Planning experts make recommendation to Government on West Midlands Interchange

Planning experts have told ministers whether they believe a hugely controversial rail depot should be built in South Staffordshire – but the public won't know what their view is until the decision is made in February.

Four Ashes, where the West Midlands Interchange rail freight hub would be built
Four Ashes, where the West Midlands Interchange rail freight hub would be built

The Planning Inspectorate has submitted its formal recommendation to the Government following a detailed examination of the planned West Midlands Interchange.

The arrival of the rail hub would see 700 acres of countryside ripped up close to the A5, A449 and M6 at Gailey, Four Ashes and Calf Heath.

Hundreds of residents and county MPs, including cabinet minister Gavin Williamson, are vehemently opposed to the development. A fierce campaign is being fought by residents of the villages to try and prevent it from happening.

The verdict of the Planning Inspectorate is not expected to be made public before the decision is made by the Transport Secretary, currently Grant Shapps, in February, meaning campaigners now face an anxious three-month wait.

A map showing the proposed West Midlands Interchange

Opponents of the scheme claim it is "completely inappropriate" for the rural location and is an "attack on the greenbelt". They are also worried about more lorries travelling through the area and increased pollution.

Four Ashes Ltd, which is behind the plans, say the depot would create more than 8,500 jobs and bring £427 million to the local economy and an extra £912m nationally.

Issuing an update on its website, the Planning Inspectorate said: "The examining authority issued a recommendation report to the Secretary of State on November 27, 2019. The Secretary of State has three months in which to issue a decision."

If the Government backs the Interchange it would put Education Secretary Gavin Williamson at odds with his cabinet colleagues. The upcoming election could also change the picture.

Gavin Williamson is opposed to the scheme

Mr Williamson, who is aiming to defend his South Staffordshire seat, said he had not been informed of the Inspectorate's decision.

He said: "I have been clear right from the start when these proposals were first floated that this will have a very negative impact.

"I hope the Planning Inspectorate has found against it and these proposals are thrown out.

"The impact it will have on the community, the increased traffic, increased pollution and erosion of the green belt, I don't think will benefit anyone."

The Inspectorate's recommendation marks the final stage in the long-running application process before a final decision.

Planning officials visited Staffordshire in the summer to inspect various parts of the site amid local concerns over traffic and pollution.

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