Barking MP and council clash as row breaks out over Dagenham freeport

Docklands landmarks and developments. The Thames Barrier

Barking MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, has come out against plans for a freeport in the Thames around Dagenham. - Credit: Ken Mears

A row has erupted over a bid to create a freeport along the River Thames in Dagenham.

A joint bid by DP World, Forth Ports and Ford would see a Thames Freeport alongside the Ports of London Gateway and Tilbury in Thurrock.

Labour-led Barking and Dagenham Council backs the freeport proposal. Councillors voted in favour of it last month.

Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking

Margaret Hodge will do all she can to encourage the government to roll out the vaccine as quickly as possible - Credit: Parliament

Supporters of freeports say streamlined planning processes help redevelop brownfield sites while tax reliefs boost jobs, growth and innovation.

But Barking MP Dame Margaret Hodge has criticised them, saying already wealthy land and business-owners profit as "hardworking families" lose out with less tax hitting public services.

Dame Margaret, commenting in the Post, said: "Freeports are big risks for money laundering and tax evasion too. Low taxes and light touch regulation make freeports an ideal home for wrongdoers.

"A freeport on the Thames would open another gap in our already-stretched defences against dirty money."

The Labour MP added while she has always backed big projects to boost the borough, a freeport is the "wrong way" to grow the local economy.

However, a council spokesperson said the planned reduction in diesel engine production in Dagenham raised important questions about the future of Ford's site.

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"Although we have some reservations about the principle of freeports, we are exploring all options which help secure jobs and create opportunities for residents," she added.

Thames Freeport would become an automotive hub focused on developing electric and autonomous vehicles, if the bid succeeds.

"[It] is also unique in that it includes rail, river and sea connections and links to one of the world’s most important cities," the spokesperson said.

She hailed it along with the film studio and three markets of London for complementing the "vital" role Dagenham could play in London’s recovery beyond Brexit and the pandemic.

“The freeport proposal provides greater certainty Ford will make these investments and jobs will be retained.

"Without freeport status, we consider these investments are unlikely to be made in the UK, creating an uncertain future for employment on the Dagenham Ford site," she said.