Councils reject plan to withdraw from Suffolk/Essex economic region group

Trading Standards officers inspected goods arriving at the Port of Felixstowe. File picture: ARCHANT

A bid for ports at Felixstowe and Harwich to become a freeport have prompted Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils to remain a partner with the Haven Gateway Partnership - Credit: Archant

Councillors have rejected plans to walk away from a summit of community leaders on the Suffolk/Essex border which promotes economic growth, citing the freeport plans for Felixstowe and Harwich as being instrumental.

A meeting of Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils' joint scrutiny committee in November heard that there were questions over the value and relevance the Haven Gateway Partnership had for Suffolk.

Babergh District Council leader John Ward described Nick Ridley as 'one of Suffolk's finest sons'. P

Babergh council leader John Ward said it would be premature to leave the Haven Gateway Partnership - Credit: Archant

Haven Gateway Partnership is a gathering of leaders across the south Suffolk and north Essex area to promote it as a distinct economic region because of its ports at Felixstowe and Harwich.

Partners include councils in East Suffolk, Colchester, Tendring, Braintree, Maldon and Essex County Council, as well as the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich, Stansted Airport, BT, Colchester Mercury Theatre and Colchester Institute.

Concerns were raised at the joint scrutiny meeting that "money was not spent in the councils' interest" as it was more heavily focused on Essex, and "cannot demonstrate value or relevance".

Recommendations to consider withdrawing from the group were presented to Babergh and Mid Suffolk councils.

However, it was considered that a bid for Felixstowe and Harwich ports to become a freeport, that will also involve Mid Suffolk's Gateway 14 business park project, meant it would be vital to be a part of.

Gerard Brewster, Mid Suffolk District Council's cabinet member for economic growth, welcomed the name change Picture...

Mid Suffolk deputy leader Gerard Brewster said a change in approach by the Haven Gateway Partnership meant it was worth staying a part of - Credit: Gregg Brown

The government's freeport scheme aims to create individual customs zones outside of existing rules to encourage international trade.

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Councillors at Babergh's last full council meeting rejected withdrawing from the partnership by 21 votes to six, while Mid Suffolk's meeting also turned down the recommendation to leave by 28 votes to five.

Babergh leader John Ward acknowledged that the partnership "does find it difficult to demonstrate value" but "unites the authorities on the Essex and Suffolk sides of the Stour".

He added: "Given that potentially there is going to be a bid for Freeport East that will encompass Felixstowe and Harwich it might give a renewed vitality to the Haven Gateway Partnership. I think any withdrawal at the moment would be a bit premature."

Mid Suffolk deputy leader Gerard Brewster, who originally raised fears about its usefulness, told Mid Suffolk that a change in approach by the partnership in recent weeks surrounding the freeport bid meant a withdrawal was no longer recommended.

"It could be very, very useful to Mid Suffolk as far as Gateway 14 is concerned, which would bring some really positive elements into that scheme hat could support all the businesses," he said.

Cllr Adrian Osborne at Uplands Middle School in Sudbury.

Cllr Adrian Osborne at Uplands Middle School in Sudbury. - Credit: Archant

However, Babergh councillor Adrian Osborne said it had "basically become a talking shop" and added: "If it doesn't produce anything for Babergh district I cannot see the point of actually being there."

The bid for freeports must be submitted by the end of this week, with East Suffolk Council's cabinet on Tuesday set to approve the submission  from its side.