£80million funding gap for Freeport East project

The Port of Felixstowe is struggling with congestion

The Port of Felixstowe will be part of the Freeport East project - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Council chiefs say a significant funding gap of around £80million to create a freeport in the east of England is a good “risk to take”.

Leader of Essex County Council Kevin Bentley was speaking as the authority agreed to submit details of its submission for the creation of Freeport East based in the Port of Felixstowe and Harwich International Port.

The council supports the project but has made it clear that it must provide benefits for Essex including a green energy hub at Bathside Bay, Harwich – the planned new container facility development adjoining Harwich International Port.

The planned Freeport comprises 275 hectares of space and facilities across three sites eligible for tax relief at Felixstowe port, Bathside Bay and Gateway 14 at Stowmarket.

There are also seven sites eligible for customs duty relief where goods are imported, worked upon and reexported.

As part of the governance of the new enterprise, a company limited by guarantee is due to be formed, comprising members on the current supervisory board.

If the business case is approved, it will release £25million in government seed-funding, split between the three tax sites. Felixstowe will get £12m, Gateway 14 £6m and Harwich the remaining £7m.

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The Harwich Tax Site is intended to be developed as a Clean Energy Hub and create 1,900 jobs.

However, the boundary of the tax site is largely comprised of areas that require to be reclaimed from the sea in order to provide a development platform, and a significant funding gap of around £80m remains even after the provisional allocation of £7m.

Mr Bentley said: “I think this huge opportunity for creating further jobs and particularly skills and the ability to train people in the location where they live for jobs they’re going to get locally is something we’ve done elsewhere in the county and something we can do here.

“So I think on balance it’s a good thing to do and a good risk to take. we will manage that risk and monitor that risk.”

Councillor Lesley Wagland, cabinet member for economic renewal, infrastructure and planning, said: “In relation to the places most likely to benefit from this freeport we will be looking very closely at how to deliver the skills and education agenda within that levelling up piece and that the pots of money in the report follow from a good deal of negotiation and a lot of effort to try and get this to a point where it is likely not to be over complicated.”

The Felixstowe tax site is due to be fully active from 2023 or 2024, with hopes that Gateway 14 will have first occupation from as soon as this autumn.

The Harwich tax site is set to be active from 2024/25, the report said.