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Solent Summit reveals LEP's vision for future and the launch of the freeport

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THE Solent freeport will be a catalyst for an innovation revolution in maritime, autonomy and green growth, business leaders were told at a launch event.

More than 300 people, including potential investors and education providers, attended the Solent Summit to hear the local enterprise partnership’s (LEP) plans for the region. Around 200 also joined online.

Held at the Horizon Cruise Terminal in Southampton and hosted by BBC’s political editor Peter Henley, speakers included British sailor Dee Caffari, chair of Solent Freeport Brian Johnson, and chair of Solent LEP Rachael Randall.

Brian Johnson, chair of Solent Freeport
Brian Johnson, chair of Solent Freeport

Solent freeport, which covers parts of the Waterside and Southampton, was approved last year by chancellor Rishi Sunak to boost business with relaxed tax and planning rules.

It was described as a “key component” in the LEP’s long-term strategy, Solent 2050, with Mr Johnson claiming it will “unlock billions of pounds’ worth of investment, create tens of thousands of new jobs and play a critical role in achieving national levelling up ambitions”.

The LEP also announced two major loan funds of a combined £6m for businesses in the region: the SME Priority Sectors Loan Fund and the Solent Prosperity Loan Fund. These will support projects aiming to promote growth and jobs in the area.

Ms Randall said: “We were delighted to have an opportunity to share our vision for the region’s future prosperity with all those who came to the Solent Summit, and to develop collaborative networks that will support the vision to become a reality.

“Our Solent 2050 strategy outlines how we will work with partners to level up our region, create jobs, drive innovation, and ensure a prosperous economy, providing opportunities for all communities and, in particular, our young people.”

Sailor Dee Caffari speaking at the summit
Sailor Dee Caffari speaking at the summit

As reported in the A&T, Independent district councillor Richard Frampton has warned the freeport could reopen plans to develop Dibden Bay into a container terminal – a contentious £750m dock proposal which was thrown out more than a decade ago amid huge opposition.

There have also been concerns about whether new jobs will go to local people.

However, the strategy launch was accompanied by a series of seminars highlighting the region’s natural capital and the role of universities in developing residents’ skills and talent into career opportunities.

Ms Caffari said all sectors must work together to achieve the vision, while caring for the Solent’s natural assets.

From left: Peter Henley, Rachael Randall, Brian Johnson, Steve Thurston and Alastair Welch at Solent Summit
From left: Peter Henley, Rachael Randall, Brian Johnson, Steve Thurston and Alastair Welch at Solent Summit

“Managed collaboration is a recipe for success and this launch illustrates the potential we have in the region,” she said.

“We must be mindful that this benefits everyone, increasing access and opportunity for all, leaving a legacy that endures and a hopeful outlook for future generations.”

Solent Freeport is also on the hunt for an “inspirational” chief executive to take the helm. Advertising the position, Mr Johnson said the successful applicant should have an “outstanding history of success in delivering complex major regeneration”.

For more information about the Solent Summit, Solent 2050 and the new loan funds, visit solentlep.org.uk/solent-summit; about Solent freeport go to solentfreeport.com; or the chief executive role solentfreeport.com/solent-freeport-chief-executive

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