Public consultation over “Golden Triangle” controversy

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Proposals for a new nationally significant rail freight terminal are two be put out to public consultation, just over a year since the project was referred to the national government for review. The development site, to be called Hinckley National Rail Freight Interchange, lies in the heart of the English Midlands and could serve a vast local market, but has also angered local communities who say it will greatly change their way of life, and not in any good way.

From the middle of January, the promoters of the enormous new rail-served logistics park, Tritax Symmetry, will begin an eight-week consultation process, laying out their current plans for public scrutiny. The UK government has already designated the development as of strategic importance and prioritised national infrastructure. However, the planning process still allows all voices to be heard equally, and no work can commence until the authorities are satisfied that stakeholders have been accommodated.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project

Just over a year ago, Hinckley hit the headlines when questions were asked of the would-be developers, Tritax Symmetry. The company, which has an extensive portfolio of logistics centres around the UK, had submitted a revised proposal to the Planning Inspectorate, the overall government agency for planning arbitration. The project had already been on the drawing board for over a year back then but had been stalled by local opposition. Communities feared their objections were being overlooked.

Hinkley HNRFI showing rail terminal

The objectors argued that the proposal’s status as a designated Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) means the final development decision rests in the hands of the local authorities, who represent the local areas where the terminal would be built. That has, in part, led to the public consultation beginning next month.

Detailed website and consultation form

One of the local authorities, Harborough District Council, says Tritax Symmetry has highlighted their plans for the consultation, including a detailed website and consultation form for interested parties and residents in the affected area to have their say. “A document setting out what the public consultation for the Hinckley National Rail Freight Interchange will look like has been released by developers”, said their statement. “Due to the size of the proposed development, it is classed as a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’, and any decision will be made by the Secretary of State for Transport.”

Hinckley will likely land on the already crowded desk of the new rail minister, Wendy Mowat. As an undersecretary of state, her position will mean she doesn’t have to make the ultimate decision, but she will almost certainly be called in to advise her boss at the Department for Transport, Grant Shapps. The extensive planning process does mean that the delay of several years is by no means uncommon for significant infrastructure projects.

The answer to road traffic

The Hinckley National Rail Freight Interchange proposals include industrial facilities, storage and distribution units. While the promoters have a long record of building road-connected facilities (and this one will have direct access from the nearby M69 motorway), HNRFI will be served by a rail port which has been touted as the answer to the concerns over road traffic generation.

Tritax Symmetry Park, Doncaster, is typical of the company’s developments.

Although the site lies within the boundaries of Blaby District Council and Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, it is anticipated that the goods traffic generated will impact parts of the local highway network in the Harborough district. The nearest settlements, Elmesthorpe and Broughton Astley villages, are also expected to be challenged by the development.

Statement of Community Consultation

Tritax Symmetry say it is in the process of preparing for the formal consultation on their proposals. “The site is located in what the UK logistics industry regards as the Golden Triangle”, they say. “The East Midlands is home to a fifth of the UK’s manufacturing capability, and 45 per cent of British rail freight goes through the Midlands. Tritax Symmetry’s plans look to meet the needs of the logistics industry, including port operators, in serving manufacturers, distributors and retailers by capitalising on the site’s locational strengths and connectivity to the railway and motorway networks.”

Although the initial graphic representations on the dedicated website leave it a little difficult to pinpoint the exact boundaries of the terminal, the company claim they are listening to any issues raised. “We are committed to consulting with the community on our proposals for HNRFI”, said Sinead Turnbull, Planning Director at Tritax Symmetry (Hinckley) Limited. “The publication of the SOCC [Statement of Community Consultation] is the next step in this process. We want to work with the local community to develop our proposals and look forward to engaging with local people to hear what they have to say in the new year.”

This latest round of consultation will begin on Wednesday, 12 January 2022, for a period of eight weeks.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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