The move follows an influential report by Mace’s consultancy arm in 2018 that set out how establishing ‘supercharged’ free ports would attract huge new investment, create tens of thousands of new jobs and help to re-balance the UK’s economy.
The government aims to announce locations this year so that the first free port could open in 2021.
It is also considering tax measures aimed at increasing investment in infrastructure, construction and machinery in free ports to raise productivity.
Free ports – which do not necessarily have to be located in a coastal port – are areas where imported goods can be held or processed free of customs duties before being exported again.
They can also be used to import raw materials and make finished goods for export.
Mace’s report called for a network of seven free ports across the Northern Powerhouse alone.
These included: Grimsby & Immingham, Hull, Rivers Hull & Humber, Teesport & Hartlepool, Tyne, and Liverpool, and Manchester airport which are some of the most deprived areas in the country.
Other options across the rest of the UK could include major airports such as Heathrow.
Mace’s analysis showed that a policy of ‘supercharged free ports’ could deliver a boost to Northern Powerhouse GDP of £9bn per year, closing the gap between Northern and Southern gross value added per head by 10-15%.
Jason Millett, CEO of Consultancy at Mace, said: “We already know there will be a number of towns and cities across the UK that will be eyeing these proposals carefully – for any location that is chosen, becoming a free port will unlock growth and attract substantial inward investment.
“We are delighted to see the Government taking the free ports proposals forward.”
He added: “Our own research showed that the country could achieve the most significant economic boost by ‘supercharging’ free ports by combining them with enterprise zones.
“We look forward to examining their plans in detail and responding to the consultation.”