A VETERAN councillor and former MP has praised a bid to establish a freeport on the east coast...but has warned residents to not get their hopes up just yet.

Essex county and Tendring district councillor Ivan Henderson worked as a docker at Harwich International Port before he became the town’s first Labour MP.

The town’s port now makes up one half of an ambitious proposal put forward by Essex and Suffolk business leaders and governments to obtain free port status.

If successful, the plans could see Harwich International Port, alongside the Port of Felixstowe, become Freeport East and subsequently offer a simplified customs system with zero tariffs.

The pair of ports, which are both owned by Hutchinson Ports, could also be taken into the 21st century and capitalise on newfound technologies.

The bid must be submitted to Downing Street by February 2021 in order to be considered and must demonstrate how it will achieve the ambitions set out in the Government’s Freeports Bidding Prospectus.

Mr Henderson said he was hopeful the free port status will materialise, but added it was important at this stage to manage expectations and for no-one to get their hopes up.

He said: “This is a good, strong bid and there are some really good partners involved and it all sounds nice and positive.

“But they don’t have any answers at the moment and are just throwing cards in the air and saying this looks good, without knowing many details.

“My worry is things have been promised in Harwich before and they have not come off and I hope that does not happen again.

“In the 1980s, a struggling Conservative Government outlined plans for free ports in the likes of Liverpool and Southampton and then never really delivered.

“They ultimately failed because they found they were being used as a vehicle for tax evasion and were actually benefitting businesses more than the regeneration of the areas and job opportunities.”

Mr Henderson also expressed concerns about whether or not the Felixstowe side of the proposed super port will be given the main bulk of the benefits, leaving the people of Harwich shortchanged.

He added: “The project needs to deliver on both sides and actually do what it says on the tin but I worry this push is more for Felixstowe.

“I want to see the same benefits in Harwich as there will be in Felixstowe, because we want to create jobs as well.

“Harwich International Port has always lacked investment and so the question now is, will we see Hutchinson properly invest in improving it?”

If successful, the Freeport East bid could also see the streamlining of planning applications, so developments which may regenerate the area could be approved quicker.

Mr Henderson said he hopes the new fast-track approach could be applied to the ongoing Bathside Bay development, which has struggled to get off the ground.

He added: “There is an opportunity to now relax conditions at Bathside Bay and create employment.”

Mary Newton, Tendring Council’s Cabinet member for business and economic growth was less sceptical.

She said she strongly believes the proposed hub could be a game-changer.

She said: “A free port including Harwich has huge potential to enrich the lives of local residents – across the district – by creating plentiful job opportunities and establishing it as a centre for investment for global firms.”