Vast West Midlands Interchange: A boost for the region or a grave concern?
A vast new freight interchange that could create up to 8,500 jobs has been hailed as 'a boost for the West Midlands' by transport and business bosses.
But an MP says he has 'grave concerns' over the planned site of the project, which could see around one square mile of land torn up and devoted to a freight depot and warehouses.
It will link directly to the West Coast Mainline and will spread over 617 acres - the size of more than 400 football pitches - dominating land around a chemical processing plant run by the SI Group.
Work could start as early as 2018 following a consultation period, bosses at developers Four Ashes Limited revealed today.
The creation of a new interchange has been backed by the West Midlands Independent Transport Authority (ITA), with bosses saying such a scheme will be a vital addition to the region's infrastructure.
Councillor Roger Lawrence, chairman of the ITA, said: "We know that more rail freight interchanges mean more rail freight for the West Midlands, which can only be a good thing.
"It will also see jobs created in a number of big distribution centres, which will be a boost for the region.
"We fully support the development of such sites but do not favour one site over another. Several companies have aspirations for creating an interchange and there is a long way to go before this becomes a reality."
Barnhu Dhir, head of policy at Black Country Chamber of Commerce, said: "This is a plan we have known about for some time and we welcome it as an opportunity for distribution companies to create a centre of excellence.
"We look forward to local authorities working together to ensure this site is fit for purpose and will work as well as it possible can."
But South Staffordshire's Tory MP Gavin Williamson, said he had reservations about the scheme.
"I want to see detailed plans of this project before I make an informed decision as to whether it is good for the people of South Staffordshire," he said.
"I have grave concerns about intrusions onto green belt land and at the moment it is unclear precisely what level of development this project will involve.
"Any intrusion should not be taken lightly, and I will be meeting with developers and council officials to make sure everyone is in a position to make a full assessment.
"I also want to see precise details of the types of jobs that the developers say will be created."
The proposed site crosses over land covered by both Hatherton Parish Council and Brewood and Coven Parish Council.
Councillor Jan Jeffries, chairman of Brewood and Coven Parish Council, said: "Job creation is obviously very important for the local area, but that needs to be balanced out against other possible impacts in the community.
"I am pleased to see the developers have made it clear there will be a public consultation on the plans so everyone will have the opportunity to give their views."
Hatherton Parish Council chair Councillor Maureen Willetts said councillors were looking through documents relating to the plans.
Due to the sheer scale of the project it will have to be signed off by the Secretary of State for Transport, as well as going through local planning.
The need for such an interchange was first mooted more than a decade ago, with a need to shift the transportation of goods from road to rail considered vital in terms of reducing haulage costs and carbon emissions.
Staffordshire and the Black Country have been highlighted as ideal areas for the project due to their central locations and connectivity with major ports and other freight distribution centres.
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