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Forth Ports, which owns Leith and five other ports in the estuary, confirmed it planned to put forward a “Firth of Forth” bid, which is expected to include Grangemouth and Rosyth and also Edinburgh Airport.
In response to the agreement between the UK and Scottish governments on a distinctive version of freeports for Scotland, Stuart Wallace, chief operating officer at Forth Ports, said: “We welcome the announcement by the UK and Scottish governments of the forthcoming bid process for two Green Freeports in Scotland and confirm that we plan to participate in this process.”
The governments’ announcement coincided with a visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Rosyth.
Freeports offer tax breaks and lower tariffs for businesses operating within them. In Scotland, the Green Freeports will have to show how they will help Scotland reach net zero by 2045 and businesses involved will have to embed fair work practices in their operations, including the real living wage of £9.90 per hour.
Last summer Forth Ports outlined plans for a freeport “encompassing key ports, industrial complexes and logistics centres along the north and south shores of the Firth of Forth and at Edinburgh Airport”.
It highlighted the renewable energy hub to be built at Leith, the airport’s international connectivity and Grangemouth’s petrochemical cluster and claimed the Firth of Forth was “the critical engine for Scotland’s economic recovery”.
Forth Ports also owns the Port of Tilbury, which is part of the recently-announced Thames Freeport, one of eight approved south of the border.
Mr Wallace said: “A Firth of Forth Green Freeport will catalyse the decarbonisation of Scotland’s major industrial cluster, creating 50,000 new, high-quality jobs in renewable energy, manufacturing, sustainable fuels and construction.
“Building on our first-hand experience of freeports, we plan to create an ambitious set of programmes to harness the regeneration benefits of this economic policy. The legacy of our green freeport will be the creation of large-scale green manufacturing industries with significant export potential and a sustainable fuel cluster, alongside major upgrades to infrastructure and skills development among young adults to ensure a Team Scotland approach as the UK transitions to a decarbonised future.”
Edinburgh Airport confirmed it still supported the Forth Ports initiative.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes had said she hopes the two winning bids will be announced in the summer, with both ports operational by the end of 2022.
Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs has previously argued a freeport would bring major economic benefits to Leith.
He said he believed Aberdeen was already likely to be one of Scotland’s two Green Freeports. “I’m hopeful that the second one is still very competitive.”
Looking at its portfolio, Leith should be in a strong place for this and there is a lot going on in the Forth estuary as a whole for jobs and growth.
“If this goes ahead, it could present a huge opportunity to open up Leith even further to different trade markets and redevelopment and regeneration opportunities should go alongside this as well.”