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Thames rivals to launch joint Freeport bid

[ August 7, 2020   //   ]

Forth Ports Group and DP World – are to submit a joint freeport bid for Thurrock, Essex region incorporating their respective operations, Port of Tilbury and London Gateway.

The two operators – normally keen rivals for any trade opportunities on the Thames – says the move brings together the complementary strengths of the two major ports on the Thames, making up the UKs strongest port and distribution clusters.

Both operations in Tilbury and at London Gateway have the scale, global connectivity and the ability to expand and develop land at scale as the market demands.

A digitally connected multi-site free trade zone will focus on “clean growth” while seeking to act as an innovation hub across a range of sectors.

The freeport bid will strongly support the area’s employment-focussed growth strategy, positioning Thurrock as the port capital of the UK. The opportunities unlocked by a joint freeport will create significant employment opportunities, they say. Current unemployment rates in the area are above the national average at 4.6% and up to 36,000 direct and indirect jobs could be created at London Gateway alone.

Tilbury is the largest multi-purpose port serving the South East and is the UK’s fastest-growing. It is surrounded by industrial clusters that would be boosted by freeport status. It also has experience of operating a freeport in the recent past, until 2012. The port has invested £1 billion during 2012-20 and is projected to double the volume of cargo across the quay and increase direct employment from 3,500 to 12,000 jobs.

DP World London Gateway is the UK’s newest container port, with the DP World Group having invested over £1.5bn to develop the deep-sea container port and Logistics Park. It can handle the largest container vessels, and offers 9.25 million sq ft of modern warehousing space.  DP World will draw upon the Group’s experience in setting up and operating the Middle East’s most important free trade zone at Jebel Ali in Dubai and will implement a secure and safe set of customs and operating processes to ensure port users can take advantage of the full range of incentives. 

As part of the commitment to this joint bid, the partnership has appointed Vivid Economics to provide expert advice and economic analysis.

Details of the bid will be developed with Vivid over the coming months with the policy statement by the UK Government expected to be published in the autumn. The timescale for submission of a bid is expected to be towards the end of 2020/early 2021.

Forth Ports chief executive Charles Hammond, said:”This joint bid brings together our complementary strengths which will create a strong, export-focused case for a freeport designation. Our appointment of Vivid Economics clearly demonstrates our commitment to creating a compelling submission later this year. Like London Gateway, at Tilbury we have a robust network of international connections, streamlined customs systems and developable land close to key markets. In May this year, we opened the UK’s largest unaccompanied freight ferry terminal at Tilbury2, further strengthening our location to support existing and new business opportunities.”

DP World UK chief executive Ernst Schulze added: “We believe a freeport on the Thames will ensure that the UK continues to be an attractive destination for inward investment, and that bringing London Gateway within a freeport will help lower the total cost of trade to the benefit of UK industry and retailers and ensure resilience in the overall supply chain. Working with Forth Ports will enable us to create the most sustainable, strategically located, trade enabling centre of excellence in the UK, whilst allowing us to support the development of local industry and create high skilled employment for the local area.” 

Head of Cities and infrastructure at Vivid Economics, James Patterson-Waterston, said: “Given the substantial trade passing through Thurrock ports currently, this area is clearly a strong candidate for the new wave of ambitious and strategic freeports in the UK. We look forward to working with Forth Ports and DP World to develop a compelling case for freeport designation.”