Agenda item

Solent Freeport: Securing a Legacy for the New Forest

To consider the Solent Freeport: Securing a Legacy for the New Forest report.


The Strategic Regeneration Advisor introduced the report and provided an update to members. The main points were as follows: 



·       The Solent Freeport was now in the delivery phase following the business case that was approved in April 2022.


·       The New Forest District contains a high proportion of ‘tax sites’. These sites will play a vital role in the delivery of the Freeport.


·       The key benefits of the Freeport include a forecasted 7000 new jobs, £290million of retained business rates and 303 hectares of developable land. Investment was now required to realise these benefits. 


·       Another major benefit of the Freeport was the retention of business rates above a fixed base level on tax sites for a period of 25 years. The approved Retained Rates Investment Plan establishes that retained business rates will be re-invested across five key areas, these being: 


                 i.         Skills - 15% of available funding


                ii.         Net Zero – 7.5% 


               iii.         Hotbeds of innovation – 7.5% 


              iv.         Regeneration and enabling infrastructure – 60%


               v.         Local Investment Priorities – 10%


·       These provide a clear indication of the Freeport priorities and it is now for the New Forest to progress their own proposals for how it would like to see retained business rates re-invested in the region. 


·       A delivery plan is now required to establish the outcomes that a successful Freeport would deliver in the New Forest. The plan would be the basis for future discussions with the Freeport on the use of business rates and other funding opportunities. 


·       Following discussions between the Future New Forest Partnership Board and the Waterside Steering Group, the agreed priorities to be developed into a New Forest Freeport Delivery Plan should be as follows: 


                 i.         Transport/wider infrastructure


                ii.         Employment and Skills


               iii.         Prosperous Communities


              iv.         Environmental Sustainability


               v.         The Development of a Local Delivery Plan


·       It was now for the NFDC Cabinet to decide whether it agreed with the proposed priorities and receive comments from the Panel on this process.


Panel members asked questions and made comments on the report. The main points raised were as follows: 


·       Following comments regarding the former Fawley Power Station, the Strategic Regeneration Advisor explained that detailed proposals for this tax site were being awaited. The Panel were reminded that the Freeport was a 25-year process and that plans and proposals would be revisited, but that the purpose of the paper in consideration was for the District to set out its priorities at this stage. Full proposals for individual tax sites are awaited but the report is about ensuring the district has clear priorities.


·       The Panel heard from one member that the Freeport process contained both risks and benefits over a lengthy period of time. The Member commented that it required a level of flexibility from all contributors to enable pragmatism alongside the changing landscape. 


·       A question was raised on the projected employment figures that the Freeport would bring, with reference being made to the 2000 unemployed people living on the waterside. It was explained that the Government were looking at the skills gap as part of the ongoing Freeport project. The full business case and guidance contained a good level of input on employment and skills and it was explained that the work on bridging the skills-gap was being looked at on a regional level. There was concern over how the distinctive, local issues would be addressed, particularly the fact that the New Forest contained mainly Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It was suggested, therefore, that employment and skills should be listed as one of the priorities for the District Council. Discussions had already commenced with partners, such as Brockenhurst College, local universities and employers. 






That the Panel supported the intended Cabinet recommendations as set out in the report.

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