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East Midlands Chamber News

Video: What a freeport will bring to the East Midlands

East Midlands Intermodal Park is one of three key sites at the heart of the freeport bid

Rebuilding the economy, creating jobs and driving inward investment are among the key benefits of a freeport in the East Midlands, say business leaders as the region submits its bid to Government.

The D2N2 and Leicester and Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have put forward the region’s proposal to become one of 10 new UK freeports, which will offer special tax breaks and customs incentives as a cornerstone of the Government’s post-Brexit trade policies.

Championed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the new zones will be designated by the Treasury as new business and enterprise hubs to boost economic activity and deliver lasting prosperity and by driving inward investment to communities.

In response to the Freeports Bidding Prospectus, the East Midlands has presented a compelling proposition based around East Midlands Airport as an inland port that brings together a mix of industries at the heart of the country.

It is already the country’s busiest pure freight airport and the LEPs, supported by local authorities and other key organisations include the Chamber, say it could become a hub for a new era of global trade and a magnet for new investment to renew infrastructure.

The East Midlands freeport bid will include the East Midlands Airport and East Midlands Gateway industrial cluster in north-west Leicestershire, the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station site in Nottinghamshire and East Midlands Automotive Intermodal Park, a new strategic rail freight interchange incorporating 5.2 million sq ft of manufacturing and distribution space in Etwall, south Derbyshire.

The bid was submitted on 5 February and a final decision on freeport locations is expected in spring 2021.

Business Network has gathered the views of business and political leaders about what it could bring to the region.

East Midlands business leaders explain the benefits of a freeport

Elizabeth Fagan, chair of the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership

“We strongly believe that a freeport in the East Midlands centred around East Midlands Airport would support our shared vision of rebuilding the economy and delivering green job growth by attracting international trade and investment, and supporting existing businesses in the region.

“A world-class multimodal transport system is one of our region's most valuable assets.

"The interconnectivity of the airport to the rail terminal, as well the rail connectivity of an intermodal site, would make us central to the UK’s commercial transport network – and a significant contributor to net zero and Toyota’s ambition of beyond zero.”


Kevin Harris, chair of Leicester and Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership board of directors

"We have the heritage, advanced manufacturing base, key land for development in the neighbouring sites and the skills to make this a success.

"An East Midlands freeport with excellent air, rail and road links to the rest of the UK would benefit not just the Midlands, but the whole of the UK.

"Our central location and existing logistics infrastructure add to the strength of our bid.

"The bid has received strong support from our region's businesses, and political figures who recognise the significant opportunities a freeport in our region would bring and contribute towards the levelling-up agenda."


Scott Knowles, chief executive of East Midlands Chamber

“In the Chamber’s Delivering a Great Future manifesto that was launched at Westminster in 2018, we presented what we called ‘The Big Opportunity’ for the region. In it, we outlined a vision of a zone for ultra-high growth in logistics and advanced manufacturing hinged around the airport.

“To achieve this, we asked the Government to do four things – one of which was to ‘designate a free trade zone linked to East Midlands Airport’.

“Since our manifesto was published, we believe both the need and the scale of the opportunity for our vision has only grown.

"The disruption the pandemic has brought has highlighted the importance of the East Midlands logistics sector, which has grown faster here than anywhere else in the country, and the airport’s central role in this trend as the country’s most important mover of international freight.

“The UK’s exit from the EU amplifies the opportunity for developing new international trade opportunities, to reimagine supply chains and to build greater resilience in existing customer and supplier relationships with the EU and beyond. While for many areas these changes bring challenge, for the East Midlands, if responded to appropriately, we believe they bring a massive opportunity.

“We already have the expertise, land, much of the necessary infrastructure and, of course, businesses – but obtaining a freeport with a focus on innovation, low carbon and trade is central to us realising that opportunity to its full extent.”


Clare James, managing director of East Midlands Airport

“The concept of a freeport presents a massive opportunity, and a multi-modal inland freeport in the East Midlands positions us really well as a unique proposition.

“It capitalises on the contribution of the airport, our region’s very strong manufacturing and technology base, and the innovation coming out of our universities to do something quite special, and add some real value to both the UK and regional economy.

“We are the port of entry but East Midlands Airport also sits across the three counties, so we’re the glue that holds them together.

“The freeport has the ability to make the sum of the parts greater than the whole.”


Dr Nik Kotecha OBE, chairman of Morningside Pharmaceuticals Ltd and Department of International Trade export chairman

“It’s not just the tax incentives and creating jobs in our region, but the opportunity to do more international trade.

“I’ve seen it work in other parts of the world like Dubai, where it opens up new markets.

“Raw materials can be stored there. One of the biggest challenges during Covid-19, particularly in manufacturing, was quickly sourcing the raw materials and ingredients.

“So if you have a stockpile of raw materials in a free trade zone ready to be directed to the UK or international markets, this will really help in the future.

“There’s some great opportunities for us to create innovative businesses in that area. It will help bring wider inward investment from the UK and internationally as more companies may look to use the East Midlands as a base.”


This article appears in the February 2021 issue of the Chamber's Business Network magazine. To read the online edition, click here.