The designation of eight new Freeports within England made headlines in the Budget and now the winning bidders have to put into effect their successful proposals. What will this mean in practice for those areas affected and what are the likely issues that Freeport authorities will face?
We have pulled together some questions we are asked frequently on Freeports, together with the responses we have been providing to our clients.
- Q: Can Freeports pick and choose their planning freedoms? Or do they have to stick to the government template?
A: Freeports will benefit from the amendments proposed in the prospectus bringing permitted development rights for seaports in line with those that currently benefit airports.
This will include making development in connection with the provision of seaport services on ‘operational land’ fall within a class of permitted development. Clearly not all Freeports are seaports and in this regard the Government is also exploring making bespoke amendments to permitted development rights benefiting Freeports generally.
Where a Freeport authority will have more autonomy will be in the promotion of Local Development Orders (LDOs) in their areas. Freeport bids needed to provide evidence on how Freeport development proposals could be supported by an LDO, working together with the local authority/authorities in whose administrative area/areas the Freeport is located.
- Q: What planning freedoms are those areas likely to choose? Have any been confirmed in the areas concerned?
A: LDOs will likely authorise a broad range of permitted uses covering employment, light/general industrial and storage and distribution e.g. freight handling. It is also foreseeable that LDOs will cover energy generation/battery storage schemes. The Freeport East made play of Felixstowe and Harwich Port mooting the idea of becoming hydrogen powered as part of their bid.
- Q:What happens next in terms of confirming the planning freedoms? (From both the government and the selected areas)
A: Amendments to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order will be delivered via statutory instrument. They may be introduced as part of the re-write of the Order dealing with the changes to permitted development rights that have come into force since last summer.
LDOs will need to be drafted and agreed with affected local authorities. They will either use the existing adoption process or a modified process to be introduced as part of the Freeport agenda
- Q: What are the likely practical implications of the new planning freedoms in the areas selected for a) councils; and b) developers?
A: For Councils there could be a loss of control over development within their administrative area. Further, planning departments will need to get up to speed quick with what is and is not permitted within Freeports they have jurisdiction over.
Developers who haven’t been in the conversation/involved in the bids will need to do the same. There should be plenty of opportunity for developers or landowners with interests within these areas.
- Q: Does implementing these planning freedoms raise any particular challenges for these areas?
A: Planning deregulation risks loss of control/poor quality development and unsuitable development in appropriate locations. Particular care will need to be taken around multi modal freeports to ensure development is joined up with transport policies.
- Q: Are you aware of any areas that have already done something similar in creating simplified planning rules for major infrastructure developments?
A: Not for major infrastructure developments. LDOs are commonly adopted in relation to Enterprise Zones and business parks. Exeter City Council have made an LDO for a decentralised energy network in an effort to decarbonise the city.
- Q: Are there any other likely planning changes to support freeports?
A: there is mention in the consultation on Freeports of proposals to use them to act as a testbed for some of the reforms in the White Paper. This will come forward as the Freeport proposals develop.