Answers demanded on how New Forest will benefit from freeport

ANSWERS have been demanded about how New Forest residents and businesses will benefit from Solent Freeport. Hailed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, the freeport, which includes areas in Marchwood and Fawley, was officially designated at the end of 2022. It brings tax relief, simplified customs procedures and streamlined planning processes to promote regeneration and innovation.

The government had pledged up to GBP25m in funding for the project, with the potential generation of tens of millions of pounds in business rates, which can be kept locally to spend on infrastructure and regeneration.

Solent Freeport includes areas in Marchwood and Fawley. Inset, Cllr Jill Cleary

Solent Freeport includes areas in Marchwood and Fawley. Inset, Cllr Jill Cleary

Solent Freeport includes areas in Marchwood and Fawley.

Inset, Cllr Jill Cleary

Speaking at a meeting of New Forest District Council, Cllr Sean Cullen asked leader Cllr Jill Cleary which type of businesses were being encouraged to be a part of the freeport.

He said: "The freeport has been in place for around two years and NFDC represents the interests of residents across the whole district, so it is important that we have a clear aspirational plan for what businesses will move into the port and the impact they will have. "I wonder if the leader can tell me what type of businesses are being encouraged to be part of the freeport and how they will further the interests of the national park, as they are now requested to do in law."

Cllr Jill Cleary

Cllr Jill Cleary

Cllr Jill Cleary

Cllr Cleary explained: "The business case envisages a wide range of users at Southampton Water, including automotive handling, port-centric logistics, marine manufacturing, high technology businesses, renewable energy, and advanced manufacturing. "The freeport has recently appointed a trade and investment manager who will work with the council and Department for Business and Trade to maximise investment into freeport tax sites.

This is a major resource, focusing on economic growth in the Forest." She added: "A successful freeport should see a significant enhancement of our national park offer, but also connectivity between our Waterside communities and the park itself."

As reported in the A&T, the district council agreed priorities in economic growth in order to secure a "legacy" for the New Forest. These include transport and wider infrastructure, employment and skills, environment stability and prosperous communities.

Officers are now developing a New Forest Freeport Delivery Plan, which will "form the basis for discussions" on use of business rates and other funding opportunities as they come forward. Cllr Malcolm Wade asked what checks were being put in place to ensure benefits from the freeport were realised. He said: "It is fair to say the cabinet are enthusiastic about the Solent Freeport project, and it is seen as a key driver of future economic growth and investment plans for the district.

"However, what scrutiny and checks and balances are in place to ensure residents and businesses will genuinely benefit?"

Cllr Cleary said the council was "supportive" of the freeport process as it provides "considerable benefit to businesses who want to invest in our district, which can be a major contributor to our economic growth and ensuring the supply of highly skilled jobs for our residents".

She added: "Additionally, the ability of the freeport to reinvest retained business rates provides an opportunity for the New Forest and the region as a whole to fund regeneration priorities."

A sub-committee of the Solent Freeport board had been established to ensure the appropriate scrutiny and balance is given, she explained, alongside Portsmouth City Council's role as a accountable body.