Plans for new Solent Freeport worth billions to Portsmouth to take a leap forward

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COUNCILLORS in Portsmouth are set to approve the final business case for the Solent Freeport later this month ahead of its submission to the government – in a move civic chiefs hope could bring billions to the economy.

The city council cabinet will be asked to approve the document setting out more details about the proposed low-tax system which is expected to bring thousands of new jobs to the region.

City council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said freeport designation would lead to 'significant benefits' for Portsmouth, making it more attractive to businesses.

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'Having two of the key sites within the freeport will give us a big advantage in increasing the amount of trade coming through the council-owned port and having the tax site at Dunsbury Park will make it more attractive to businesses, bringing high quality jobs,' he said.

His comments are echoed in a cabinet report which says the city council would be 'a major beneficiary' of the freeport which it is estimated could bring in as much as £2bn to the region.

'Collectively this will generate a socio-economic dividend that will support the levelling up of coastal communities across the Solent, address a few identified market failures and long-standing structural challenges and strengthen the Solent’s contribution to the UK’s path to net zero,' it says. 'It will also ensure the Solent continues to perform a critical role contributing to national ambitions for a global Britain.'

Under the proposals, Portsmouth International Port would become a custom site while the Dunsbury Park business centre, which is owned by the city council, would become a low-tax site.

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Estimates show this could create almost 57,000 jobs in total with 3,500 of these coming at Dunsbury Park.

Last month, the cabinet approved the submission of a site-specific legal agreement setting out the tax arrangements for the business park.

The final business case, which will go before this month's full council meeting for support should cabinet members approve it, says freeport status would 'maximise long-term sustainable and inclusive economic net gains to the Solent'.

However, concerns have been raised that it could become a 'tax haven for criminals', despite the economic benefits locally.

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‘There is a risk criminals can use them to launder money and evade tax,' Paul Gilmour, lecturer in criminal justice and policing at the University of Portsmouth, said. 'That is something the government needs to be mindful.’

The proposed freeport covers five local authority areas: Havant Borough Council, New Forest District Council, Southampton City Council, Eastleigh Borough Council and Portsmouth City Council.

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