Freeport will not be a silver bullet – The Pembrokeshire Herald – The Pembrokeshire Herald

AT THE beginning of September, before political focus temporarily dimmed, the Welsh and UK Governments invited applications for Wales’s first freeport, which is planned to be up and running next year.
After years of wrangling, Welsh Ministers agreed to support freeport policies in Wales after the UK Government agreed delivering them would meet the Welsh Government’s demands for a “partnership of equals”.
Part of the agreement reached placed Wales on the same footing for starter funding after three years in which the UK Government refused to fund Wales to the same level as Scotland and England.
A Welsh freeport will be a special zone with the benefits of simplified customs procedures, relief on customs duties, tax benefits, and development flexibility.
Milford Haven Port Authority, which has already expressed interest in Freeport-status, to push the Haven’s claims to be the location of a Freeport in Wales.
Freeports are a special area where normal tax and customs rules do not apply. These can be airports as well as maritime ports. At a Freeport, imports can enter with simplified customs documentation without paying tariffs.
Businesses operating inside designated areas in and around the port can manufacture goods using the imports and add value before exporting again without ever facing full tariffs or export procedures.
Suppose the goods move out of the Freeport into another part of the country. In that case, however, they must go through the full import process, including paying any tariffs.
The UK was previously home to several Freeports, including Liverpool, Southampton, and the Port of Tilbury.
The legislation governing them was not renewed in 2012 because – while the UK remained a member of the EU and in the EU customs area – the economic case for keeping them was lost.
The UK could have chosen to retain freeports; nothing in EU law prevented them. Ending them was a political choice made by the then-administration.
Despite the absence of freeports, England remains home to 24 free zones, which operate on the same principle: in the Tees Valley and Manchester.
The Milford Haven Waterway, a busy energy industry hub, is also a sensitive marine environment.
Supporting a scheme which could potentially undermine the Haven Waterway’s environmental status while pursuing a green energy future will be a difficult balancing act.
Milford Haven Port Authority argues that locating a Freeport in Milford Haven makes sense due to the Haven Waterway’s status as a nationally strategic energy asset and a key trade hub for the British energy supply.
A Freeport, it claims, will be an essential vehicle to help safeguard the existing professional energy jobs and skillsets to utilise for low-carbon ambition while regenerating the economy.
The Port Authority says the port’s existing energy infrastructure presents the opportunity for large-scale hydrogen production and injection with minimal additional infrastructure requirements. Alongside strong wind, wave and tidal resources, deep water access has already accelerated an emerging renewable sector such as floating wind in the Celtic Sea.
The Authority claims that a Freeport could support supply chains from equipment manufacturing to system integration and power connectivity, helping companies develop bankable projects and lower energy costs for UK consumers.
The proximity to major shipping routes and the existence of LNG terminals mean the Haven Freeport could also support a cleaner global maritime sector.
Although freeports could, theoretically, redress imbalances in the UK’s economy by encouraging economic activity in areas where the economy is weakest, a careful balance must be kept.
The use of government subsidies for freeports – whether through direct grants or tax breaks – potentially falls foul of the WTO rules upon which Westminster seems determined to trade.
While freeports are successful in stimulating investment and jobs in a range of locations worldwide, they are neither a “silver bullet” for all locations nor the only way of boosting the UK’s main global gateways.
Freeports are notorious globally for being used to evade tax, launder money, and ease the transportation of stolen or illicit goods.
Moreover, as the experience at the Teesside Freeport development shows, they can lack any form of accountability and create fewer and less widespread economic opportunities than hoped.
The financial scrutiny of the Teesside Freeport is not much more than zero, and a box-ticking exercise carried out without any forensic examination of where the money goes and how contracts are awarded.
Milford Haven Port Authority operates a trust port. There are no shareholders or owners, and, importantly, its Board has independence of action without independent oversight.
A freeport’s financial structure is, if anything, even more financially opaque.
As public money is being invested in a freeport, proper public scrutiny – not merely loose “oversight” or lip service -must be the minimum standard.
Moreover, a freeport could be a money pit and public funding magnet. Too big an opportunity and too large a political totem to allow to fail, even when its economics don’t add up, freeports could end up being propped up by public money while delivering less than promised on the tin.
In all the positive publicity about a possible Freeport in Milford Haven, the Haven is not alone in wanting one.
Holyhead is Wales’s largest Irish Sea port. It is also in the key marginal constituency of Anglesey.
The stalled Wylfa development for nuclear power (part of the UK’s Government economic and energy strategy) is also on the island, and an already massive and expanding wind farm lies off its coast.
Holyhead links the North Wales corridor to England’s northwest and the Midlands. Transport infrastructure is already better to and from Anglesey than from Pembrokeshire to those destinations and will need less investment.
Cardiff Airport is another potential rival and one that could be especially attractive to the Welsh Government.
Since it bought a controlling stake in the Airport, the Welsh Government has propped it up with loans and grants.
Without Welsh Government support, the Airport would be insolvent.
The Welsh Government might be persuaded that making Cardiff Airport the first of Wales’s freeports would kill two birds with one stone.
It would attract more air and freight traffic to the site and decrease the Airport’s reliance on financial help from the Welsh Government.
As with Holyhead, the transport and infrastructure links from Cardiff Airport to other parts of the UK – in this case, the Midlands, the M4 corridor, and Bristol – are superior to those connecting Milford Haven with those regions.
A substantial concern expressed in a report on the Freeport scheme presented to the County Council is the undeniable fact they often do not create jobs but move them from one area to another.
The economic displacement of employment and funding opportunities could pull jobs and investments from one community to another.
If a new freeport only moved jobs and capital from (say) Newport to either Milford Haven or Holyhead, the economic case for their creation becomes – at best – shaky.
That raises the question of whether freeports provide value for public money through direct investment or tax relief.
Freeports could also be used to erode the high standards the UK currently places on workers’ rights and the environment.
Granting freeport operators carte-blanche to do what they want within a designated development area: for example, by allowing shortcuts through planning and environmental law or through allowing employment practices prevented elsewhere, involves trade-offs with unions and planning authorities could find problematic.
While jobs are needed, it is reasonable to ask what jobs and at what cost.
The experience of Welsh Enterprise Zones suggests few new jobs at a massive cost per head.
At a time of enormous hardship, it’s easy to be gulled by the prospect of large sums of public money and the prospect of that money pulling in private investment.
Tax and tariffs apart, a cautious individual might wonder why, if freeports are such a sure-fire thing, they need so much public money.
Senedd: Motion of Condolences was presented bilingually to King Charles III
Cabinet supports more permissive approach to town centre planning applications
DURING The King’s visit to Cardiff on Friday (Sept 16), The Senedd assembled to present a Motion of Condolence to the King.
A Motion of Condolence is a public expression of sympathy that takes place after the death of an important figure.
During an extraordinary session of the Senedd on Sunday, September 11th, MSs agreed the following motion of condolence without a vote:
“That this Senedd expresses its deep sadness at the death of Her Majesty The Queen and offers its sincere condolences to His Majesty The King and other Members of the Royal Family. We recognise Her Majesty’s enduring commitment to public service and duty, including her support for many Welsh charities and organisations, and her lifelong association with Wales and its people.”
The speech was delivered bilingually with this English interpretation provided by the Senedd, along with the images above and below.
The Llywydd of the Senedd, The Right Hon. Elin Jones MS, said, ”
Your Majesties, Senedd Members, Guests.
On behalf of the entire Senedd, I would like to extend a warm welcome to His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen Consort on your first visit to the Senedd since the Queen’s sad passing. We extend our warmest condolences to you and your family.
We welcome your Majesties to our Senedd today and we offer our sincerest condolences on the sad death of your mother, the Queen. We know that so many of the people we represent have been saddened, even shaken, by her loss and hold you and your family in their hearts and prayers at this time.
As we meet here today to offer our motion of condolence, it is poignant for us to think that the Queen’s final visit to Wales was only 11 months ago at the official opening of our sixth Senedd. The Queen was on fine form that day. Many members shared their anecdotes of that visit when we met to pay tribute to the Queen and discussed our motion of condolence in the Senedd on Sunday. And as she left us, eleven months ago, I hope that Her Majesty carried with her the beaming smile of Ffion Gwyther, the last person she met that day in Wales, the young actor from Furnace Llanelli, who smiled broadly as she handed the Queen a posy.
The stories and tributes paid by members to the Queen when we convened on Sunday were warm and witty. As you may imagine, there were many mentions of corgis – her constant, lifelong Welsh companions. Corgi, a Welsh word. Literally small dog. And of course the members here representing Pembrokeshire were particularly keen to champion her preference for the Pembrokeshire corgi. And the member for Ceredigion, me, was silent, and ever so slightly jealous, of the Queen’s choice of the Pembrokeshire corgi over the Cardiganshire corgi.
The Queen was with us for each of the six official openings of this Senedd – and on each occasion, she noted the growth of our powers and the actions that we had taken on behalf of the people of Wales. She respected this Senedd as an expression of the democratic will of the people of Wales.
The Queen was with us in 1999 for the opening of our first fledgling Assembly. She has shared our journey of devolution. She partook in each of our 6 openings, commenting each time on the development of our powers and in becoming a ‘national parliament’ Senedd Cymru. The Queen respected this Parliament because she respected the democratic choices of the people of Wales. She saw us come of age and was interested in our next steps.
From Glyndŵr’s first Senedd of the fifteenth century in Machynlleth to the one in which we are gathered today, our story is old but our democracy is young and ambitious.
It is my sincere hope that the modern relationship between this Senedd, this country and the Royal Family will be rooted in respect and sustained by understanding.
The story of our land, our nation, is a long one, but the story of our Senedd is new and modern. Our eyes are on the future, and I am confident that our co-operation with you, the King, and with the royal family, will reflect that.
And as we remember today the Queen’s enduring commitment to our parliament, we also look forward to the King’s future association with the Senedd and our work on behalf of the people of Wales.
I now invite the First Minister to present the Motion of Condolence to His Majesty the King.
The Motion of Condolences was presented bilingually by the First Minister Mark Drakeford MS, followed by a reply from His Majesty The King in both languages.
PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL planners can now consider a wider variety of planning applications for town centres in Pembrokeshire, thanks to the publication of a new report.
The report by the Council’s planning authority supports a more permissive approach towards the development of multi-functional and vibrant town centres.
Speaking after Cabinet’s endorsement of the report today (Monday), Cllr Paul Miller, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Place, the Region and Climate Change, said: “I strongly believe that the quality of our town centres is important for the wider economic wellbeing of Pembrokeshire.
“However, there is no future in retail-only town centres. Instead, they need to become multi-functional places with a broader range of commercial uses (food and drink, office accommodation) as well as education, health, leisure and public services.
“In addition, they also need to be great places to live and we are committed to supporting the repurposing of vacant retail units to residential where it makes sense to do so.”
Known as the Interim Advisory Note on Development in Town Centres, the report is in line with updates in national planning policy and the publication of Future Wales – a 20-year national development plan produced by Welsh Government.
It means that in primary retail areas, a wider range of planning applications such as those linked to financial and professional uses, and food and drink establishments, are likely to be acceptable.
In secondary retail areas, planning applications for new retail, education, health, leisure and public services are likely to be acceptable as well as residential uses on the ground floor where appropriate. Upper floor residential conversions are already likely to be supported across both primary and secondary retail areas.
Cllr Jon Harvey, Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Delivery, said the Interim Advisory Note would provide clear and transparent advice for both applicants and the authority when determining planning applications in town centres.
“We’re pleased to endorse its publication and looking forward to it supporting an exciting and different future for our town centres in Pembrokeshire,” he said.
To view the report to Cabinet please go to: (agenda item 12)
To view the webcast of the meeting, please go to:
FOLLOWING the election of Liz Truss MP as the new leader of the Conservative Party, and new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has urged the new Prime Minister to prioritise environmental health measures as a means of tackling the twin crises of climate change and soaring cost of living.
The new Prime Minister will be faced with the difficult task of leading the country amidst soaring energy bills, rampant inflation, and concerns regarding energy security in the immediate term, while also having to ensure the UK meets its mid and long-term climate change ambitions.
Ofgem’s recent decision to increase the price-cap to £3,549 means millions of households will be plunged into fuel poverty this winter. Furthermore, their decision to implement a quarterly price cap means that consumers are at risk of even further increases in January, with market analysts predicting January’s price cap to be as high as £4,650.
While Liz Truss promised “more help is coming” with respect to tackling soaring energy bills, CIEH urges that she introduces an Emergency Budget which will freeze energy bills and introduce further financial support to households struggling with their energy bills, as well as introducing a raft of energy efficiency measures. This will have the dual impact of both lowering bills and supporting households through this spiralling cost of living crisis, while also effectively tackling climate change.
Longer term, the new Prime Minister will also have to ensure we have robust policies in place to improve air quality, tackle rising concerns regarding water companies dumping raw sewage into our waterways and ensuring that any new trade deals do not result in reduced food standards.
Ross Matthewman, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said:
“We would like to congratulate Liz Truss on her successful campaign to become the new leader of the Conservative Party and the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
She takes over the running of the country at a vital time, with concerns about inflation, soaring energy bills and the ongoing war in Ukraine threatening our energy security. We at CIEH urge Prime Minister Truss to prioritise strengthening environmental health measures as a means of both meeting these urgent challenges, as well as ensuring the UK remains a world leader in meeting our climate change objectives.
Whether through immediate policies such as freezing energy bills, reversing the quarterly price cap, and targeted energy efficiency measures to better insulate the poorest households, or through long-term measures such as enhancing air quality targets, tighter regulation of water companies dumping raw sewage in our waterways, or ensuring new trade deals either meet or enhance or food standards. Prioritising environmental health policies should be at the forefront of this new administration and we at CIEH look forward to proactively engaging the new government on these urgent and important issues.”

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