Experts back plans for controversial rail depot near Wolverhampton
A controversial rail depot has won the approval of government planning experts – delivering a fresh blow for campaigners.
The West Midlands Interchange, which could be built on 700 acres of countryside, has moved a step closer after the Planning Inspectorate deemed current plans acceptable.
The huge development will be built on land bordered by the A5, A449 and M6 at Gailey, Four Ashes and Calf Heath, if given the final go-ahead.
What are the objections?
The proposal has been opposed by residents and politicians, including South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson.
There are fears that the development, which will be a third bigger than the i54 business park on the edge of Wolverhampton, will result in an increase in traffic on the A449 and surrounding roads.
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Planning experts examined work done by applicant Four Ashes Ltd during a three-week scrutiny process and have now given the green light for the company to progress towards a full planning application.
Senior figures, including Defence Secretary Mr Williamson, say the depot will create havoc, bringing extra traffic and noise and ripping up the countryside.
The MP has vowed to fight the development, which has attracted hundreds of objections from anxious residents who have formed the Stop Gailey Freight Hub group and say the road network will not be able to cope with the increased traffic.
Protesters fear the arrival of the rail hub could push villages, including Brewood, Calf Heath and Gailey, towards ‘extinction'.
Mr Williamson said: “I am resolutely opposed to this dreadful application and have been working alongside residents to stop it.
“As I have said many times before, I believe that the development would create a substantial increase in pollution, a massive increase in traffic and consequently have a terrible impact on residents in the surrounding villages.”
The scheme is subject to increased scrutiny as it is such a large development. The process will now move to a ‘pre-examination stage’ where interested parties can have their say.
Residents and MPs are now expected to ramp up their campaign. Families have been warned the outcome will be determined on factual evidence alone.
What would the scheme involve?
The scheme would see a 'Strategic Rail Freight Interchange' built on the land, chosen for its proximity to the West Coast Main Line and key main roads.
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.
Under revised plans put forward last year two new 'community parks' would also be created – one near Calf Heath Village and Straight Mile to the south of the site and the other near Croft Lane off the A5.
Bosses have also committed to improving the canalside of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, which passes through the planned rail and warehouse depot site.
And they want to create a 'community fund' to support local projects.
Developers Four Ashes Limited say it will create 8,500 jobs, boost manufacturing and logistics, reduce the number of HGVs on roads across the West Midlands and help reduce carbon emissions by encouraging a shift from road to rail transport.
Bosses claim it would contribute an annual £417 million to the local economy and an extra £912m nationally via the supply chain.
However is estimated more than 3,000 lorries and 6,000 cars and vans will travel to and from the site every day once it is fully running.
Developers also looked at and ruled out eight other locations in the region, including the closed Rugeley Power Station, the former Royal Ordinance Factory site in Featherstone, and at Dunston and Creswell on the southern and northern fringe of Stafford.
What would be demolished?
In total, 43 existing buildings including 11 homes would have to be demolished.
Gravelly Way Farm – which is located on the site – is proposed to be converted into estate management offices and 'welfare facilities'.
Two homes in Croft Lane would be demolished as part of the community park plans.
Four properties on Vicarage Road could also be knocked down, along with three on Straight Mile, and one each on Stafford Road and Watling Street.
Seven huge electricity pylons that cross the site will also have to be removed, as well as 34 wood poles and the overhead line circuits.
All electricity supply would be moved underground.