As the reality of the libertarian Freeport experiment unleashed on Plymouth and South Devon comes to weigh heavily on the shoulders of South Hams Council, the Task & Finish Group internal report (which will be discussed in Council Executive on Thursday 30 November) highlights issues of substantial concern. I unpack the concerns in detail in my article here.
The growing erosion of public trust in South Hams District Council and its relationship with the Freeport project could be stemmed by four simple, immediate actions that would enable scrutiny, assurance through full transparency and allow legitimate concerns to be explored openly.
The question is: how transparent is South Hams prepared to be? Or is this entire project not only riddled with holes, but also holed below the waterline with the very issues many Freeport critics have been warning about – lack of transparency, a refusal to engage, and a failed business case that no-one wants to acknowledge?
Four things all South Hams Councillors should demand for their residents
- That South Hams Council publishes (unredacted) the submitted Freeport Bidding Prospectus, particularly section 3.1.4 regarding the reason why the Freeport Boundary is 75km encompassing Dartmoor. Dartmoor is one of the crown jewels for our area – what is the ‘exceptional’ reason Dartmoor has been given away to the Freeport as required by the Prospectus?
- That South Hams comes clean on Langage: something’s not gone to plan, the Council is now not even sure it needs it, but at some point, the land was deemed ‘integral’ to Freeport compliance. Meanwhile, Langage is still a central fixture in the financial projections that ‘sell’ the Freeport’s viability. What is the real story? What has been going wrong? What are the risks? And what do the financial projections look like without Langage?
- South Hams must detail clearly the costs and damages for various stages of withdrawal from the Freeport (bearing in mind that in its first 18 months the Council’s projections have already plummeted from £2 million net profit to £288,000 net loss). Might a financial cost to extricate ourselves from a terrible Freeport deal actually be worth it? If the costs aren’t allowed to be scrutinised, we will never be allowed to know.
- That South Hams pause any further involvement with the Freeport until a balanced, fully transparent engagement has been undertaken with residents. And that the controls, policies and agreements, as highlighted by the Task & Finish Group, are agreed with the Freeport in a legally binding way that benefits South Hams residents and removes risks to Dartmoor and our communities.
These simple steps could help repair trust in a situation that has developed under South Hams Council’s watch. Residents have had no public consultation, very little transparency and it is only now that we are getting a sense of how truly terrible this Freeport ‘deal’ is. The Council’s own internal report evidences it as shot through with risk for residents, with few legal controls to protect our interests.
Four simple things – done quickly – might help arrest a collapse in confidence in the new South Hams District Council administration. All eyes should be on our Councillors, and what they do next.
If you have any information or insights that you would like to share with us, in confidence, please email: email@example.com.
Call to action:
Democracy relies on the public (us) demanding transparency and accountability from our elected representatives. Use this tool to find out who your elected local, South Hams, Devon County or Plymouth Councillor is. Email them and ask your questions based on what you have read. Do they really understand the issues involved? Are they prepared to fully back the Plymouth & South Devon Freeport?