Business leaders say securing freeport status for Holyhead would be a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to turbo charge the North Wales economy.
According to the North Wales and Mersey Dee Business Council, it would help attract billions of pounds of investment and create thousands of new jobs.
The influential organisation’s Commercial Director, Ashley Rogers, spoke out after meeting Anglesey MP Virginia Crosbie, who is leading the freeport campaign, and a senior figure from Rolls-Royce who want to build up to four mini-nuclear reactors on the island.
The MP is also pushing for two new full-size reactors to be built on the Wylfa Newydd site next door to the old Wylfa nuclear power station that’s being decommissioned.
Supporters say that setting up a freeport would help the local and regional economy bounce back from a slump caused by the pandemic.
Companies which operate within freeports do so with the benefit of VAT suspension, paying lower business rates and employment tax, as well as relief when it comes to purchasing land and enhanced capital allowances.
Goods could be imported, manufactured, and exported again via a freeport without facing standard tariffs or requiring normal customs checks.
In all, the Westminster Government eventually want to create at least 10 new freeports across the UK but the Welsh and UK Governments have yet to agree a process for setting up Freeports in Wales.
Earlier this year a Merseyside-based company, Tratos UK, announced it wanted to open a factory for offshore wind power mega-cables, creating 300 jobs, but says it could only happen if the island has freeport status.
Ashley Rogers said: “From the Business Council’s point of view, under the right conditions, North Wales could benefit hugely from the establishment of a freeport on Anglesey.
“It would build on our existing expertise in research and development, energy, advanced manufacturing and our transport connections between the A55 and the port.
“Having a freeport would attract highly skilled, well paid local jobs and substantial inward investment.
“At the same time, it would support local businesses to give them access to new markets and added benefits and incentives for new businesses to relocate here.
“It would also provide added incentive for the likes of Rolls-Royce to pump in billions of pounds of investment.
“Building the Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) could happen relatively quickly, providing reliable, low carbon energy for local manufacturers and all the jobs that go with that.
“We need to get these major investments up over the line and I believe freeport status for Anglesey would be the spark that would create that.
“One of the major sticking points between governments seems to be the amount of seed funding available for a freeport in Wales versus the existing ones in England.
“Our message to both governments would be to focus on how much a freeport in Wales might need, rather than what English freeports will receive.
If Anglesey only needed £15 million then that’s the figure to agree. This would mean a slight increase on the existing pledge of £8 million from UK Government and a fair contribution from Welsh Government.
“Let’s see some compromise for the sake of our businesses and communities, concentrating on the massive transformative benefits this once-in-a-generation opportunity would bring.”
The support of the North Wales and Mersey Dee Business Council was welcomed by MP Virginia Crosbie who has set up and chairs a consortium to back the bid.
Other members of the Anglesey Freeport Bidding Consortium include representatives from M-SParc, Coleg Menai, Bangor University, Stena Line and Anglesey County Council as well as the North Wales Economic Ambition Board.
The MP said: “Young people on Anglesey want to buy their own homes and stay in their own communities and the way we can do that is to give them skills and good quality jobs.
“We haven’t seen any traction from the Welsh Government and meanwhile we have Liverpool which has been granted freeport status booming and sucking investment from the north of Wales.
“I really would urge the UK government and the Welsh Government to work together.
“The benefits of a freeport are about encouraging investment with specific levers like planning and business rates and what I’m trying to do is say to the world that Anglesey here in North Wales is open for business.
“Years ago, this island used to be known as Môn Mam Cymru (Anglesey, the Mother of Wales) and now it’s known as Energy Island because we have wind, wave, solar and tidal and hydrogen on the horizon.
“We had a £4.8 million funding boost for the Holyhead hydrogen hub that was announced in the Chancellor’s budget in March.
“If we get freeport status it would be the catalyst to get Wylfa Newydd over the line. “The site has the potential for both large scale nuclear reactors and also SMRs.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to completely turbo charge the whole economy in North Wales.”
Harry Keeling, the Vice-President for Strategy and Business Development for SMRs at Rolls-Royce, said they were looking to produce competitive clean energy for residential housing and to decarbonise industry.
He said: “Here on Anglesey, we think that’s a beautiful coming together for industry with competitive, clean energy and a freeport.
“It means that industry could produce their products cheaply and carbon free but also export them.
“A Rolls-Royce SMR would cost £1.8 billion to build and then it would be £80 million a year for it to operate.
“The Rolls-Royce nuclear plants would create several thousand jobs during their four year construction but then after that, for each of the reactors, you need over 300 highly skilled employees for the 60 year lifetime of the plant.
“Each of the Rolls-Royce SMR nuclear power plants would create 470 megawatts of electrical power or 1.3 gigawatts of thermal power which then can be used, localised in the energy cluster that it sits within or transported on to the national grid to the rest of the country.
“You could use it to produce clean hydrogen which in turn can be used for storage and then used for heating, or to power fuel cells in cars, trains and wider industry.”
Among the local business people who are calling for freeport status is Mark Blackwell, a director of DU Construction.
He said: “I think any major investment brought into Anglesey will filter down through all the supply chain that we’re involved with and it’s an investment the whole island will benefit from.”