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'We won't give up': Campaigners vow to fight on despite West Midlands Interchange go-ahead

By Richard Guttridge | South Staffordshire | Politics | Published:

Campaigners who have battled against the West Midlands Interchange rail depot say they may push for a judicial review - as they declared they are not ready to give up yet.

Four Ashes, where the West Midlands Interchange rail freight hub is set to be built

Villagers in South Staffordshire received a crushing blow as the depot, the size of 430 football pitches, was given the go-ahead by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Monday.

Locals are bitterly opposed to the scheme which they say will destroy the green belt and cause traffic chaos.

MP Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, slammed the decision of his Government colleagues at the Department of Transport, labelling it "idiotic".

There is no option for residents to appeal, so in order to stop it they would have to go down the hugely costly route of launching a judicial review.

Residents have campaigned against the plans for four years

For that to succeed they would have to prove substantial errors were made in approving the scheme, which will see 700 acres of land ripped up close to the A5, A449 and M6 at Gailey, Four Ashes and Calf Heath.

A delay of more than two months on the Transport Secretary's decision had provided hope officials could rule in the residents' favour, but that was extinguished on Monday afternoon.

Donna Gilmartin, who has led the Stop the West Midlands Interchange campaign over the last four years, said: "We're all absolutely devastated. We have got to dust ourselves down and see if there is anything we can do further. We are speaking to our legal team.

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"We were hopeful we would get the right decision for this area. I think the Covid-19 situation - the Government is trying desperately to solve the economic problems of the country and a development like this looks like it's going to provide lots of jobs and looks good in the current situation."

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The cost of pressing on with a judicial review would likely run into tens of thousands of pounds, and could prove a step too far for locals.

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Ms Gilmartin, of Croft Lane, Gailey, said: "A High Court judicial review will cost a lot of money. It is something we can talk to our legal team about. If there is a flaw in the argument we can take it from there.

"We all knew it was going to be tough. We're not ready to give up just yet. It probably is an uphill battle but we will have to see what the next couple of weeks brings."

While remaining defiant, the decision was hugely deflating for villagers whose lives appear to be about to change as their peaceful surroundings become a building site.

Ms Gilmartin said: "These villages, our families have lived here for generations. It would break our hearts to have to leave but it would break our hears to have to live with all this - the pollution, all the green belt being ripped up, looking at lots of warehouses."

A map showing the proposed freight hub next to the M6, A449 and A5

Bosses at South Staffordshire Council have been left "disappointed" by the ruling. It was given no say on the development, as the decision was taken by the Government.

Deputy leader and planning boss Councillor Roger Lees said: “Naturally we are very disappointed that this scheme has been given consent today by the Government.

"Many of our residents voiced strong objections to the development and South Staffordshire Council’s long-standing opposition to this proposal arose from our commitment to protect the green belt and concerns about traffic issues on the A449 and surrounding roads, noise pollution and air quality.

“We understand that shifting freight from road to rail and supporting economic growth are key strategic aims of the Government and the council will do everything that it can to manage the impact of this decision in South Staffordshire and we will work with the developer to ensure that the concerns of residents and local businesses are taken into consideration.”

Stafford MP Theo Clarke said residents must get “the best possible deal” out of the new rail depot – including compensation and early access to jobs.

Stafford MP Theo Clarke makes her maiden speech in the Commons in January

Ms Clarke, who launched a parliamentary petition against the Interchange, said she was “very disappointed” over the Government’s decision to press ahead with the project and plans to lobby the Government for “significant investment” in the local road network in a bid to limit congestion from the site.

She said it was “the wrong development in the wrong place” and that it would have a “serious impact” on her constituents.

“The next few days will be a chance to read the decision in detail and take in the implications,” she said.

“Then it is vital that we get the best possible deal for local residents through this development.

“I will therefore lobby the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that those affected get the best compensation, and demand that local workers get the best opportunities for employment.

“I remain concerned about congestion and will make the case that our local roads get significant investment to make up for the extensive use they will get once the site is up and running.

“I will always continue to ensure that my constituents’ views are represented to the Minister.”

Conservative MP Ms Clarke voiced her opposition to the rail hub in the run up to December’s general election. Earlier this year she announced a petition against the scheme in the Commons.

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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