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Column - October 2011

Progress on major infrastructure planning is crucial for green economy

Progress on major infrastructure planning is crucial if the green economy is to expand and  create new jobs. That is why Freight on Rail is urging the Government to release a detailed   national transport policy statement urgently.  A national planning statement for roads and rail, which demonstrates the role Strategic Rail Freight interchanges (SRFIs) can play in re-generating the economy and reducing freight’s carbon emissions is needed if the Government is to meet its twin objectives to reduce road congestion and carbon emissions. As rail freight cannot expand without planning permission for interchanges.

Because, as it stands because of a lack of policy and therefore certainty, developers are not submitting applications for SRFIs to the Independent Planning Commission. Hence the need for a  National policy statement for national networks, which makes the case for SRFIs, to be published as soon as possible. So far, we have been promised a draft NPS in December with a final document being designated the following December 2012, once it has been consulted upon and scrutinized by Parliament.

We are going through a transition period which is slowing up the process as the Coalition Government modifies the arrangements around major infrastructure planning. As part of the Localism Bill, which is expected to become law by the end of the year, the Coalition Government plans to replace the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), set up by the previous Government, with the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit which will be part of the Planning Inspectorate. The key difference with the new set-up is that ministers will determine all infrastructure applications of national importance after reviewing the recommendations of the Major Infrastructure Planning unit. Under the existing situation the IPC alone, determines all applications. Ironically, it is almost certain that the IPC will only determine one waste to energy scheme before it is abolished, upon which a decision is anticipated shortly.

We believe the NPS needs to give recognition of rail freight's role in reducing carbon emissions and road congestion as well as other external benefits, And as part of this, the need to build a network of SRFIs to service freight traffic on the Strategic Rail Freight network.

The NPS must make the needs case for SRFIs, so freight models which show forecasted growth and demand for rail freight need to be in the NPS avoiding the need for the facility to be separately made at each public inquiry, unlike under previous planning law. We want to see clear reference in NPS to the number of SRFI’s needed in a region with the links to SFN and strategic road network. Given the imperative of avoiding climate change, we believe that regional distribution centres should be located where they are capable of being rail served.

At the moment without the national networks transport NPS, there is no framework to address strategic need. Questions remain about how submitted schemes will be handled during the transition period between the IPC and the MIPU and whether this will cause additional delay. On a positive note, we understand that the national network for ports should be issued shortly which is welcome as its first draft appeared in 2009.

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