Plymouth’s Freeport has been the stimulus for the creation of 100 carpentry jobs in the city’s shipbuilding industry and is set to open up many more job opportunities and raise wages in what is claimed to be one of the most disadvantaged areas of the country.

Described this week as a ‘great collaboration’ between City College Plymouth, Princess Yachts and Plymouth City Council, the jobs will help to accelerate the growth of the luxury yacht manufacturer which was in danger of being held back by a skill shortage and lack of available carpenters.

Members of Plymouth City Council’s growth and infrastructure overview and scrutiny committee were told this week that the Freeport, the business case for which was given the green light last December, was about ‘turbo charging’ what Plymouth had wanted to do for a long time to grow industry, re-invest, innovate and provide well paid jobs.

Council leader Tudor Evans (Labour, Ham) said that private sector investment in the Freeport was expected to reach £300 million and provide 3,584 jobs from starter roles to high value technical jobs, 2,745 of these being above the average wage nationally which was “much better than what you normally see in Plymouth.”

Ten per cent of the jobs would be filled by inactive claimants or the registered unemployed. It is claimed that Freeport status will enable South Yard, Sherford and Langage to be developed into prime employment sites attracting new business, providing thousands of jobs and injecting millions of pounds of inward investment into the region.

Offering tax and customs reliefs, Freeports simplify import and export procedures, enhance trade promotion, and provide additional support for innovation, increasing their attractiveness to both domestic and international businesses. But the potential risks of loosening the reins of control have caused some concern.

Cllr Evans said contrary to what some people felt about the Freeport it was not about: “Taking over large spaces of Dartmoor and relocating waterfront businesses to the middle of nowhere” but it was about “unlocking national opportunities.”

One of the city’s biggest employers, Babcock International, have secured a £40 million contract in partnership with Devon defence vehicle designer and manufacturer Supacat, which brings 90 new jobs. Freeport sea capital plus private sector funding would facilitate a higher volume of freight and increase short sea shipping potential, added Cllr Evans.

Councillors were updated on a £9 million scheme at Beaumont Way to provide 4616 square metres of flexible workspace and 138 jobs and which is ready to go out to tender having secured planning permission and a £6.5 million scheme at Oceansgate with 1,772 sq m of manufacturing and synthetic testing space, accommodating 49 jobs.

Oceansgate was in line for an innovation centre but this project had to be scaled down after a £10 million bid for Levelling Up funding from the government failed, the meeting was told.

A green hydrogen generation plant at the Freeport’s Langage tax site is being developed by landowner Carlton Power as part of the Freeport’s net zero strategy. Renewable energy will be used to produce green hydrogen fuel which will decarbonise industry and in the future transport and heating.

It will have an initial capacity of 10MW (with plans to increase that to 40MW) to heat 14,000 homes. The scheme has been shortlisted by the UK Government for financial support and Carlton power has signed partnership agreements to supply Sibelco and Imerys. It’s been earmarked to enter operation in 2025.

Plymouth City’s Council’s service director for economic development David Draffan said a prime example of what had been achieved through the Freeport is the acceleration of the delivery of 100 new carpentry jobs in the shipbuilding industry, with City College being responsive to the needs of Princess Yachts.

“Skills shortages are national,” he said. “You have to grow your own, and you have to import some too, but what Freeport gives us is that stimulus.”

Cllr Lesley Gilmour (Labour, Moor View) asked if some of these exciting new companies coming to Plymouth would offer work experience and apprenticeships.

Nina Sharlaka from the Freeport partnership said: “We have a successful skills launchpad in Plymouth which has dealt with thousands of young people and older people in relation to where they are in their skills and jobs journey and what they want as their next step.

“There are three angles here: the people of Plymouth and the wider area, the skills organisations and providers and the business end. We will be bringing that beautiful threesome together to get the great outcome we are looking for.”

The Plymouth and South Devon Freeport is a public/private partnership with Plymouth City Council, South Hams District Council and Devon County Council, working alongside Princess Yachts, Carlton Power, the Sherford Consortium, and a wider range of stakeholders including the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter, Plymouth port operators, skills providers and the Heart of the South West LEP.