Energy Park language (image courtesy of Google Maps)
Councilors debate what a freeport will mean
South Hams councilors have been asked to choose between sheep and jobs – including an exchange over the relative merits of eating grass or money – during a debate over the Plymouth draft and of South Devon Freeport.
They were discussing the need to acquire land for Langage’s proposed energy park through Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs).
In April, South Hams District Council (SHDC) agreed to take part in the Freeport scheme, which involves Plymouth, South Hams and West Devon.
Freeports are areas where normal tax and customs rules do not apply. Imports can enter with simplified customs documentation and without paying customs duties.
During Thursday’s city council [22 September] members debated a recommendation to approve an area of land next to the A38 in Langage which may have to be obtained by expropriation.
The legal costs for this could be as high as £350,000.
Green Party councilor for Dartington and Staverton, Jacqi Hodgson, criticized the plan, suggesting the land could be put to better use.
She said: “We need the land we have to feed ourselves, if we are to reduce our carbon footprint as massively as necessary, and we will need all the land we can to grow our food.
“And I know it’s all about the money, but as they always say, ‘you can’t really eat money.’
“I would just ask, if we’re supposed to require a net gain in biodiversity, how are they going to do that by converting green land that currently supports sheep farming and food production?”
Energy Park language, including area that may need to be purchased (image courtesy: SHDC)
Council Leader and Conservative MP for Salcombe and Thurlestone Judy Pearce responded by stressing that the economic benefits outweighed the disruption.
“It’s all very well to say we should have sheep on the land or we should rather build houses or something,” said Cllr Pearce. “But in fact, this freeport is going to provide very well-paid jobs.”
Cllr Pearce suggested that successful businesses and well-paid employees pay taxes that benefit all members of society.
“If we don’t have things like free ports and employment zones, we’re not going to get any of these taxes – any of these corporate rates. And there will be no money to run our public services.
“So you make your choice. Either you have sheep or we may be better off. And a lot of people these days are vegetarians anyway. So what are you gonna do, go out and eat the weed?
Langage Energy Park is one of three proposed freeport tax sites for Devon. The others are in South Yard in Devonport and are part of the Sherford employment area; providing a combined footprint of approximately 130 hectares for development.
The vote of approval of the purchase orders was adopted by 21 votes for, 4 against and 4 abstentions.
Total capital investment in the Freeport is expected to reach £311m; consisting of £25m in a government seed capital grant and locally matched £29m. Total private sector investment is expected to be nearly £247 million.