Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Written evidence from Freight on Rail (ARSS 72)

Freight on Rail would like to thank the Communities and Local Government Committee for the opportunity to comment on the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies.

Freight on Rail, a partnership of the rail freight industry, the transport trade unions, works with local and central Government to promote rail freight, the low carbon, energy-efficient safe alternative to long distance road freight which reduces road congestion. The sustained growth of rail's share of consumer traffic over the past seven years demonstrates the demand for this alternative mode for trunk haul.


As it stands, there are tensions between the Localism agenda and economic growth unless strategic planning structures are put in place as it is difficult to get planning permission, for a wide range of schemes to help regenerate the economy, if the schemes are opposed locally.

We believe some form of strategic sub-national transport planning, in addition to local and national spatial planning is needed if the Coalition Government is to meet its commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and build a green economy.

Transport projects are rarely confined to local authority boundaries which means that without a larger than local spatial planning structure it will be difficult to plan key infrastructure projects which cross local authority boundaries This could result in projects, ranging from, medium-sized and small rail freight terminals and wind farms not being granted planning permission, because of local opposition, even though there are wider benefits to society of these schemes.

We welcome the review of planning taking place and believe that strategic planning needs to be addressed in the Localism Bill. This level of transport planning is needed where decisions taken locally have a wider than local impact to give confidence to investors, infrastructure providers, community initiatives, transport operators, developers and local enterprises.

A supportive spatial planning framework is needed if rail freight is to play its role in reducing freight's emissions; rail freight needs approval for a network of terminals, situated in the right places to meet market requirements.

Major infrastructure projects such as large Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFIs) will, in the longer term, be addressed through the Major Infrastructure Unit (MIU) which will replace the Independent Planning Commission. However, the threshold for schemes being considered by the MIU is 60 hectares and the majority of rail/road transfer stations are not of this scale. So we believe that the planning framework needs to recognise the importance of getting planning permission for medium-sized and small rail freight terminals without which freight cannot be shifted to rail and all the economic, social and environmental benefits to society cannot be realised.

Currently, with the abolition of the RSSs, there is a planning vacuum as there is neither national or sub national policy with only local plans, (which everybody recognises are crucial), in place.


This planning review is an opportunity to institute guidelines in both the National Networks Policy Statements and the National Planning framework which tackle climate change and road congestion. The National Policy Statements should state that any new freight interchanges/depots should be sited where they are capable of being rail served. It should also ensure that evidence based research with quantified study and calculations based upon modelling is taken into account in any planning approval process.


To provide a long term land use and transport planning framework at a sub-national level to complement the national and local policy framework.

Sets out policies which address the needs of the region and key sub-regions, in particular investment priorities. For example to quantify how many terminals are needed.

These policies provide a development framework for the next 15 to 20 years.

District and Unitary Councils still deal with local planning applications, but an overarching policy framework ensure that their decisions do not conflict with the wider principles to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and stimulate the green economy.

Need to achieve integration between land-use planning, housing, health, education, energy and waste as well as transport.

Statutory documents ensure coherent policies are adopted by local authorities when drawing up Local Development Frameworks (LDF) and with planning applications.

To identify the need for terminals in a particular area and specify that local authorities must protect suitable sites and lines under their jurisdiction. This is very important as there are a limited number of suitable sites for rail freight terminals as good rail and road access is needed.

Sub-national guidance could provide policies supporting rail freight which stressed its wider social and economic benefits to the region and the nation as a whole.

Need to take account of the fact that rail freight flows normally cross authority and cross regional boundaries.

Other transport planning documents such as Route Utilisation Strategies (RUS), produced by Network Rail which guides provision of freight capability on the network use data from spatial policies including LDFs.


LEPs will be crucial for promoting all development in the regions which does not fall under the auspices of the MIU, so we believe a spatial planning function is needed within LEPs.

The economic regeneration benefits of rail freight investment have previously been widely recognised by local authorities so it is critical that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have a framework to support and fund transport schemes.

Humber Ports upgrades is an example of partnership of public and private sector Northern Way, a consortium of different authorities worked with Network Rail & ABP. The Hull Docks Branch upgrade—increases trains from 12 to 22 per day. (£15.5 million) on the Hull docks branch and improvements in network resilience with the re-opening of the Brigg Line for freight services.

Local Enterprise Partnerships are well placed to develop additional transport schemes as long as they are set up taking into account certain criteria:

(a)  LEPs need to cover a sufficiently large geographical area to be viable for developing transport projects.

(b)  LEPS need to have access to funding for rail freight schemes which regenerate the local economy and relieve bottlenecks eg the Ipswich Chord supported by Suffolk County Council.

(c)  As well as local authorities and private business, LEPs should include environmental groups, community amenity groups and trade unions.

(d)  Some form of sub-national strategic planning is needed for economic growth because strategic transport decisions, which affect several regions, cannot be dictated solely by local decisions if sustainable economic

3.    We believe that it is important that the rail freight industry is consulted on changes to the planning regime at all levels including by LEPs to ensure the needs and opportunities for rail freight are properly considered.

4.    We believe that local authorities should have a duty to co-operate with other authorities to support rail freight schemes assessed and supported by the rail freight industry which will help the Coalition Government achieve its sustainable objectives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and promote the green economy.

5.    Data from research collated by the regional Leaders' Board, which was largely funded by public money, should be made put in the public domain for free access to the public. We believe that funding should be made available for resourcing the updating of this valuable data.


We believe that national infrastructure transport planning decisions should be made by the Secretary of State for Transport, in the absence of National Policy Statements. We note that two applications for Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges which were examined under the Town and Country Planning act rules, were turned down by the Secretary of State for DCLG, after the abolition of RSSs, largely because of local opposition. (In the case of the Radlett application, the Inspector had recommended granting Planning Permission for the SRFI.)



Rail freight produces 70% less carbon dioxide emissions than the equivalent long-distance road journey—DfT Logistics Perspective Dec 2008 P8 section 10


Rail freight is safer than road freight on major roads as HGVs are over three times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than cars due to a combination of size, lack of proper enforcement of drivers hours, vehicle overloading and differing foreign operating standards.
Source—Road Statistics 2008, Tables 3.2 and 3.6, Road Freight Statistics 2008 Section 5, DfT

Reducing road congestion

An average freight train can remove the equivalent of 50 long-distance HGVs journeys and the largest freight trains with aggregates can remove the equivalent of 160 long-distance HGVs from our roads. Source Network Rail 2010

Members are Direct Rail Services, DB Schenker, Freightliner, ASLEF, RMT, TSSA, UNITE, Rail Freight Group and Campaign for Better Transport

September 2010

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