Thursday, February 2, 2023

Cash-strapped Thurrock Council may have to wait longer for Thames Freeport windfall

CASH-STRAPPED Thurrock Council will have to wait a bit longer to benefit from a £300 million windfall from the Thames Freeport logistics park.

The Government allows councils which have freeports to keep some business rates from the enterprises located within them.

Thurrock Council will play a large part in Thames Freeport operated by Forth Ports, DP World and Ford and is currently seeking Government approval for a full business case.

The council had been set to borrow against business rates from the park for a swathe of regeneration projects in the borough once the Government gives final approval.

However, a commissioner appointed by the Government to oversee an investigation and an improvement plan now has full control of the council’s finances preventing any further borrowing by the authority. It comes after disastrous investments made with millions of pounds borrowed from other councils left the council with a £469million deficit.

The freeport is set to create 21,000 new jobs, put £2.6bn a year into the UK economy, attract £4.6bn in investment and see 1,700 acres of land developed.

At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Mark Coxshall, leader of the council said veto was a disappointing delay but one which the council must accept.

He said: “As we go forward with the commissioners in conjunction with us and the Secretary of State we have got to make sure the recovery of this council is utmost but the freeport is part of our recovery.

“This extra growth is the only way we get out of that. Making more people live and work and play in the borough makes it easier for us. One of the structures of this improvement plan is to deliver the freeport.”

Mr Coxshall added: “There is a change from borrowing money to waiting for the business rates retention to come in. It is a challenge to our finances but we’ve got to realise we have got to do things differently.

“This is money deferred not money lost and if we continue with the freeport that money is still coming to us. We are not borrowing against it so there is no interest coming to us so we are reducing our debt.”

The freeport won approval in principal from the government in March 2021 and was signed off in November last year.

In March Ruth Kelly chairman of Thames Freeport confirmed the council would be able to spend about £300million on local regeneration initiatives that would have “a tremendous impact”.

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