Categories: Associated British Ports, Bristol, Goole, Hull, Liverpool, NewsPublished On: 08.05.2018690 words3.6 min read

Port bosses want free port status for the Humber to avoid possible charges for being outside the EU

The boss at the Port of Hull is campaigning for special status to exempt the city’s docks from fresh taxes and custom checks after Brexit.

Associated British Ports (ABP), which operates the ports at Hull and Goole, is backing the idea of establishing “free ports” in the UK to get round possible incoming import and export taxes after the UK exits the European Union.

Having a free port in Hull would put the city’s docks outside the UK customs union, exempting it from any Brexit charges and relinquishing the need for heavy checks on goods coming in and out on ships. Free ports already exist in countries as diverse as China, the USA, Ireland and Dubai.

Simon Bird, the ABP Humber director, met with Brexit minister Steve Baker in Westminster recently to push for the estuary to be given the go-ahead to conduct a trial of the concept.

ABP has committed to invest a total of £50 million in its container terminals on the Humber
ABP is lobbying to have free port status given to the Humber’s ports (Image: ABP)

He confirmed he has already earmarked a site on the port where a future manufacturer could benefit from future free port status.

The company is marketing the Humber International Enterprise Park in the Port of Hull, a 453-acre site which sits between Paull village and the BP Saltend site, for development associated with renewable and low carbon industries.

ABP hope to establish a project similar to Siemens Gamesa’s Green Port on the enterprise park.

Any manufacturer taking over the site would already benefit from tax breaks due to its enterprise zone designation but Mr Bird said free port status would “without a doubt” make the site more attractive to investors. Having free port status would mean a manufacturer developing the site would benefit from not having to pay any tariffs on imported materials or when exporting its finished product.

Simon Bird from British Ports
Simon Bird, Humber director at Associated British Ports

Asked whether free port status could help attract potential suitors, Mr Bird said: “It would, without a doubt. And I’m sure the Government would be supportive of that.

“Free ports are certainly being debated in and around Whitehall. The Brexit minister Steve Baker was very interested in hearing our views, and the wider views of the industry, when we met him. I was encouraged.

“We want them to look at the tonnage moving through the Humber. If you want to pilot something, I would suggest the Humber is the ideal place to do it, given our diversity of goods and the amount of tonnage,” he said.

And Mr Bird, former chief executive of the Bristol Port Company, also said he wants to see the customs-free zone extended beyond the physical infrastructure of the port. He has proposed establishing free port status upon the M62 motorway so freight travelling from the Humber to Liverpool would not have to technically enter the UK’s post-Brexit customs arrangement.

ABP’s Simon Bird has suggested extending free port status to the M62

Mr Bird said: “You could extend the free port – you could have the M62 as a free port zone so that any cargo going through Liverpool could get to the Humber without coming through into UK jurisdiction,” said Mr Bird.

“It would need the technology to monitor it and a lot of detail would have to be worked out around that but, in terms of east to west connectivity, it would be hugely beneficial“You could throw your [free port] net right across the Pennines. When we are thinking about these things, why not think slightly outside the box?”

The comments follow the publication of a report commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) last week, ‘Transport infrastructure for our global future’, examining the connectivity of UK ports and what needs to be done to improve their road, rail and even waterway links.

In the UK, 95 per cent of the goods the country uses, from food to energy sources, comes through the nation’s ports.