Plans to create a multi-billion pound scheme in Welsh county reach new milestone

Chief executive of the Celtic Freeport Luciana Ciubotariu, centre, with Neath Port Talbot Council chief executive Karen Jones  (left) and council leader Cllr Steve Hunt
-Credit: (Image: South Wales Evening Post)

Plans to create a multi-billion pound freeport in Neath Port Talbot and Milford Haven have taken another step closer with the first permanent CEO taking up her position. Luciana Ciubotariu, who was formerly part of the senior management team of the Thames Freeport in London, started her role in May where she will now head up the early foundation stages of the Welsh freeport plans.

The project is part of an approved bid between Associated British Ports, Neath Port Talbot Council, Pembrokeshire County Council and the Port of Milford Haven, which was submitted under the name of the Celtic Freeport. It could eventually see the development of a new freeport as well as a large offshore floating wind-farm in the Celtic Sea, along with the development of new hydrogen technology.

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Supporters of the development which was first approved by UK Government in March 2023 also believe it could generate more than £5.5 billion worth of investment in the coming years as well as around 16,000 jobs. Freeports are special areas within the UK’s borders where different economic regulations apply, such as tax incentives for eligible businesses within them. They also offer simplified customs procedures, and streamlined planning processes to boost redevelopment in the areas close to them.

Speaking ahead of her first week in the role Ms Ciubotariu, who has now moved to Wales on a full-time basis, said she was incredibly excited for the task that lay ahead of her. She said: "I am incredibly excited and honoured to take up the role of CEO at the Celtic Freeport. The magnitude of this project is immense, and it holds significant potential for transforming the economic landscape of south west Wales.

"This Freeport can be a catalyst for economic revitalisation, attracting substantial investments, creating high-quality jobs and fostering innovation. By leveraging the region's natural assets and industrial strengths, we can drive sustainable growth and enhance the overall prosperity of the region and beyond.

"The establishment of the Celtic Freeport is poised to bring numerous benefits, particularly in terms of job creation and investment. We anticipate significant direct and indirect employment opportunities across various sectors, including renewable energy manufacture, sustainable fuels production, heavy engineering and logistics.

"The Freeport will attract both domestic and international investments, stimulating local businesses and creating a resilient economic ecosystem. These infrastructure improvements and enhanced connectivity will further bolster the region’s attractiveness for future investments, ensuring sustained economic growth and development."

Ms Ciubotariu, who originally comes from Brazil, added that the development of the freeport could also be well timed for residents given the current situation at the Port Talbot steelworks site where around 3,000 workers could face losing their jobs this year.

She said: "The timing of the Celtic Freeport project is particularly pertinent given the current economic challenges, including the job losses at the steelworks. When we are up and running, the freeport can provide much needed economic diversification and resilience, offering new opportunities for those affected by these changes.

"By focusing on emerging industries and sustainable practices, we can create a robust and future proof economic base for Neath Port Talbot and South West Wales. The project will not only help mitigate the immediate impacts of job losses but also lay the groundwork for long-term economic stability and prosperity.

"I have had the pleasure of visiting Neath Port Talbot a number of times. I was struck by the natural beauty of the area and its rich industrial heritage. What stood out even more was the warmth and resilience of the people.

"There is a strong sense of community and a shared optimism about the future, despite recent challenges. This spirit is incredibly important and will be a key asset as we work together to realise the potential of the Celtic Freeport."

Representatives from the Celtic Freeport said they'd recently completed the first major part of the development journey after the submission of an outline business case to the Welsh and UK Governments, with a full business case expected to be submitted later this year. It also comes after early stages of funding agreements were moved forward by the UK Government's Department of Energy Security and Net Zero for the creation of a "major" off-shore wind hub to be located in the Celtic Sea.

Karen Jones, chief executive of Neath Port Talbot Council, has previously said the freeport has the potential to provide a massive economic boost for the area, and welcomed Ms Ciubotariu to her new role.

She said: "Luciana is definitely the right person to head the Celtic Freeport having the background, vision and ambition to ensure the truly transformational potential of the Freeport is fully realised for our communities, businesses and also the wider Wales economy." For the latest Neath Port Talbot news sign up to our newsletter here.