The politics of freeports – a place-based analysis of regional economic regeneration in the United Kingdom

Matthew Cotton, David Tyfield, Nick Gray, Andy Yuille

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Abstract

Freeports are special economic zones, providing tax and customs benefits aimed at reducing economic friction and encouraging regional development. This place-based policy analysis of UK freeports draws upon qualitative interviews and deliberative workshops with leading industry, government, and civil society stakeholders in the two largest Freeport regions – Teesside and Liverpool. We find first, that purported tax, customs, and planning benefits are deemed less economically important than the agglomeration of innovation industries within a defined geographic boundary. Second, that stronger action on environmental and economic (in)justice is needed – Freeports could be a just transition mechanism if they can avoid capture by a ‘closed shop’ of industry players. Third, Freeports could facilitate cross-sectoral low-carbon economic regeneration, though they are subject to cycles of expectation, hype, and disappointment. We conclude that national policymakers must acknowledge the competing geographic and governance scales emerging within Freeport-hosting communities, as distributive environmental injustices between different locations remain broadly unaddressed. Finally, though cognisant of changes in political leadership on the horizon, we conclude that Freeports will increase the geographic spread of environmental injustice if this model of low-tax and low-regulation economics becomes a political norm within UK regional economic redevelopment strategy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLocal Economy
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Feb 2024

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