Questions must be raised over the usability of rail freight interchanges
Whilst it makes sense for the Government to be looking to take freight off the gas-guzzling roads, questions must surely be raised over the usability of interchanges such as Hinckley, writes Alberto Costa MP.
Later today, I will be holding a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss what sounds like, on the face of it, a very specific local issue. If you hadn’t heard of the lovely Leicestershire villages of Sapcote or Potters Marston, or have never visited the picturesque Burbage Common I wouldn’t blame you, but the proposal for the Hinckley National Rail Freight Interchange moves far beyond the comfy confines of South Leicestershire and has much wider, national implications.
The proposed site as it stands today, a few miles to the south of the village of Elmesthorpe in my semi-rural constituency, sits in beautiful, rolling South Leicestershire countryside. However, by the end of the year plans could be approved for the construction of a development a quarter of the size of Gatwick airport: encompassing 440-acres of warehousing, accommodating 8,000 employees and servicing freight trains almost a mile in length.
South Leicestershire is situated in a part of the UK colourfully referred to as ‘the Golden Triangle’; the portion of the country where three major carriageways intersect - the M1, M69 and M6 - meaning that 90% of the UK population can be reached by HGVs within five hours.
It’s no surprise then that Leicestershire, and particularly my constituency, has become something of the centre point for new logistics plans. This part of Leicestershire is already home to Europe’s largest logistics park, Magna Park, which easily dwarfs the nearby market town of 10,000 people for size.
Therefore, I must raise the question; if South Leicestershire is already taking its fair share, why must we be burdened with more.
I am not one to stand in the way of progress, I am believer in growth and an advocate of development, but only when done sustainably, and only when it serves a purpose. Many MPs will tell you of the age-old debate of national growth vs. local concerns, and so should we stand up for our constituents but, as a consequence, risk being seen as the barriers to unlocking the national potential? The answer is of course very difficult and not always clear, but at which point do you draw a line in the sand on behalf of your constituents who moved to a lovely part of the county only to see HGVs and cars constantly queueing down already-overburdened country roads.
In this age when the environment is, thankfully, high on the agenda, it makes sense for the Government to be looking to take freight off the gas-guzzling roads and instead drastically save on carbon emissions by putting it on the rails, however questions must surely be raised over the usability of these interchanges. As a comparatively recent creation, it remains to be seen if developers and logistics companies will use the rail freight interchanges to their full rail potential, or if this is just another excuse for more HGV traffic under the guise of an environmentally friendly alternative.
Ultimately, the Hinckley National Rail Freight Interchange will be decided at a national level, by the Secretary of State who will scrutinise the level of national need required from such a development – the concerns of local people, the local council and, quite possibly, their local MP may be ignored.
However, in a rural part of the country where we are already doing our part, we must look at the wider policies which disregard all of this, and instead place national need above all else. With rail freight interchanges in their infancy too, only time will tell if they deliver everything the Government hopes of them.
Alberto Costa is Conservative MP for South Leicestershire.