The Humber Freeport could be supercharged with investment zone status tethered to it.
Approval of the final business case to roll-out the huge benefits offered by the post-Brexit opportunity designated by a Chancellor now succeeded three times is still awaited.
Latest government initiatives have led to the most recent pause, and now it is hoped the momentum can build having lost out on one key South Bank investment, while the £15 billion Net Zero opportunity is at the fore.
Read more: Humber vision 'has the world's attention' as investors and government pour over £15b pipeline
Dafydd Williams, ABP’s head of policy, communications and economic development in the Humber, updated as he hosted a debate on the key fiscal tools to drive the estuary forward.
He told The Waterline audience: “We have applied to upgrade all of the sites to investment zones. It doesn’t change what we have, and it adds to it.
“It is subject to the final business case being approved, as there was a delay in the process for approval because we have had to pause to work out what the impact of investment zones would be.
“We do see this as an opportunity to supercharge it and get the ‘full fat version’ Liz Truss was talking about in her leadership campaign.”
Mr Williams said there had been fears the new policy announced by then new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng - with Hull highlighted ahead of the mini-budget he delivered - had potential to rock the boat. He has subsequently been reassured in the latest Treasury make-up.
Joined by Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, he said investment zones “was not as dynamic a policy as freeports” as they are limited to tax incentives. “Uncertainty around the policy is a risk, while the good things about freeports are the fixed number, they have clear incentives that are not going to be cancelled and come with other status which will be particularly beneficial to particular occupiers. The Humber’s position and success already in attracting so much Net Zero investment along with other partners will only be intensified with freeports.”
He enthused about Goole’s potential to play a part in hydrogen train innovation, but also rhetorically questioned what level of commitment to the 2019 manifesto there now was in Westminster. And he called for devolution to still be sought - with our without an elected mayor.
“Looking at what the new Chancellor is going to do is a very good predictor of where policy is going, rather than the first few weeks of this government and when Liz Truss was running for leader,” he said of what is happening. “Is this a government that is going to have much money to throw around? No. Everything is being looked at but things that have long term benefits will be prioritised.
“If what this government ends up doing is continuing to invest in infrastructure, seeking to devolve more to areas to spend existing budgets in a more efficient way, I’m not sure that would be much worse than national funding competitions that would not be very constructive.
“What we need is a rebalancing of spending decisions and where money is raised and what for, being redirected out of London. I’m disappointed - still - that this part of the world hasn’t got a devolution deal. It has a freeport but there is a limit to what freeports are responsible for. There are walls and gates, physical and virtual, and it is not responsible for everything going on out there.
“We need resources and funds spent by public sector to be tackled. A big advantage is having all the people around the table, that’s plenty of business leadership, but where is the empowered public sector to make decisions on spending public money?”
He bemoaned “a lot of small economic development functions” within “lots of local authorities”.
“The very first step has got to be to get your own house in order,” he advised.
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