I beg to move,
That this House
has considered plans for the Hinckley National Rail Freight Interchange.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I would like to thank Mr Speaker for granting this debate and to welcome the Minister to her place. I also thank colleagues for joining me in this important debate, which touches on issues that affect all our constituents.
In South Leicestershire, we have a proposal—not unlike proposals in other constituencies—for a railway interchange. Let me first add some context. The plans for the Hinckley national rail freight interchange include the construction of an 850,000 square foot logistics hub to the south of the village of Elmesthorpe in my constituency. As a rail freight interchange, it will have the means to be serviced by freight trains as well as heavy goods vehicles. It will be built with access to the existing two-way railway line between Birmingham and Leicester, allowing for freight train entry, and with local road access for HGVs.
The planned site for the Hinckley rail hub would, in its totality, encompass 440 acres of land—for scale, that is about a quarter of the size of Gatwick airport. That area is currently beautiful, rolling south Leicestershire countryside. The site will neighbour the historic and picturesque county villages of Elmesthorpe, Stoney Stanton, Sapcote, Sharnford, Aston Flamville, Potters Marston, Croft, Huncote, Thurlaston and Wigston Parva—collectively and colloquially referred to as the Fosse villages.
My constituents in the Fosse villages contend with overburdened infrastructure at the best of times. There are already heavily congested roads in the area, many of which are narrow and winding and therefore quite unsuited to the levels of traffic that would be seen should this awful proposal be approved, given the HGV traffic entering the site and the alleged approximately 8,000 employees who would be trying to enter it for work.
My hon. Friend will be aware, because we have discussed this before, that a strategic rail freight interchange is under construction in my constituency of South Northamptonshire. Just as he has outlined, however, it covers an enormous area, including a greenfield site, and it borders beautiful villages and residential areas. In fact, now that it is starting to be built, it turns out that Network Rail cannot find the promised rail links that were part of the plan, and my constituents are saying to me, “We told you so. We said it would never be a rail freight interchange; it is just about yet more logistics warehousing.” I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to put that on the record, and I encourage him to fight against this until there is a proper national framework in place that can stop this type of development-led abuse of local communities.
I thank my right hon. Friend. She brings a great deal of experience to this debate and is an enormous champion for South Northamptonshire. I welcome her contribution, which will certainly help other colleagues understand what the future of this proposal might hold.
I want to touch on some of the areas that might be affected. First, there is the environmental impact that such a site will have on the local area. I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend Dr Evans in the Chamber today, along with my hon. Friend Mark Pawsey, whose constituency borders mine. The application proposed directly borders the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth. Undoubtedly many colleagues and many of his constituents in Bosworth will be acutely aware of his vigorous and steadfast campaign to oppose the development. The nearby Burbage Common and Woods, a site of special scientific interest, which is based in his constituency, is a beautiful 200-acre area of woodland and grassland, and a place enjoyed and frequented by our constituents. It is also home to rare wild flowers, over 20 species of butterflies, over 100 different species of fungi and 25 different species of mammal. The rail freight interchange proposal for construction is right next to that important common, and without doubt the development would have a hugely detrimental effect on that area of natural beauty.
I have already mentioned the importance of the applications’ impact on other Members’ constituencies, particularly with regard to the issue of infrastructure such as that around Fosse villages. However, with little information available as to how HGVs will service the site or how the 8,000 alleged new employees will make their way there at all hours of the day, there is a very real and pressing concern among my constituents that their local area, villages and streets are at a real risk of being overburdened.
My hon. Friend is making a strong case in respect of a very substantial development of warehousing. It is obvious which route many of the HGVs will take: one junction on the M69 and then on to the A5, which we know is a strategic road. We had a debate in this Chamber only a few weeks ago to consider the entire upgrade of the A5 in the midlands. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the proposal should not be permitted to proceed without the complete dualling of the A5?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely correct. We have been debating the importance of that particular road in this Chamber, in the Commons Chamber and elsewhere among the parliamentary community and with Government for years now. It would be risible if the Government approved the rail freight interchange without dualling the A5, as has been requested by hon. Members over many years.
Europe’s largest logistics park, Magna Park, is in very close proximity to where it is proposed the Hinckley rail freight interchange will be developed. Also, there are already a number of rail freight interchanges within relatively close proximity to the planned site. We have the Birmingham intermodal freight terminal, which is a mere 16 miles from the village of Elmesthorpe. The Daventry international rail freight terminal or DIRFT is located a mere 20 miles away, the Hams Hall rail freight terminal is 24 miles away, the Burton rail terminal is 26 miles away, East Midlands Gateway is 29 miles away and Northampton Gateway is only 36 miles away. However, as we have just heard from my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom, with her wealth of experience, we are seeing that that is perhaps a fig leaf and not quite a rail freight interchange, but more an excuse for a large-scale logistics park. We also have the Birmingham Freightliner terminal, which is only 36 miles away. It cannot be right to burden another part of the midlands with another very large rail freight interchange. The Government must develop a strategy this year on where the location of these rail freight interchanges will best service our country.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Is that not the exact point? This is not about nimbyism; it is about having a national strategy so we can achieve our net-zero goals while protecting our communities. Up and down the land, rail freight exchanges will be going in higgledy-piggledy with no true thought as to how we should tesselate this all together.
I absolutely share the concern of my hon. Friend Dr Evans and he reemphasises the need for having a national framework policy for the location of the sites. I am not the only one making the point. Other hon. Members have made the case for siting these big infrastructure projects in their logical place, near the ports and airports that import into the United Kingdom the freight that is then distributed across our country. It is frankly bordering on ludicrous to site so many of these rail freight interchanges in the geographic centre of our country. It makes no sense other than to the developers. I urge Government to think very carefully about their future strategy on where rail freight interchanges should be sited.
I want to emphasise the point that some developers purport that they are applying for a railway freight interchange, when in fact it is a fig leaf for just another enormous logistics park. While I appreciate that the Minister is not responsible for the siting of general logistics parks, she must bear in mind the experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire. The danger is that on application they may appear to be rail freight interchanges, but they might turn out in practice to be simply another large-scale logistics park. Given that my constituency already has the doubling of Magna Park Lutterworth, making it Europe’s largest logistics park, at what point do we say that enough is enough? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth correctly said, this is not about nimbyism, it is about fairness and justice and about ensuring that the Government’s priority of protecting our beautiful country is met in practice. It is not a decision that will be led by local Government; it is a decision that will be taken by central Government and by the Minister.
I want to give time to my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth to make a few points as well—
In that case, let me carry on and say that the level crossing at Narborough is already viewed by many residents as something of an inconvenience. It is currently closed for 20 minutes per hour at peak time. If the rail freight interchange goes through, the closure is expected to double to 40 minutes every hour. The people of Narborough and the surrounding villages cannot accept that. That would be a burden too far. It is tolerated at the moment because the railway station at Narborough is an important transport hub for local people, but to have the level crossing down for 40 minutes of every hour is simply unacceptable. It would be a considerable source of disruption for local people.
I mention gently to the Minister, who does a good job overall in her Department, that my team and I have tried and failed to get a meeting with the Secretary of State on this big issue. To hide behind the cloak that this is a quasi-judicial decision and therefore we cannot meet is nonsense. The Department meets the developers, and the developers are able to meet civil servants. Why are MPs and other stakeholders objecting to the proposal prohibited from meeting civil servants?
My hon. Friend continues to make a fantastic speech. Does he agree that this needs a joined-up approach from the bottom-up? Our constituents, the parish councils, the borough councils, the county council and the MPs are all saying exactly the same thing. In my survey when we sent out 12,000 leaflets, 96% of the responses were against the proposal. That surely must count for something.
My hon. Friend makes another excellent intervention. All the stakeholders are putting forward very reasonable reasons why it would be a dreadful error for the Minister and her team to approve the Hinckley rail freight interchange. They must be listened to. The points being made by local government, charitable groups and parish councils are not nimbyism; they are about fairness and practicality. The rail freight interchanges should be located in different parts of the country where the freight comes into the United Kingdom.
As I said, I have asked for several meetings; I appreciate the Minister has not been in post for long, but I would appreciate if she would confirm that she will meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth and the stakeholders to discuss the application. If she does not meet me, will she explain why? Will she follow up with a letter so that I can take that up directly with the Prime Minister? Half an hour ago, I had a meeting with the Prime Minister’s No. 10 team in which I raised this issue and was promised that it would be looked into. I ask kindly that the Minister gives a clear response on whether she will meet me and the stakeholders to discuss the concerns about the rail freight interchange.
I entirely share the very understandable concerns of my constituents about the plans for the Hinckley national rail freight interchange. The fantastic district councillors for the Fosse villages have been working tirelessly on behalf of local residents to oppose the proposals. They have attended every public meeting and engagement event. I pay tribute to the brilliant work of councillors Maggie Wright, Iain Hewson and Mike Shirley, as well as excellent Conservative-led Blaby District Council and its leader Councillor Terry Richardson, who have been vociferous in doing their utmost to stand up for local people and voice their very reasonable collective concerns.
I also pay tribute to the Friends of Narborough Station group, the Save Burbage Common group and the Elmsthorpe Stands Together group—all collections of local people who have volunteered and devoted much of their free time to opposing the plans, and who have been terrific and tireless in doing so. I thank, in particular, my hon. Friend for Bosworth and his team, alongside my team, for the excellent work that we continue to do together to represent our constituents on this issue.
It goes without saying that the reasons against the proposal are varied and multiple but are all of equal importance. With little or no legislation in place for the provision and placement of these logistics hubs, I fear for rural areas like South Leicestershire, which already carry their fair share and do their part. They are at a significant risk of being overburdened with gross overdevelopment. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Department to look into this matter urgently, to take the concerns of my constituents seriously and to see that the plans for the Hinckley national rail freight interchange are given, at the very least, the necessary scrutiny that they both require and deserve.
What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship today in Westminster Hall, Sir Edward. I thank my hon. Friend Alberto Costa for securing this important debate on proposals for the Hinckley national rail freight interchange, which I understand is currently at pre-application stage.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (Dr Evans) and for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom for their engagement on this matter and their contributions and interventions in the debate. This is an important issue and I welcome the representations made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire reflecting his constituency interests. I ensure him that we will continue to listen to all views on this matter.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, it is for Tritax Symmetry, the company proposing the development at Hinckley, to decide whether and when to submit a development consent order application for the scheme. Should it choose to submit an application, the Planning Inspectorate will decide if it should be accepted. If it is, my hon. Friend and his constituents will be able to make further representations on the scheme and take part in the examination process.
The Minister is absolutely right that it is Tritax Symmetry. Some of its consultations have raised real concerns and we have made several complaints about the way in which the consultations took place. She may not have the answer to hand, but I would be grateful if she would be able to set out what rebuttals we may have as national legislators to make sure that the process is followed to the T and that complaints do not happen again.
I will set out in the process in a bit more detail, but if there are specific technical points I am happy to follow up in writing on what I can and cannot do, given the constraints. I encourage my hon. Friend and his constituents to fully engage with the formal DCO process and to submit comments when appropriate to do so to ensure that they are considered and accounted for in the decision-making process.
As described in the responses to several letters in recent months, the Secretary of State for Transport is the decision maker for all applications for transport DCOs. Decisions on DCO applications are quasi-judicial and need to be based on planning matters only. I hope my hon. Friends will appreciate that in anticipation of an application being submitted it would not be appropriate for me to take part in any discussion on the pros and cons of the proposal. That is to ensure that the process is followed correctly and remains fair to all parties.
Before I set out the Government’s policy in relation to the development of strategic rail freight interchanges or SRFIs, I want to provide some important context for today’s debate. The Government recognise the important benefits that rail freight offers to the UK. It plays an important role in helping the Government to meet our greenhouse gas legislative targets, as it is one of the most carbon-efficient ways of moving goods over long distances.
On average, a rail freight train emits around a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions of a heavy goods vehicle per tonne per kilometre travelled. The sector also delivers economic and social benefits through cost savings to industry, as well as employment and reducing congestion, with rail freight resulting in around 7 million fewer lorry journeys each year. Industry estimates that rail freight provides £2.5 billion in economic and social benefits to the country, 90% of which is likely to accrue to freight customers and wider society outside of London and the south-east.
This Government are committed to the growth of the rail freight sector and recognise the role of rail freight in helping us to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and supporting resilient supply chains. We have invested £235 million in improving capacity and capability for rail freight during 2014 and 2019, and we continue to explore the case for further investment to the rail network enhancement pipeline.
We also continue to provide £20 million of funding per annum for a freight grant scheme to support the carriage of freight by rail and water on routes where road haulage has an economic advantage. That is expected to remove the equivalent of 900,000 heavy goods vehicles from our roads, and that equates to saving 52,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
I take this opportunity to highlight the drivers of the need for strategic rail freight interchanges, which can all be linked to the broader objective for rail freight. The right infrastructure needs to be in place to support our ambition of achieving growth and the benefits that I mentioned. Although rail freight makes up only 9% of the total goods moved in the UK, it is nevertheless an important part of building resilient supply chains. It is, therefore, a Government priority to support the sector in its endeavours to help us to get critical goods, such as medicines or supermarket supplies, to where they need to go. We hope to set out soon a future of freight plan outlining how Government intend to support the sector as a whole.
As I have said, I will not be drawn into what the future of freight plan will set out, as I am sure my hon. Friend will understand. However, I can say that the plan will be coming forward and it will outline how we intend to support the sector as a whole.
My intervention is about that point, and to ask if the Minister could address the point that my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom raised about guarantees. The Minister is making a strong case as to why freight should move from road to rail, but what guarantees can she give that the granting of any application will result in the provision of a rail freight terminal? My right hon. Friend indicated that that was the basis of an application that was granted, but the rail link has not been created.
As I have said, we will have to wait until the plan comes forward. In broader terms, I want to touch on the way in which hon. Members—particularly my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire—and their constituents can engage in the process of consultation.
The national networks national policy statement outlines Government policy to support the development of an expanded network of SRFIs and considers such infra-structure at a certain scale to be of national significance. It states that there is a
“need for an expanded network of…SRFIs” and provides a framework for developers to bring forward proposals through the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime if they are deemed operationally and commercially viable.
On the process for considering development consent orders for SRFIs, first and foremost it is important to remember that all applications for DCOs need to comply with the relevant legislation, as set out in the Planning Act 2008, and policy, which are tightly bound by statutory timescales. The application and examination into a proposed development is undertaken by the Planning Inspectorate on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport. The Planning Inspectorate will decide whether the application meets the required standard before proceeding to an examination.
Part of the consideration the Planning Inspectorate must undertake in deciding whether the application can progress to examination is whether it has fulfilled its statutory duty to consult with local communities and local authorities affected by the scheme; that is important. Indeed, community engagement is fundamental to the operation of the NSIP regime. Developers are required to consult extensively before an application is submitted and considered. Where consultation has not been carried out in line with the statutory requirements, the Planning Inspectorate can refuse to accept an application.
Local authorities and communities also have the right to be involved during the examination of a project. They can set out their views in written representations, which will be taken into account in decision making. With that in mind, I reiterate that it is essential that my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire and his constituents take every opportunity to make their concerns heard as part of the consultation process. That includes any concerns regarding Narborough railway station, which he mentioned in his speech today, the level crossing in the village, or any perceived impacts on the local road network.
The Planning Inspectorate has six months to carry out the examination of the proposed development, and a report of the findings and conclusions on the proposed development, including a recommendation, is then issued by the Planning Inspectorate to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then has three months to issue a decision on the proposal. If for any reason a decision cannot be issued on time, a written ministerial statement, setting out a new deadline, will need to be read out in Parliament.
To conclude, the rail freight sector is vital to the prosperity of the UK economy and delivers important environmental and social benefits. An expanded network of strategic rail freight interchanges is key to harnessing the benefits of rail freight, and the Government support the development of this work. Although the Government do not specify where the locations should be, it is for private sector developers to bring forward proposals that are viable, and have regard to the guidance of the policy statement. As set out in the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, the Government are committed to exploring
“ways to enable future Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges to be located more appropriately around the country.”
Question put and agreed to.