This story first surfaced in March as an idea in response to the collapse of Flybe. Looks to Owl to be a bit of a hastily drawn up pipe dream
The government is being urged to give the green light to the region as one of ten new freeports from next year.
Freeports are hubs for business and enterprise. They could be free of checks and paperwork, and include customs and tax benefits.
These zones reduce costs and bureaucracy, encouraging manufacturing businesses to set up or re-shore.
The most successful freeports globally attract businesses and create jobs for local people through liberalised planning laws.
Ministers invited bids last year, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union.
Now a partnership of ten businesses and local authorities has submitted a bid that brings together the marine strengths and port assets of Plymouth, the knowledge economy and airside capabilities of Exeter and East Devon, and the aerospace and engineering excellence of Somerset.
Together, this embryonic partnership will bring together more than a million square feet of port, airport, high value manufacturing and innovation and knowledge-intensive space, combining assets and strengths from a diverse range of partners, from the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Associated British Ports and regional and city airports, to Yeovil helicopter manufacturer Leonardo and Devonport Dockyard operator Babcock Marine.
The government wants to establish ten freeports to boost the economy after Brexit. It is understood that seven front-runners have been identified already, leaving 14 bidders to compete for three places.
The concept would be particularly significant for Exeter which, along with Plymouth, has been identified as the city most reliant on trade with the EU.
Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council, said: “This would enable greater Exeter to reduce its current high dependence on EU exports and imports.
“This proposal is an exciting and creative response in the midst of the current economic crisis. If awarded, this could result in significant job creation and wealth opportunities for a wide range of businesses.”
The freeport proposal would look to create more than 27,000 high value digital, manufacturing and professional jobs in the local area over the next 20 years, adding around £500 million of additional value to the local economy.
The bid is put together by ten local partners from the public and private sectors. They include representatives from Plymouth, Exeter and East Devon and South Somerset.
Exeter is one of the UK’s fastest growing cities, and its regional airport served a million passengers a year before the lockdown.
The partnership represents an economy worth around £8 billion a year and a wider travel area of around 2.5 million residents.
The area has significant strengths in digital innovation, green technologies and future mobility, and believes it has an offer that can compete with the best in the world and accelerate and drive forward the economy of the South West.
Partners in Exeter and East Devon are working closely through the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership to develop a Gateway to the digital freeport concept.
Digital activity in the South West has more than doubled over the past ten years, growing 107%. The Exeter and East Devon economy has provided around 45% of all growth in the past decade.
The Exeter and East Devon Growth Area Partnership represents key public and private partners in the Exeter growth area of Devon, bringing together the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership (LEP), Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council and Exeter Airport.
Between them they represent an economy worth around £8 billion a year.
The partnership is now awaiting final proposals and a formal bidding process from the Government, which is expected to come later in the year.