West Midlands Interchange
Four Ashes Ltd has established a project team to promote a new Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) at Four Ashes, adjacent to the West Coast Mainline and also close to Junction 12 of the M6 – south of Penkridge. The development, known as the West Midlands Interchange, would be around 300 hectares in size and is classed as a nationally significant infrastructure project. The nature and scale of the proposal means that the application will be submitted straight to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). Based on the recommendations of the Inspectors appointed by PINS, the Secretary of State will be asked to decide the application. South Staffordshire Council has a role as a consultee and will be invited to comment on the application, setting out what impact the development would have locally.
Planning Application Submitted 3 August 2018
A Development Consent Order application for West Midlands Interchange was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate on 3 August 2018. All queries and representations on the DCO application should now be directed through PINS. You can see more on the Planning Inspectorate's website.
There have been three stages of consultation, the first of which ran from 13 June to 24 July 2016 (Stage 1), and focused on master plan options. This was followed by statutory consultation between 5 July to 30 August 2017 (Stage 2) on detailed plans, and a focused consultation on specific plan amendments between 23 November 2017 and 2 January 2018 (Stage 2a).
Extract from the Cabinet Member Decision for the West Midlands Interchange at Four Ashes
Councillors considered the WMI proposal during the non-statutory consultation period in 2016 and issued an interim position statement setting out the Council's initial comments and concerns. You can see an extract from the position statement below:
Interim Position Statement
4.7 The Council considers that it would be appropriate to issue an interim position statement during this initial non-statutory period prior to the submission of a Development Consent Order (DCO) application to the Planning Inspectorate (PINs). As the process moves forward then we shall consider the need to revise/amend our interim position statement, as necessary.
4.8 South Staffordshire Council's opposition to a rail freight interchange in this general location is well documented. In particular, the Council made submissions raising strong objections through the preparation of the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the West Midlands. RSSs were then abolished by the Government in 2011 and have no relevance in current planning decisions.
4.9 A report was published in 2012 – Black Country & Southern Staffordshire Regional Logistics Sites Study. One of the main conclusions of the Study was that Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFI) should be considered on a wider spatial scale than Southern Staffordshire and the Black Country. The geography should be at least on the scale of the West Midlands as a whole. Indeed, there is a strong argument that the geography should extend to that of the Midlands as a whole. The geography of the 'Midlands Engine' could be a useful reference point. Attached, at Appendix 1, is a helpful fact sheet with information about the 'Midlands Engine'.
4.10 The decision in the matter of the emerging Development Consent Order (DCO) application for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) at Four Ashes – now referred to as West Midlands Interchange (WMI) – will be taken by the Secretary of State for Transport. South Staffordshire Council will be an important consultee in the process. We shall be using this period of non-statutory consultation to gather information from our local communities across South Staffordshire so that we are in the best position possible to articulate the local issues/concerns that have been raised.
4.11 To recap, our position historically has been to raise serious concerns about the scale of incursion into the Green Belt caused by this type of development. One of the key priorities in the Council Plan 2016-2020 is to protect the Green Belt. This development is 'inappropriate' in the Green Belt, by definition, and this means that the applicants will be required to demonstrate the existence of 'very special circumstances' that are sufficient to outweigh the harm caused to the Green Belt in this location, and any other harm.
4.12 The Council is aware of the National Policy Statement (National Networks NPS) that seeks to create a network of Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFIs) across the country. Shifting freight from road to rail and supporting economic growth are key strategic aims of the Government. The Council also recognises the importance of securing jobs for local people and this is expressed as a priority in the Council Plan 2016-2020.
4.13 The Council will be asking the Secretary of State for Transport, when making his decision, to consider very carefully whether or not there exists alternative sites that perform at least as well as, if not better than, Four Ashes in meeting the Government's aim of creating a national network of SRFIs. In particular, whether there are alternative sites that are brownfield in character and ideally not located in the Green Belt. The 250 hectares of land at Four Ashes is predominantly a greenfield site within the Green Belt.
Alternatively, you can find out more about the project at www.westmidlandsinterchange.co.uk Or, contact the community relations team firstname.lastname@example.org or call the free helpline on 0800 377 7345.