Will the new Eastern Freeport herald freedom from planning constraints?

04 March 2021

As part of the Autumn Budget, the Chancellor yesterday announced the locations of eight new Freeports. There was a boon for the Eastern Region with the announcement of Felixstowe and Harwich as one of the eight locations. But what does this mean for the planning system here and the other locations?

Development in the Freeports is controlled by simplified planning zones. This is a style of land use planning favoured by the current government which has a desire for deregulation and simplification as evidenced in the Planning White Paper.

All Freeport sites will benefit from identical permitted development rights. Permitted development rights allow a range of development without the need to apply for express consent. Amendments will be made to more closely align permitted development rights for ports with the existing rights for airports. This will allow for a wider range of development and operational activities to take place in seaport areas, specifically for the development of buildings for purposes connected with the operation of the port.

Permitted development rights will not be available where the development requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA). In these circumstances applications for planning permission will be required, although the government is actively exploring simplification of the EIA regime which may be to the benefit of Freeports.

In addition to the general Freeport permitted development rights, local planning authorities (LPAs) will be encouraged to provide additional permitted development rights through a local development order (LDO). LPAs will need to carefully consider what additional development they wish to support and promote in their areas. Given that Freeports can extend to a radius of 45km, the Freeport is likely to operate within a number of LPA administrative areas which may require cross boundary consensus and collaboration or separate LDOs for each administrative area.

There is also an intention to review the National Policy Statement for Ports later this year with the expectation that the planning process for significant port development will change.

While some raise concerns about the potential detrimental impact that a more relaxed planning system may have on the provision and funding of infrastructure, others will see this as a huge economic opportunity for Felixstowe, Harwich and the surrounding areas. The Freeport East bid envisaged the generation of 13,500 new jobs, investment of over £500m and an £5.5bn economic boost over a 10 year period. New green opportunities may also arise with Felixstowe and Harwich Port mooting the idea of becoming hydrogen powered as part of the bid.

With the government claiming that the new Freeports will begin operations in late 2021, the coming months will be busy for those responsible for planning and promoting business within these areas.

The locations of the other Freeports are:

  • East Midlands Airport
  • Humber region
  • Liverpool City Region
  • Plymouth
  • Solent
  • Thames
  • Teeside

If you would like to discuss the article further, please do contact Chloe Glason on [email protected] or Ros Nuttall on [email protected].

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at March 2021.


Chloe Glason

Senior Associate

+44 (0)1473 299122

+44(0)7854 498264


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