surrounding roads will be busier too as local traffic and passenger vehicles re-route to avoid congestion.
As well as journeys to and from the ports – whether sea or air – goods and people will be moving around within freeport areas. The Government’s model means that the different elements of a freeport, such as custom zones and tax sites, can be at different locations, as long as they are all within a 45km radius.
Goods will also be moving between clusters of related businesses all located within freeport zones. As well as tax breaks and incentives, manufacturers within freeports don’t have to pay import duty on components until they leave the freeport area, assembled within a new product.
The Government is keen to emphasise the role of freeports in its ‘levelling up’ agenda. As well as the promise of new jobs, part of the economic boost should come from improved infrastructure: roads, rail and internet connectivity.
Work to improve the road network is already underway. Essex County Council, for instance, wants to upgrade the A120 which leads to the Harwich and Felixstowe freeport. Highways England is already planning to dual the stretch from Braintree to the junction with the A12. Hampshire County Council received £13m from the Department for Transport’s major road network funding stream earlier this year to upgrade the Redbridge Causeway bridges over the River Test which provide access to Southampton port, part of the Solent freeport.
With the freeport status kicking is as early as the end of this year, now is a good time for local authorities in those areas to take a good look at the condition of their existing roads and take action to preserve them. The old adage of ‘a stitch in time save nine’ is never truer than when applied to roads. A surface dressing or a pothole repair programme applied in a timely manner can avoid a far more expensive resurfacing operation a few years down the line.
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