Need established for green belt freight interchange

A national need and a lack of suitable alternative sites justify granting development consent for a strategic rail freight interchange (SRFI) in the Staffordshire green belt, the secretary of state for transport has decided.

The 297-hectare proposal, which required compulsory acquisition powers, included an intermodal freight terminal, lorry parking, rail-served warehouses and new road infrastructure. The secretary of state recognised that the proposal would be inappropriate development in the green belt, resulting in harm to its openness and encroachment into the countryside. He went on to examine issues of need, site suitability and the scheme’s benefits to establish whether special circumstances could justify this harm, against the background of the 2015 national policy statement on national networks and the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2017.

In terms of need, the secretary of state agreed with his examiner that the proposed development was justified. He noted that it would fill a long-established need for an interchange to serve the Black Country’s economic development needs, provide for additional rail-linked logistics floorspace in the region and contribute to an expanded network of SRFIs that would assist in achieving and promoting a modal shift of freight from road to rail, thereby playing an important part in the move to a low-carbon economy. He also accepted that no suitable alternative sites were available.

The secretary of state refuted objectors’ concerns that a large proportion of the projected 8,500 employees at the site would commute from outside the district, making it an unsustainable location. In his view, the benefits of the new jobs and the £680 million generated annually for the regional economy outweighed this concern. He also considered that the scheme’s public benefits would outweigh less than substantial harm to the character of a local conservation area.

He took into account a modified amendment to ameliorate any potential effects on recreational impact on a local sailing club from loss of wind caused by the scale of the new development in an open landscape. He downplayed concerns about whether a rail freight connection to the commercial warehouses would ever actually be developed, noting that it is accepted practice for the warehousing element of such schemes to come on stream before the rail freight element.

The secretary of state concluded that the national and regional need for the proposed development outweighed any harm, despite the presence of a number of other SRFIs in the region. In that light, he concluded that the very special circumstances needed to justify a grant of development consent had been demonstrated.

Examiner: Paul Singleton

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