One year on and another opportunist developer seeks to ruin our Christmas cheer. A number of concerned residents attended the recent exhibitions staged by Roxhill at the Hilton as did members of Stop Rail Central Ltd. Ian Rigby of Roxhill was present and answered a number of questions; some of which are summarised below:
When asked why strategically this is the right place for a SRFI Mr Rigby replied, “I cannot think of a better place”. He went on to explain that it is near a railway, close to a big road and in Northampton, “the warehouse capital of England”.
When asked what alternative locations had been considered he said he was not sure but thought Junction 16 had been considered (junction 16 is nowhere near the railway in case you were wondering). You may recall the Ashfield Land assessment of alternative sites where 8 were identified that were nowhere near a railway.
When asked how this proposed development aligned with the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange Policy 2004 Mr Rigby said he had not heard of that policy. For Roxhill’s benefit this is the policy that states: the East Midlands is adequately served by SRFIs; two sites are required in the north and west sectors of the West Midlands (not Northampton); that SRFIs are needed in relatively small numbers to serve major conurbations (not three within 20 miles of each other); that brown field sites should be used; that they should kept away from residential areas; and that distribution patterns are changing away from the midlands. Mr Rigby declared that the 2004 policy was most probably out of date but could not advise why, or how it should be revised. He did concede “I am not expert on Policies”. Are we asking too much for Roxhill to know something about SRFI policies at an exhibition about SRFIs?
In light of the statement contained in their environmental scoping report: “5.1.15 the collective sense is that the cumulative environmental effects of both schemes would be unacceptable” I asked Mr Rigby if Roxhill would withdraw their application if Rail Central was consented first. He said probably not followed up by “when you have invested that much money in an application you might as well see it through”. It is not particularly comforting to know that whilst Roxhill consider the cumulative environmental impacts to be unacceptable this “minor” point will not deter them in their pursuit of their objective.
I asked whether any market research had been undertaken to establish who might utilise a rail connection in this particular location. It has not. On their promotional boards they quoted from the MDS Transmodal unconstrained forecasts which are a poor reflection of reality and already proven to be vastly overstated.
When asked what ports are likely to serve their Gateway proposal Mr Rigby was unsure.
I asked his view on changing patterns of logistics and the move towards port-centric distribution. I don’t believe that this was his area of expertise.
I asked where the workforce would come from and he did not know. He mentioned a study area of 45 minutes reaching as far as Coventry and Leicester. This is clearly contrary to strategic objectives which suggest a local pool of labour is appropriate in order to facilitate carbon reduction.
DIRFT will apparently be full very soon (as also argued by Ashfield Land) so more rail connected warehousing will be needed.
The traffic modelling has not started and I raised my concerns over rat-running and what might happen when the M1 could not be accessed and also how they would stop shift workers speeding through our villages at night. Apparently an option that could be considered is a scheme whereby all the warehouse tenants, workers, third party contractors, visitors et al could be made to submit their license plate numbers and Roxhill would put cameras on all the village roads and anyone (not from the local area) who uses the warehouse park would be fined if they used the local roads. I asked if this was a proven traffic mitigation measure and apparently it is being trialled on a recent development involving a single tenant on a site 1/10 of the size. With the multiplicity of users, the transitory nature of the industry and the impossible task of managing and enforcing such a scheme this hardly alleviates local concerns.
Very little progress has been made with Network Rail. The consultant (whilst helpful) was not very specific but it appears that elements might not have even progressed to GRIP 1 stage.
In Mr Rigby’s defence he was at least honest when I asked him what benefits there would be for the local community. He said that he did not think there would be any.