PLANS are well under way to develop a new Great Western Freeport – a project which could create thousands of jobs and boost the region’s reputation as a leader in high-value design and innovation.
And the Gravity Smart Campus near Bridgwater is set to play a key role, focusing on clean growth and attracting hi-tech companies manufacturing electric cars, artificial intelligence, and robotics. It is expected to create approximately 4,000 jobs.
Freeports are spaces for businesses to import goods and materials, add value to them through manufacturing, and export them. They are designed to create conditions for inward investment, business growth and job creation.
The Government wants to create up to ten Freeports around the UK, and partners including the West of England Combined Authority, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSW LEP), Somerset County Council and Sedgemoor District Council have submitted proposals for the Great Western Freeport to become one of these zones.
The new entity would include Bristol Port, the Gravity Smart Campus in Somerset, Junction 21 Enterprise Area, and Avonmouth and Severnside.
Cllr David Hall, Somerset County Council Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Planning and Community Infrastructure said: “The Great Western Freeport has the potential to provide a welcome boost to the region’s economy as we work together to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As an integral part of the Freeport, Gravity will be home to some of the world’s most innovative companies and will not only help create thousands of new jobs but will also help tackle the climate emergency with its focus on clean growth.”
Claire Pearce, Gravity’s Director of Planning and Economic Development, added: “We have an opportunity to create a smart campus at Gravity that places Somerset at the heart of national and global efforts to embrace huge opportunities presented by clean growth.
“As an organisation working to deliver a smart campus and community in Somerset that will create 4,000 high quality jobs, we are proud to support the Great Western Freeport bid with partners.
“We support the bid because a freeport would bring new opportunities and investment to Somerset, which Gravity is perfectly placed to support.”
Cllr Gill Slocombe, Sedgemoor District Council Deputy Leader and Portfolio holder for Inward Investment and Growth said: “Sedgemoor has long supported the development of Gravity as a key stimulus to the economy both locally and regionally.
“It will bring substantial new investment and deliver positive clean growth and give huge opportunities for local people and businesses. Freeport status will help make Gravity an even more attractive opportunity which Sedgemoor will play a full part in helping to deliver.”
Karl Tucker, Chairman of Heart of the South West LEP, said: “We are delighted to have worked in partnership with public and private sector partners to submit this bid to government for a Great Western Freeport, which will deliver thousands of jobs and support businesses and their supply chains both within and well beyond its boundaries across the region.
“It would create significant potential for the Gravity site near Bridgwater and the Freeport would become a national hub for green manufacturing and trade, building on the wider South West’s key strengths and helping to deliver clean and inclusive economic growth for our region.”
The submitted bid has been put together by the combined authority working with public and private sector partners, including large-scale businesses across the aerospace and nuclear sector, the region’s universities and colleges, innovation centres, local authorities and business networks.
The successful Freeport locations will be announced in the next few months.