Devon’s freeport zone will not pose a threat to Dartmoor National Park, according to a South Hams District Councillor.

Cllr John Birch is a board member of the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport (PSDF). He dismissed fears that industrial sites could be set up in the vast moorland park.

The concerns stem from a government map showing that the outer boundary of the PSDF will cover a 75-kilometre area, including most of Dartmoor.

This is despite the fact the government has stated that the largest area a freeport’s outer boundary can cover is 45 kilometres in diameter.

The PSDF (one of 12 across the UK) is intended to attract much needed investment by reducing red-tape and offering tax breaks to companies. According to the PSDF, the project will create an estimated 3,500 jobs and “supercharge” the south west’s economy, particularly in the region’s marine, defence and space sectors.

Cllr Birch has however insisted that Dartmoor will not be at risk.

He said: “Any customs sites are subject to normal rules and regulations when it comes to such things as planning permission. If it’s in the middle of Dartmoor there is no way that it would get planning permission. There are no exceptions when it comes to planning, health and safety or employment regulations.”

According to an agreement signed by the government and the freeport’s three ruling authorities (Plymouth City Council, South Hams District Council (SHDC) and Devon County Council), the PSDF will have only three special sites where companies will be offered tax breaks - Sherford, Langage and one in Plymouth, which is also the location for a customs site for import and export companies.

However, Jim Funnell, a South Hams resident who has been monitoring the PSDF since its inception, feared Dartmoor could still be under threat.

“A memorandum of understanding signed by the three includes a supply chain expansion that covers the whole outer boundary. The very real danger is that it’s not just about building warehouses and extra custom sites as there could be a massive increase in pollution and road traffic,” he said.

Conflict of interest

Critics have also complained about a lack of transparency around the project.

One of the PSDF’s board members is Peter Sadler, who is also a managing director of Vistry Partnerships, part of a house-building consortium involved in a £3.5m deal to sell land to SHDC to create the Sherford freeport site, on the edge of the A38.

Cllr Birch dismissed suggestions of a conflict of interest, explaining that the rules stipulate that affected landowners must be represented on the PSDF board.

He stressed that once the deal was formalised, Mr Sadler “will need to stand down” as Vistry will no longer have an interest in the freeport.

He was unable to say how much the Sherford Consortium originally paid for the land but said that it had been “independently valued” and that SHDC “paid the market value for it”.