Agenda item

Public Question Time

a period of up to 15 minutes is available to deal with questions submitted to the Council in accordance with the Executive Procedure Rules;



The Leader informed that six questions had been received in accordance with the Executive Procedure Rules:


a)    From Chris Wright


“Can the representative member on the Freeport Board influence the Freeport to release the original bid document? If not, why not, when it is so clearly in the public interest to know its content, especially regarding Dartmoor?”


In response the Lead Executive Member for Economic Development; Commercial Strategy; and Governance advised that:


“The outer boundary rationale from the original bid document would be put in the governance section of the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport website, alongside the Full Business Case and board minutes.  This was with the Freeport website team for publishing and would be uploaded onto the website by the end of next week.”



b)    From Christel Goodwin


“The Leader of South Hams Council has stated that if the Freeport is not working to the benefit of residents the Council will pull out. What are the criteria and timescales for this, and has the Leader consulted on the legal and cost implications of this?”


In response, the Lead Executive Member for Economic Development; Commercial Strategy; and Governance stated that:


“The Freeport was a 25 year project and would be subject to ongoing assessment, governance and monitoring, as was the case for all projects.? It would be through this process that success would be judged. The Council had a 5 year review term within the agreement between government and the local authority partners, which would be the mechanism utilised.”


c)    From Jim Funnell


"In Private Eye 5th January, it was stated that (unlike EU Freeports) the annual HMRC / Border Force audit will instead be done by the Freeport itself. What reassurance of transparency can residents expect from the Freeport when it still will not release the document relating to Dartmoor outer boundary?”


The Lead Executive Member for Economic Development; Commercial Strategy; and Governance provided the following response:


“The Government remained in charge of and would conduct the Security Audit for Plymouth and South Devon Freeport. It had not been undertaken by the Freeport as suggested in the question.  The Freeport would arrange to publish this document on the PASDF website as and when it was available for publication.”



d)    From Martin Goldschmidt. 


“Please could you quantify in simple terms what South Hams financial commitment to the freeport is and what the financial benefit to south hams taxpayers will be? Also what the government is investing overall in the Plymouth Freeport and how much of this taxpayers investment will go to subsidise private companies like Babcock?”


By way of a reply, the Lead Executive Member for Economic Development; Commercial Strategy; and Governance advised that:


“The aim and ambition of the Freeport from a South Hams perspective was singular and simple.? It was to encourage development of the employment land allocated in our Joint Local Plan at Sherford and Langage, by companies that wished to contribute to our economy and create local job opportunities.? (The Plymouth and South Devon Freeport aimed to create 3,584 jobs over the project period). The acceleration of infrastructure works (roads, active travel links, power upgrades for the grid, land) were all specific contributors to that specific aim.


The Government had allocated £25 million of funding towards each Freeport.? This had to be matched by public or private sector investment. ?The majority of the £25 million allocated for Plymouth and South Devon Freeport had been allocated on public sector led projects (infrastructure).? 


 As set out in the Executive report on the agenda today, South Hams potential financial investment in the projects it was leading for the Freeport,  had reduced from £5.5m to £3.5m. 


This would be financed through external borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board and paid for by the business rates income generated from the Freeport over the life of the project. Therefore, the Freeport was projected to be self-financing, in that the business rates generated would pay for the borrowing costs.


There had been no subsidies paid to Babcock.”



e)    From Paul Wesley


“In the two years that have passed since the agreement of South Hams District Council to participate and contribute funds towards the South Devon and Plymouth freeport, how much money, including officer time, has been spent on this project to date?”


In response the Lead Executive Member for Economic Development; Commercial Strategy; and Governance confirmed that:


“A significant amount of officer time had been spent on the Freeport, mainly by the Director of Finance and the Director of Place and Enterprise.? They had and continued to support the governance, financial monitoring, and Council scrutiny of it, whilst contributing to specific project streams within it.? In particular, preparing reports and briefings for the Council’s committee system, including the Audit and Governance Task and Finish Group, and quarterly reporting to the Executive.? ?It cannot be quantified beyond that as Directors did not keep time sheets, and worked across numerous Council priority areas.  


The Council had spent money on legal and commercial specialist advice, relating to land acquisitions connected to the Freeport. The amounts spent have been as follows:


-    £25,000 for the land valuation at Sherford;

-    £8,542 on Subsidy control advice for the land acquisition at Sherford; and

-    £1,500 on a Geotechnical Assessment.


 The Council had also spent £3,329 on financial modelling for the Freeport, which was the Council’s share of a shared resource for the Freeport partnership.


These amounts were recoverable from the business rates income that would be generated from the Freeport.


£46,800 had been paid for legal support for the proposed compulsory purchase of?land at Langage (which was no longer progressing, as the land was to be brought forward by the landowners for development).”



f)     From Paul Wesley


“What measures have been put in place to ensure that the public are fully informed about the SDPF and what plans are there to inform the public in future?”


The Lead Executive Member for Economic Development; Commercial Strategy; and Governance provided the following response:


“The Freeport published the minutes of its board meetings which provided an update on the?activities of the Freeport Company and the progress of projects. Plymouth City Council, Devon County Council and South Hams District Council all brought regular public reports to their committees, such as the one on the agenda today. The PASDF website also included regular news updates. Regular news reports on the progress of the Freeport projects would be published and circulated to news outlets as well as being included on the Freeport website.


The Freeport was committed to providing transparency and continuously updated the website to ensure easy access to information”.

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