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Column - June 2010

Support rail freight through the planning system

Rail FreightSpatial planning has a crucial role to play in setting the strategic framework for rail freight, as it cannot prosper without new terminals and the planning system is critical in delivering these facilities so we are lobbying the new Government for rail freight to be at the heart of future spatial and transport policy.

We therefore welcome the Coalition programme for Government, issued on 20th May, which aims to simplify and streamline the planning system. We support the policy to retain plans at the local level to meet local needs and at a national level, using National Policy Statements, to define national policy and establish the need for national infrastructure projects.
Strategic Transport Planning Decisions need to be made at right level
Additionally, we believe that the strategic nature of transport means that planning decisions need to be made at the right level otherwise strategic projects, such as rail freight terminals which have national and regional economic, environmental and social benefits, but are not always popular locally, will not get planning permission. Therefore we support strategies at a sub-national level to assess strategic options and co-ordinate development with infrastructure to meet wider needs.

Need to retain National Infrastructure Planning Process
We believe that it is crucial that the principle of national decision making for nationally important projects is retained in some form. As it stands strategic rail freight interchanges of  60 hectares and above are evaluated in this process which is crucial if rail freight is to play its full role in the low carbon economy. We also believe that there should be a presumption in any freight terminal planning application that warehouses should be capable of being rail connected so that rail freight can contribute to the Government’s legal CO2 limits, defined in the Climate Change Act of 2008.

Proposed Revised Streamlined National Planning Framework
As part of the streamlining of planning policy statements and guidance outlined in the planning green paper, we believe that the safeguarding policies in PPG13 of key transport sites for all modes should be retained otherwise it will be difficult for local authorities to safeguard key strategic sites for future potential transport use to serve the economy. Once strategic sites beside the railway are gone, they are lost to society for ever.

We are pressing the new Government to incorporate the Strategic Rail Freight Network (SFN) in its planning framework. The SFN is designed to provide a reliable robust strategic network with diversionary routes to cater for the current growth1,in intermodal rail freight, to connect national major freight routes, including links to the ports, as part of the low carbon logistics solution.

A recent High Court ruling2 showed that the Government has to take into account fully the climate change implications of transport infrastructure developments in line with the 2008 Climate Change Act. The ruling shows that the CO2 footprint of any major infrastructure project has to be properly assessed which should allow the full environmental benefits of rail freight as well as its economic and social benefits to be fully realised in future major infrastructure projects.

1. Rail freight has increased its market share in deep sea traffici by 12 per cent- ORR Rail trends February 2010 Q3 09/10 on q3 in 08/09 despite the fact imports over the quay have reduced by 10-20%
2. Judicial Review Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the 2003 Air Transport White Paper – the foundation of expansion plans across the country was obsolete because it is inconsistent with the Climate Change Act 2008.

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