Kevin Bell, transport partner, provides his views on the Spring Budget's Freeports announcement and the further transport and infrastructure investment required.
"Many regions of the UK will be delighted to hear the news that the Government has decided to set up eight new Freeports. From the Thames in the South to the Tees in the North. From Felixstowe in the East to Plymouth in the West. These Freeports will undoubtedly help deliver transformational improvements and drive forward the levelling up agenda. Bringing millions of pounds of investment, creating significant new jobs as well as supporting some the UK's key sectors like manufacturing, clean energy, chemicals, transport and infrastructure to name just a few. The economic potential of the Freeports cannot be underestimated. It is huge and will play an important role in strengthening the UK's future trading position.
"In order to realise the full benefit of Freeports, further transport and infrastructure investment will be essential (particularly as many of the bids were based on a multi-gateway, multi-modal model, with a main port being linked to rail-enabled sites and regional airports). Excellent transport links will need to be established to support, for example, just-in-time logistics and operations within the Freeports. But there will also be a need for a national oversight to support the moving of goods coming out of Freeports in and around the UK.
"It will be extremely disappointing for those Freeport bids that have, at this stage, been unsuccessful. They will need to dust themselves down and find new alternatives for investment. And the Chancellor made no further comment or commitment (at least from the despatch box) to rebuilding public confidence in using public transport, Northern Powerhouse Rail, HS2 and plenty of other "shovel ready" transport projects that fall within the quick wins pipeline (such as road and rail schemes and electric vehicle charging points). Hopefully some of this will be captured in the forthcoming Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and the North.
"Make no mistake, there is good news today. But perhaps an opportunity has been missed in this Budget to show, in the words of the Chancellor, a "real commitment to the creation of jobs and economic growth" across the whole of the UK so as to build back better and bring about a truly transformative transport network?"