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West Midlands Interchange – DCO Granted for Strategic Rail Freight Infrastructure in the Green Belt

Alexander Booth QC

In a decision letter dated 4 May 2020, the Secretary of State has determined to grant a Development Consent Order in respect of the West Midlands Interchange project. 

West Midlands Interchange (‘WMI’) will comprise a substantial facility, located close to Junction 12 of the M6 in South Staffordshire. The consented development includes an intermodal freight terminal, including container storage and Heavy Goods Vehicle parking, rail served warehouses and ancillary buildings. Associated development includes highway works and the burying of existing overhead powerlines and pylons. All told, the extent of the proposed development site runs to some 297 hectares.

The proposal was notable in that the development site lay within the green belt. In this regard the Secretary of State determined not only that WMI comprised inappropriate development, but that it would cause substantial harm to the openness of the Green Belt and significant harm to one of the purposes of including land in the Green Belt as a result of its encroachment into the countryside.

However, the Secretary of State noted that the strategic benefits of the development in contributing to an expanded network of SRFIs would assist in achieving and promoting a modal shift of freight from road to rail, thereby playing an important part in the move to a low carbon economy. In addition, he observed the existence of a gap in the network of SRFIs along the M6/West Coast Main Line corridor between the West Midlands and the North West, noting that no existing or proposed SRFIs provide access to the populations and businesses within the Black Country, North Birmingham or South Staffordshire.

It was on this basis that the Secretary of State determined that the national and regional need for the proposed development outweighed any harm caused by the development, and that the very special circumstances needed to justify the grant of development consent had been demonstrated.

The grant of development consent for WMI follows on from the grant recently made in respect of another strategic rail freight interchange at Northampton Gateway, in October 2019.

Alexander Booth QC, instructed by Morag Thomson of Eversheds, acted on behalf of the successful applicant for WMI, Four Ashes Limited. Mr Booth, again instructed by Eversheds, also acted on behalf of the successful promoter of the Northampton Gateway project.