A bid for Freeport status at one of the largest industrial parks in the UK has been launched to support a post-COVID lockdown recovery in Crawley and the wider Greater Brighton region.

Proposals submitted to Government by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership would create a new Freeport at Gatwick Airport and the Manor Royal Business District. Manor Royal already has a strong cluster of high tech, high innovation businesses, such as Thales, Varian and Elekta.

Freeports, which are part of the Government’s plans to boost the post-Brexit economy, will benefit from generous tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures and wider government support. These new global hubs for trade, investment and innovation will create thousands of jobs, regenerating communities and turbocharging Britain’s growth.

Whilst the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda may be focused on investment in the north, there is no doubt that parts of the south east have been devastated by COVID-19, with Crawley losing an estimated £2.5 billion in productivity since the start of the pandemic. Gatwick Airport traffic declined by 78% in 2020, and a very high percentage of the Crawley workforce are either furloughed or claiming benefits.

Freeport status would support the safeguarding and creation of jobs and help the recovery of the aviation sector, thereby avoiding the real risk of long-term, mass unemployment in Crawley. Plans will provide import and export incentives, unlock major infrastructure upgrades, and enhance the delivery of a potential new multi-million pound Innovation Centre.

Coast to Capital has worked in close collaboration with partners to the Freeport bid, including Gatwick Airport, Crawley Borough Council, Manor Royal BID, and West Sussex County Council. If approved, proposals could be developed immediately, reaping big rewards for the local economy.

Crawley MP Henry Smith said:

“Gatwick along with Manor Royal are important drivers for the local economy and employment which also represents a significant net contribution to the UK as a whole. However the COVID-19 pandemic is at real risk of levelling down the area, therefore with the new opportunities of global Britain, a free port based on Gatwick and Crawley’s Manor Royal business district has the real potential to build back better, stronger and more diverse, enhancing regional and national wellbeing.”

Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, who also sits on Greater Brighton board, said:

“Crawley Borough Council is working very hard with partners to ensure that we can recover quickly from the devastating impact of COVID-19 on our local economy. The Gatwick Freeport bid is one of several major initiatives which confirm Crawley as a vital player in the UK economy.”

Jonathan Sharrock, Chief Executive at Coast to Capital said:

“Gatwick and Crawley are among the most important parts of our regional economy. Both have been severely affected by COVID-19. The Gatwick Freeport bid is once in a lifetime opportunity to attract more high value businesses into the area and cement our status as a leading part of the country driving innovation and trade.”

Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick said:

“It is well documented what a devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had to date on Gatwick and the local economy. As we start to shape our recovery plans I believe a successful Freeport bid at Gatwick and the Manor Royal Business District would help to ensure a positive future for people, place and businesses within Crawley and the wider region.”

The ‘Gatwick Freeport bid’ was submitted this week alongside an estimated 30 bids from across the UK. 10 bids are set to be announced by spring this year. The full bid will be available to read on the Coast to Capital website shortly.