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'We're in limbo': Decision date looms for controversial rail depot the size of 430 football pitches

By Richard Guttridge | Staffordshire | Transport | Published:

"Everyone is in limbo. We have been for four years, not knowing what to do for the best. We are dreading February 27."

Cabinet minister and South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson with local residents

Villagers in Staffordshire have led a long and passionate campaign against a hugely controversial rail depot which could be built on their doorstep. But the time for talking is almost over.

At the end of the month, neighbours will learn whether their daily lives are about to change when a decision on whether the vast, sprawling West Midlands Interchange can be built will be made by the Government.

For some of them it could determine if they leave their family homes - if they can sell them, that is.

When the plans first emerged and the campaign launched by residents in response, it all seemed a long way away. But it's now almost decision time.

The freight hub would be built at Gailey

In what has been a drawn-out process involving the national Planning Inspectorate, due to the size and impact of the proposed development, the final decision is due to be delivered by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on February 27.

Planning experts made their recommendation to Mr Shapps in December but those views have not been made public.

The arrival of the rail hub would see countryside the size of 430 football pitches carved up close to the A5, A449 and M6 at Gailey, Four Ashes and Calf Heath.

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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.

The development would include a freight terminal capable of accommodating up to ten 775 metre-long trains a day, container storage, HGV parking and a rail control building.

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.

Residents have a big supporter in cabinet minister Gavin Williamson, the MP for South Staffordshire. He is dead against it and says the development will bring "increased traffic, increased pollution" and lead to the "erosion of the green belt".

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In a final stand before the Planning Inspectorate's decision, petitions have been sent out to around 10,000 homes around Brewood, Coven, Calf Heath, Gailey and Penkridge to reinforce the strength of feeling locally.

Gavin Williamson says the development would be bad for the area

Donna Gilmartin, who had led the Stop West Midlands Interchange group, says residents have done all they can.

Public meetings and protest walks have been held, while hundreds follow the group's Facebook page staying tuned to the latest updates.

"It's a waiting game," she said. "We have encouraged everyone to sign the petition. They have gone to 10,000 houses - all the areas that will be affected by this.

"We are dreading February 27. We're hoping for the best, that's all we can do. We couldn't have done much more.

"We have spent four years of our lives gathering evidence to support our campaign against it. We've paid for a solicitor, we've done so much to keep it going and keep it at the forefront of people's minds."

The mother-of-three, who lives on Croft Lane, Gailey, admits she has been so wrapped up in the campaign to stop the rail depot she hasn't stopped to give much consideration about what it would be like to live in its shadow.

"None of us know if we can live with this development, if it goes ahead. We're in houses we thought we would never want to leave.

"We don't know what the situation would be. Could we sell our properties? Would they be worth any money?"

Mrs Gilmartin added: "We're all hoping it is going to go our way. I don't know how it will be if it doesn't."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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