East Midlands Airport could lose ownership of land earmarked for major Freeport plan

Aerial view of East Midlands Airport's land which forms part of wider Freeport plan
The area in red is wholly owned by EMA with surrounding land forming part of the wider Freeport plan -Credit:Google

East Midlands Airport (EMA) could lose ownership of land it is planning to develop as part of major Freeport plans for Leicestershire. A large section of the land which sits south of EMA is owned by the airport, but surrounding areas which could then be developed for the future East Midlands Freeport scheme are under third-party ownership.

Freeports are trading and investment zones centred around airports and shipping ports, which have unique economic regulations to aid businesses operating inside them. The Government is setting up seven of these zones across the UK. Leicestershire's Freeport is the only inland one in England, and ultimately aims to create 28,000 new jobs over three major sites spanning 533 hectares - Castle Donington’s EMA, the East Midlands Intermodal Park (EMIP) and the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station redevelopment site.

EMA and SEGRO, which operates the nearby East Midlands Gateway, are both key partners in the scheme to bring about the Freeport, reports NottinghamshireLive. However, it has emerged that SEGRO has successfully applied for a Development Consent Order (DCO), which gives it the power to compulsorily purchase the land EMA owns and develop without their permission.

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EMA’s owner, Manchester Airports Group, last month put forward plans for their 102-acre site which included proposals for “multiple” units capable of hosting distribution, logistics and industrial firms. The scoping proposal, which has not been formally submitted to North West Leicestershire District Council, also made provisions for hotels and hostels in the area.

A453 in Castle Donington
Land south to the A453 in Castle Donington would be transformed as part of the East Midlands Freeport plan -Credit:Google

SEGRO, in its application to the Government, said it was applying for the DCO to put the development of the EMA site "on as fast a track as possible". It added that it wanted to "play its part in realising the benefit of its Freeport sites as soon as possible and believes that key to this will be utlising the [DCO] consenting process in the Planning Act 2008". It added in its application that,"importantly, the DCO process will provide a one stop shop to enable development to be coordinated in a comprehensive manner, speeding up implementation and the resultant benefits of the Freeport status and the contribution it will make to the economy."

News of SEGRO’s advancing of the scheme without EMA has caused much concern with airport bosses. Steve Griffiths, EMA’s managing director, said: “We remain committed to the Freeport and playing our role in unlocking the economic benefits to the region in terms of attracting investment and creating new jobs. However, we have significant concerns about losing control over the development of land that we own.

"This goes against the principles of collaboration agreed upon by all Freeport members.

“Our plans for the land we own are well advanced and will bring much needed impetus to the Freeport’s progress. We hope that a satisfactory outcome can be found in the interests of realising the full potential of the Freeport and the opportunities it can unlock for the region.”

An East Midlands Freeport spokesperson said they believed the Freeport could act as a “catalyst” for major regeneration across the East Midlands and said it was working with SEGRO and the Manchester Airports Group over the current issue, but acknowledged efforts to “broker a solution” had not yielded a result.

SEGRO defended its actions, claiming that the application for a DCO was “well suited” to a plan of the Freeport’s size. A spokesperson said: “The East Midlands Freeport will deliver a number of economic and employment benefits for the region and we are working hard to help create the intended low-carbon advanced logistics and manufacturing hub at the heart of the Freeport initiative.

“Conversations are ongoing and we remain hopeful that these agreements can be achieved. While a successful DCO process does allow for the potential compulsory purchase of land, this is not the reason that we applied for the Section 35, and it is better for all parties to come to commercial agreements with landowners.”