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New pledge on South Hams Freeport funding

Monday, 22 April 2024 08:24

By Guy Henderson, local democracy reporter

Image: Red Air Drones Aerial Media LTD for Plymouth and South Devon Freeport

Some concerned about finances

People in the South Hams have been promised they will not be left out of pocket by the much-vaunted Plymouth and South Devon Freeport project.

The Freeport will pay for itself in the business rates it collects from new enterprises starting up in the district, South Hams councillors have been told.

Council leader Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Stokenham) said: “We are not all going to agree about it, but we are striving to make the Freeport the best it can be, and make it deliver what we want it to deliver for our residents in the South Hams.

The council’s executive committee discussed an update on the Freeport, a government initiative that offers tax breaks for companies in a specific area, with the aim of unlocking millions of pounds in grants and attract new businesses.

Supporters say the 25-year project could create 3,500 new jobs in Plymouth and the South Hams.

Key areas for development at Sherford and Langage fall within South Hams Council’s boundaries.

The council is a partner in the project along with Plymouth City Council and Devon County Council, working alongside private companies including Devonport Dockyard’s owners Babcock and luxury boatbuilders Princess Yachts.

Several councillors have questioned the benefits to the South Hams, as well as the use of public funds to help private companies.

Asked by a member of the public what the council’s financial commitment to the Freeport would be, and what the benefits would be in return, Cllr John Birch (Lib Dem, Totnes) explained that South Hams’ financial input had been lowered from £5.5 million to £3.5 million, financed by borrowing from central government.

He said it would be self-financing in the long-term, thanks to an increase in business rates collected.

Cllr Brazil said it was important for the South Hams to play its part in the project.

“Hopefully history will prove us correct,” he said. “It may all go horribly wrong, but it may go right as well.

“It is taxpayers’ money, but that money is being spent in the South Hams, and it would be churlish for us to say we’re not having it.

“The government has basically said – here’s a tenner, you can buy it from us for fiver – and we have to take that opportunity.”

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