Categories: a-port-information, Business, Forth Ports, TilburyPublished On: 09.04.2020430 words2.2 min read

The government’s intention to establish 10 free ports to stimulate economic activity presents opportunities for constructors eyeing this emerging market

The UK has now left the European Union. While still a source of bitter disagreement, there appears to be a degree of cross-party acceptance that, like it or loathe it, we must now do all we can to make the best of Brexit.

At the heart of arguments on both sides of the debate has been the future of the UK’s ports. On the one hand, some commentators have speculated that if a rock-solid trade agreement is not reached, new customs checks could lead to paralysis; Kent, it has been suggested, could become one giant car park. On the other hand, Brexiteers argue that leaving the EU will allow the UK to designate areas as free ports to encourage inward investment and potentially contribute to prime minister Boris Johnson’s so-called ‘levelling up’ agenda. Free ports or zones are designated by the government as areas with little to no tax in order to encourage economic activity. While located geographically within a country, they essentially exist outside of its borders for tax purposes. If free ports are created in the North, the proposition goes, the economic development gains could be huge.

So what are the likely scenarios post-transition period, and will they present opportunities for the UK construction industry?

According to Port of Tilbury commercial director Peter Ward, the uncertainty around the terms of the trade deal with the EU has left UK ports in a state of limbo. “In the short term, Brexit uncertainty is holding back the ports business and limiting the ability to plan and respond to Brexit implications,” he says. “Once details are confirmed, ports will adjust and make the most of their operating environment.”

In the near future, it is likely that more facilities will be needed to accommodate freight due to additional customs checks, which should provide additional work for the construction industry. “More truck-queuing and storage areas at ports and inland logistics [will be needed] to handle delays due to document processing and customs checks,” says Tim Beckett, director of consultancy Beckett Rankine.

“The major developments will be in landside facilities to minimise disruption of increased border controls,” Beckett adds, stressing that aside from Brexit, there are other factors to consider. “Ports’ development growth is also needed for wind-turbine assembly and maintenance, and oil and gas rig decommissioning. And the climate change-related sea-level rise will increase the frequency of flooding at port facilities, requiring flood-protection works.” . . . .

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