West Midlands Interchange. Photo: Four Ashes

Plans for rail freight interchange in Yorkshire rejected

Rail freight developers in the north of England have been told to think again. Plans for a new strategic rail freight interchange in Yorkshire have been rejected on appeal. Promoters Harworth Group PLC had hoped to build on the site of a former deep and open cast coal mines near Leeds, but now will have to reconsider.

Plans for a strategic rail freight interchange in the North Yorkshire countryside, on the site of the former Gascoigne Wood open cast and deep mine coal complex, have been dismissed on appeal. The decision comes after an inspector, appointed by the government, concluded that the proposed development was in conflict with both local and national planning policy.

Significant encroachment

In his written decision, Kevin Ward, the planning inspector, said he had taken into account the rural area and the proximity to nearby settlements, principally the former mining community and historic town of Selby, and the small town of Sherburn in Elmet, adjacent to the proposed site. “it is physically and visually separated from existing and permitted employment development”, he said. “The appeal proposal would result in a significant encroachment of built development into open countryside.”

There were formerly coal mine sidings at Gascoigne Wood (Geograph / Derek Dye)

The proposed interchange would have covered around 100 hectares. According to the planning decision documents, approximately 44ha would have been made up of the previously developed land associated with the former Gascoigne Wood mining operations. It goes on to say that associated infrastructure and a further 14ha approximately would be taken up by existing landscaping.

The remaining area of approximately 43ha is greenfield land. The site lies adjacent to the existing Sherburn Airfield, which the flying club describes as being situated in one of the country’s areas of outstanding beauty.

Promoters and government

Harworth Group, the promoters, call themselves one of the leading land and property regeneration companies in the UK. Their portfolio estate extends to around 18,000 acres (around 7250 hectares) on around 100 sites in the north of England and the Midlands. The company has not as yet made comment through its own channels.

The UK government has a long-standing policy, which mitigates in favour of development of Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFI). “The government believes that an expanded network of SRFIs, complemented by other freight interchanges and terminals, is needed to support longer-term development of efficient rail freight distribution logistics”, says the policy, published under a previous administration back in 2011.

“Whilst SRFIs operate to serve regional and cross regional catchment areas, they are also key components in national and international networks. These networks are of strategic importance in facilitating links between UK regions and the European Union. The government is therefore taking measures to unblock the development of strategic rail freight interchanges and unlock the necessary private sector investment in such facilities.”

Other proposals possible

The promoters may therefore have been confident of overturning the refused permission on appeal. However, the inspector’s report, published this week, thwarted their plans. The decision represents the ruling of the secretary of state for communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, who is also the member of parliament for Newark, another ‘East Coast’ constituency, around one hour south of the site.

Much of Gascoigne Wood has been returned to nature, recovering from its industrial past. The local council did not support the potential loss of these amenities (Geography / Derek Dye)

Other proposals may well be brought forward. The region is densely populated – the cities of Leeds, Sheffield and Doncaster, and the port of Hull, are all close by, and the rail and road infrastructure is well developed. The East Coast Main Line runs close to the proposed site, having been diverted in 1983, ironically to avoid possible subsidence issues from extensive new coal mining in the area.

Author: Simon Walton

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