Major investment boost for Solent freeport

There’s no time to lose for Southampton-based law firm Paris Smith, the port of Solent Gateway and logistics provider DP World Southampton as they prepare for the trade boost the region will gain from freeport status

“Southampton is well-placed to seize the opportunities that being a freeport offers,” said Peter Taylor, managing partner at Paris Smith and chairman of Southampton Chamber of Commerce’s leadership team, which supported the successful bid to gain freeport status for the Solent region.

Solent is one of eight new freeports in England announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in his March Budget.

Solent Gateway – a hidden jewel

One of the newer elements in the freeport plan is Solent Gateway, an 83-hectare (225-acre) port site that is being developed and extended as an import/export trade hub. “Solent Gateway is a hidden jewel, especially for short-haul shipping to and from mainland Europe. It will play a key role in the UK’s post-Brexit trade solution,” Taylor predicted.

Heading up Solent Gateway’s transformation of Marchwood Port is port director Richard Parkinson, who was the commanding officer responsible for logistic and equipment support to UK Forces in Iraq in 2006 and later the director of Army Logistics.

Parkinson sees Solent Gateway’s contribution to the freeport as timely as it will provide early delivery of extra port capacity. “This is likely to be one of the leading elements in

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regenerating the area, creating jobs and providing extra port capacity to attract new business,” he said.

He added: “Solent freeport is an exciting prospect, in addition to the important role Southampton will play as a post-Brexit trade hub. It’s a fantastic location, close to major sea lanes for Europe and the rest of the world.”

Solent Gateway has been designated as both a freeport tax site and customs site. It is investing in HMRC-compliant inventory-linked systems software to be a certified temporary storage site by 1 July, and then a certified customs site in line with HRMC timings. “We will have the latest software systems and efficient processes, so our customers have a smoother transition moving goods into and out of the UK,” said Parkinson.

Solent Gateway will regenerate 64 hectares of the former Marchwood Military Port for commercial use. Marchwood was built in 1943 to support D-Day preparations and has only been used by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) until December 2016. In addition to the commercial space, Solent Gateway will continue to provide the MOD with military cargo services and enhance the ecological value of areas of the port as part of its plan to deliver a biodiversity net gain of 10% on and off site.

“We are currently going through the planning process and hope to start work in early 2022. Phase one of the build includes a new port entrance and exit to ensure no traffic queues on the road, new cycle lanes into the port and walkways to encourage staff to use sustainable transport and the first 20 hectares, which will be increasingly available for commercial use from summer 2022,” said Parkinson. “The rest of the port development will be completed by 2026/27.”

Solent Gateway has two eight- metre-deep berths, an additional two 4.5-metre-deep jetties and rail connectivity to the main line for freight movements. It has roll-on roll-off, as well as load-on load- off capabilities, which are used for commercial business now. “The port

Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which led the successful freeport bid, estimates that the benefits to the region will be in the order of more than 50,000 new jobs and £2 billion in extra investment.

Paris Smith acts as company secretary for the Solent LEP and the firm is currently advising the LEP on the governance structure for the freeport. “Our work on the freeport goes to the heart of our purpose as

a firm, which is to enable our clients and our communities to thrive,” said Taylor. “We expect Solent LEP will be ready to send the final freeport proposal to the Government for sign off in the autumn.”

The firm also has close relationships with many of the city’s major stakeholders in the freeport venture, including the city council, Associated British Ports and DP World.

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