Far Far Away: Slade Green SRFI

Two years after my 6 May 2017 blog post Slow Train Coming: Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges In The South East, progress remains slow.

I referred in my blog post to the ongoing saga of the Howbury Park (now known as Slade Green), strategic rail freight interchange scheme promoted initially by Prologis (who obtained a, now time expired, permission on appeal in 2007) and now by Roxhill.

The site straddles the boundaries of the London Borough of Bexley and Dartford Borough Council. (The effective boundary is the River Cray, with the elements of the scheme within Dartford’s administrative boundaries being an access road and bridge over the river). At the time of my blog post, Dartford had resolved to refused planning permission. Bexley had resolved to grant planning permission but the Mayor of London was considering whether to intervene.

The Mayor on 17 July 2017 directed Bexley to refuse the application, on this ground:

The proposal is inappropriate development in the Green Belt and very special circumstances have not been demonstrated which would clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm. The development is therefore contrary to Policy 7.16 of the adopted London Plan 2016 and the National Planning Policy Framework 2012.”

Dartford’s reasons for refusal additionally related to the likely effects of additional traffic on air quality and congestion detrimental to the quality of life of the community in Deptford.

Roxhill appealed. The appeals were recovered for the Secretary of State’s own determination on 7 November 2017 for the reason that they related to proposals for significant development in the Green Belt. An inquiry was held over 18 days between June and September 2018.

The Secretary of State issued his decision letter on 7 May 2019. He dismissed the appeals. He found that the scheme was not in accordance with the relevant development plans. “He has gone on to consider whether there are material considerations which indicate that the proposal should be determined other than in accordance with the development plan.

25.In this case the Secretary of State considers that the harm to the Green Belt from inappropriate development carries substantial weight against the scheme and the effect on the character and appearance of the local area carries significant weight along with the adequacy of the proposed rail link and the effect on existing/future passenger rail services. Significant weight is also given to the effect on the convenience of highway users.

26.The Secretary of State considers that the provision of social economic benefits of the scheme has overall limited weight and the resulting net biodiversity gain has moderate weight.

27.The Secretary of State considers that the benefits of the scheme do not outweigh the harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness and any other harm, and so very special circumstances do not exist. He considers that the adverse impacts of the proposal significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. Overall, he considers that there are no material considerations which indicate that the proposal should be determined other than in accordance with the development plan.

28.The Secretary of State therefore concludes that the appeal is dismissed, and planning permission is refused.”

In terms of the availability of alternative sites:

“18.The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that in the 2007 decision it was identified that there was no alternative development site, a finding which attracted considerable weight in favour of that scheme (IR4.2). However, since 2007 the London Gateway, a brownfield site not located in the Green Belt, has been developed. For the reasons given in IR15.8.18 to 15.8.24, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s conclusions that the London Gateway site has the potential to provide an alternative development option for the provision of a SRFI to serve the same part of London and the South East as the appeals proposal (IR15.8.26)

The Inspector’s conclusions, set out in section 15 of his report, are also worth delving into.

His findings ahead of his overall conclusions relied upon by the Secretary of State included the following:

The proposal would have a substantial adverse effect on the openness of the Green Belt and the introduction of this massive development beyond the built limits of Slade Green would constitute urban sprawl.”

[G]iven the requirement of the NPSNN [National Policy Statement on National Networks] that ‘as a minimum, a SRFI should be capable of handling 4 trains per day’, it follows that in order for the proposed rail link to be considered ‘adequate’, it would be necessary for it to be capable of accommodating 4 trains/day as a minimum…Based on the evidence presented, in my judgement, the number of trains that could be pathed to/from the appeals site, having regard to the current timetable, would be likely to fall well short of 4 per day (each way)

Unlike the circumstances in 2007, there is no longer a formally identified requirement for 3 or 4 SRFIs around London [4.2, 7.2.6, 8.5.1, 11.2.12, 11.2.14.f.]. The Government approach set out in the NPSNN is to support the realisation of the forecast growth by encouraging the development of an expanded network of large SRFIs across the regions [11.2.9]. Furthermore, ‘…SRFI capacity needs to be provided at a wide range of locations…There is a particular challenge in expanding rail freight interchanges serving London and the South East’. ”

Overall, I am content that there is a need and market for SRFIs to serve London and the South East [11.2.2-3]. I turn then to consider the extent to which the appeals scheme would be likely to meet the requirements of SRFIs set out in the NPSNN. ”

However, “the appeals scheme would not be well qualified to meet the identified need for SRFIs to serve London and the South East”

[T]he appellant’s ‘very special circumstances case’ included the assertion thatno alternative development options exist for SRFIs to serve this part of London and the South East…this represents a material consideration of very considerable weight’ ”

London Gateway, a brownfield site, has the potential to provide an alternative development option for the provision of a SRFI to serve the same part of London and the South East as the appeals proposal. Under these circumstances, even if the appeals scheme was also well qualified to meet that need, in my view, the weight attributable to this would be limited.”

Finally, the inspector also had significant concerns in relation to the traffic modelling that had been relied upon by the local authorities, including Transport for London and concluded that “the residual cumulative impact of the development on the local road network would be severe, with particular reference to congestion.

How uncertain, expensive and slow this process is. And how valuable it would be have been to have kept the 2007 Howbury Park permission alive.

Simon Ricketts, 11 May 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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