Concerns voiced over benefits of freeport as bid backed by council

A CGI image of what the Gateway 14 entrance at Stowmarket could look like

A CGI image of what the Gateway 14 entrance could look like - Credit: GLASS CANVAS/GATEWAY 14 LTD

Plans for a freeport that could create 13,000 new jobs in Suffolk have been labelled as an "onshore tax haven" by opponents.

Opposition councillors at Mid Suffolk say they particularly have “grave concerns” about Stowmarket's Gateway 14 development area inclusion in the project, which will also feature Felixstowe and Harwich ports.

Andy Mellen, leader of the Green and Liberal Democrat group, said: “The site is wholly-owned by Mid-Suffolk, and the original vision was for a high-quality manufacturing hub with a food enterprise zone.

“We think that the freeport proposal has skewed the development in a different direction, and we fear it will largely become an onshore tax-haven, a logistics and transport hub with fewer, lower-paid jobs than originally envisaged.

“The proposal documents suggest that Freeport East will be a green energy hub – but there are still questions about how this aspect will be delivered at Gateway 14.

“Lastly, it is incredibly disappointing that, despite the site being right next to the main railway line, there will be no rail connection for goods traffic, meaning that all the extra trade produced will have to travel along the A14 on lorries.”

Supporters though say the project will be a "once in a generation opportunity" and generate £330million of investment, and Mid Suffolk District Council's cabinet has given its backing to the Freeport East business plan.

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Gerard Brewster, Independent cabinet member for the economy and deputy leader of the council, said: “Freeports are a flagship HM Government programme that play an important part in the UK’s post-Covid and post-Brexit economic recovery.

“The inclusion of Gateway 14 as a tax site has meant that 100% of the business rates received for all development on this site will be retained locally for the next 25 years.

“This will be split into pots, some of which we will be able to reinvest in Gateway 14 to deliver added value for this landmark development.

“Most notably, bringing forward development of the innovation and skills centre and funding additional net zero initiatives on-site.”

John Whitehead, Conservative cabinet member for finance who is also a councillor director for Gateway 14, said it was "a really exciting opportunity" and the ability for the council to retain business rates was a real bonus.