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Column - December 2014

Road rail interchanges needed to satisfy rail freight demand

Road rail interchanges needed to satisfy rail freight demandRail freight, has grown by 80% in the past 20 years and generates more than £1.5bn a year in economic benefits to UK PLC. With the forecasts suggesting that rail freight volumes could double by 2043 the environmental, productivity and congestion benefits of delivering freight by rail could be worth over £4bn per year to the UK economy.

So, we are urging the Government to continue investing in the rail freight network and publish spatial planning policies which will allow Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFIs) to be built. Therefore a revised National Networks NPS, which requires no government funding, but would have direct benefits to the green economy, should be laid before Parliament for its scrutiny before the December recess. The Strategic Rail Freight Interchange policy needs to firstly recognise that the forecasted growth in rail freight volumes over the next 30 years is predicated on more SRFIs coming on stream. And secondly, that because of the specific requirements of SRFIs, the use of greenfield or green belt locations is needed in the vast majority of cases. Out of the 15 new SRFIs being planned, 9 are located in the green belt demonstrating the difficulty in finding suitable sites and the remaining 6 potential SRFIs are all in green field locations, involving similar sensitive planning arguments to green belt locations. These proposed interchanges require good road and rail connections, large flat spaces of circa 60 hectares and need to be near but outside conurbations which they serve as well as particular industrial sectors in certain cases.
SRFIs are so important because they reduce the costs of transhipment thereby making rail more cost effective compared to road with which it has to compete. They also provide added value with warehousing and consolidation facilities.  

In fact, in July two key interchange proposals gained planning consent and another one entered the planning system.

Permission was granted to expand the Daventry Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI), to cater for 32 trains in and out of the facility per day, capable of moving more than 500,000 containers a year. The project includes 8 million sq ft of rail served distribution space, a new rail link from the existing DIRFT to a new interchange together will new transhipment sidings, container storage and truck reception area. In total there will be 9000 direct jobs there and already boasts Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury as users. Daventry has evolved around retail and general distribution across the UK. Other existing terminals and proposed ones cater for industrial sectors as well as the geographic catchment areas they serve. Most SRFIs in the Midlands will include an element of national distribution serving a network of urban centres across most of the country as well as more regional and local catchment areas.

Radlett SRFI, in Hertfordshire, received planning permission from the Secretary of State Eric Pickles five years after the public inquiry recommended granting permission for the project and twelve years after it first entered the planning system; however there are still planning hurdles to overcome  as the planning authority, St Albans City Council, has sought leave to challenge the decision. This delay demonstrates that existing planning policy is not robust enough to enable planning inspectors to grant planning permission for such distribution hubs even when they have support of the industry.

A new strategic rail freight interchange, known as the East Midlands Gateway, has been consulted upon at Kegworth, on a site north of East Midlands Airport in Leicestershire. Key sectors for this project are retail and general distribution in the northern part of the Leicester / Derby / Nottingham catchment focussed on the M1 corridor. The proposal is expected to generate around 7000 direct jobs. There will be a new direct rail link connecting to the existing Castle Donnington branch freight, providing access to the national rail freight network and to the UK’s major ports.

Just as passengers need stations, rail freight needs road rail transhipment hubs in the right locations. Developers want to invest in rail freight interchanges, which are important generators of employment, and complement public investment in the Strategic Freight Network (SFN) but the missing element in the jigsaw is planning permission.

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