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Deal means Solent Freeport business rates pooling will benefit entire New Forest district, New Forest District Council leader Cllr Edward Heron reveals

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THE entire New Forest district is set to benefit from business rates generated by the Solent freeport, it has been revealed.

District council leader, Cllr Edward Heron, said a deal has been struck so rates will be "pooled" and distributed across an area that includes the New Forest.

Within the freeport zone are sites including Marchwood and Fawley oil refinery, as well as parts of Southampton, its airport, and a site in Havant.

The Solent freeport was approved in the budget earlier this year
The Solent freeport was approved in the budget earlier this year

Cllr Heron added the funding would be used for "infrastructure spending and other spending".

That would likely include environmental projects, he suggested, before boasting the Solent freeport would be "the greenest freeport in the country" since its projects would seek not only to mitigate effects on the surrounding sensitive areas but enhance their biodiversity.

Speaking to NFDC’s latest corporate affairs and local economy overview and scrutiny panel meeting, he revealed Solent freeport will not submit its full business case – which the government has said can happen as early as December this year – until March 2022.

There had been a couple of issues that had needed to be resolved, he said, but the preliminary business case will be put forward next month.

Cllr Heron repeated forecasts the Solent freeport could attract £2bn of investment and 52,000 jobs to the region.

He has previously acknowledged there is a "small" risk that businesses could switch bases into the freeport, but argued it was more likely to attract multi-national companies seeking to invest "hundreds of millions of pounds" than compete with others in the UK.

NFDC leader Cllr Edward Heron was approved to join the freeport board
NFDC leader Cllr Edward Heron was approved to join the freeport board

He stressed he was lobbying to ensure locals will benefit, adding: "Part of this will be making sure people in the community will get the opportunity to upskill.

"It’s great having 50,000 or so jobs but if they do not go to local people what are the benefits to our residents?"

Asked by Cllr Derek Tipp if it was a certainty the Solent Freeport would go ahead, Cllr Heron said while there was "always the opportunity for something to crop up", chancellor Rishi Sunak had spoken publicly about it in the past week as a definite.

"As far as the government’s mind is concerned, my reading is we have a Solent Freeport," Cllr Heron said.

Earlier this month, there had been calls by Liberal Democrat member Cllr David Harrison to scrap the Solent freeport after an official report by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), warned the eight approved freeports could cost the UK £50m a year.

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