Tees Valley Mayor gives LBC exclusive tour of UK's largest post-Brexit freeport

16 June 2021, 20:46

How the Teesside freeport could transform the local area

Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has given LBC an exclusive tour of the UK's largest post-Brexit freeport as work begins to prepare it for the world's biggest investors.

The historic steelworks currently located on the site, a 4,500-acre area which is six times larger than the City of London, are set to be destroyed.

Teesworks, its new name, will become home to Net Zero Teesside - the world's first industrial-scale carbon capture facility - which is expected to create 20,000 new jobs by the time work is fully complete in 10-15 years.

It is being developed after the Conservative Mayor of the Tees Valley Ben Houchen brought the land into public ownership. It has been disused since the closure of the SSI steelworks, which resulted in the loss of 2,000 jobs.

Asked about the impact the closure had on the local area, Mayor Houchen called it "devastating".

He told LBC: "I do think if we get this right people will look back at the closure of the steelworks as a new dawn for the future of our region, where we can look forward to new technology and better-paid, quality jobs for local people on a much larger scale."

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The steelworks, which are often used as a symbol for the industrial North, will be blown up and demolished in the coming days.

Workers will completely flatten the land to make way for global businesses to set up shop at Teesworks, where half of the land has been granted freeport status.

Asked about the benefits of a freeport, Mr Houchen told LBC: "If you want to import something into the UK, you often pay customs tariffs, duties and VAT. At a freeport, you don't have to pay those things for as long as they're in the freeport.

"This is why we have the UK's largest freeport. We can import things from across the world; create manufacturing and processing plants on the site in the freeport; you turn it into a finished product which creates good quality, well-paid jobs on-site, and then you can re-export it without it touching the UK for tax purposes. So you never have to pay those tariffs and duties."

He also says investors don't have to pay capital allowances, business rates and employers' national insurance contributions for several years.

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Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen gave LBC an exclusive tour of the site
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen gave LBC an exclusive tour of the site. Picture: LBC

When asked about the difference post-Brexit, he said: "It's a huge selling point. We don't have freezones anywhere else in Europe. People will tell you that they do - they don't."

Leading energy company BP is already building Net Zero Teesside on-site, which will be up and running as the world's first industrial-scale carbon capture facility by 2025.

It will cost approximately £4 billion to build and will capture 10 million tonnes of energy per year - the equivalent of three million homes.

Mayor Houchen told LBC if he achieves his plans, Teesside will be the world's green energy capital.

He was first elected in 2016 on the promise of bringing Teesworks and Teesside International Airport into public ownership and ploughing millions of pounds of investment into the region.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen reveals the UK’s largest post-Brexit freeport | LBC

The mayor told LBC being from the area is what drives him, saying: "I wouldn't be here spending every hour of every day to make sure that we deliver for local people - this is where I'm from, this is where I want to live for the rest of my life.

"The Houchen family have been in Middlesbrough since the 1820s. We are Teesside through and through, this is my home and this is where I want to give back to - what I think is the best place on Earth."

The prime minister and other cabinet ministers frequently praise the work of Mr Houchen, recently urging voters in Hartlepool ahead of the recent by-election to "look at the work that Ben Houchen has done".

LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch, who was on the tour with Houchen at Teesworks, asked: "Looking at all of this, the Conservative Party have got to be absolutely thrilled with you. Where do they see you within the next five years? Have they got you earmarked for Westminster?"

Houchen replied: "I've got no idea. If they have, they haven't told me about it.

"[Tees Valley Mayor] is the best job I've ever had and I couldn't think of anything better to do, so hopefully I will be here for as long as local people continue to vote for me."

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