Thursday, August 25, 2016

International Rail Freight Terminal Saga Continues Ever Onward in Battle for Intermodal Cargo

Not the First (or Probably the Last) Seemingly Never Ending Story of its Kind
Shipping News Feature
SCOTLAND – In yet another battle over such a development the Judges of the Scottish Court of Session have overturned a decision by Scottish Ministers to give the go ahead to proposals for an international rail freight terminal at Mossend in Bellshill, stating that Ministers ‘failed to give proper, adequate and intelligible reasons for their decision’ having previously disagreed with a recommendation to dismiss the development plans over concerns of the loss of Green Belt land. With 70% of Scotch whisky carried by road an extended intermodal terminal has long been an ideal for logistics stakeholders.

In August last year, Scottish Ministers granted permission to developer and owner of the current Mossend site, PD Stirling to expand the facility by creating a state-of-the-art rail cargo terminal known as the Mossend International Railfreight Park. The application had previously been refused by North Lanarkshire Council, the prior year in September 2014, having received objections from local residents. PD Stirling appealed to Scottish Ministers against the council's refusal and two months later, Ministers decided that they themselves would determine the appeal and commissioned a report to make recommendations.

In summary, the report concluded that though the proposed development would offer significant benefits, there would also be significant disadvantages, particularly to the major loss of Green Belt. The report recommended that the appeal should be dismissed and that planning permission in principle should be refused. The Ministers did not support the recommendation in the report and instead upheld the appeal and granted planning permission in principle. In a decision letter, Ministers justified their ruling, saying:

“While the reporter’s finding that the proposal is contrary to the development plan is accepted, taking into account all the merits of the proposal, Scottish Ministers consider that there are material considerations, that carry sufficient weight to support the application. National Planning Framework 3 (NPF3) and Scottish Planning Policy support modal shift of freight transport from road to rail, including planning for new or expanded rail freight interchanges.

“The development has a specific locational need, requiring a site adjacent to existing rail services, and would deliver an important strategic rail freight transport hub. Modal shift from road to rail results in a reduction of traffic congestion and a reduction in carbon emissions by 80% for every tonne of freight moved by rail in comparison to road. The development would contribute to substantial carbon savings, estimated to be of the order of 140,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually due to reduction in HGV mileage, and Ministers have attached significant weight to this.

“Scottish Government’s ambition is to achieve at least an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as set out in NPF3. It is also expected to contribute to significant economic benefit through job creation. On the most conservative assumptions over 1,000 net new transport jobs would be created by 2030. The loss of the green belt land would be offset to some extent by the proposed community green network and woodland, creating a green network of paths and woodlands that would act as a buffer to separate the proposed development from the residential areas.”

The matter was then sent to Scotland’s highest civil court, the Court of Session, with the North Lanarkshire Council challenging the decision to grant planning permission on the basis that Scottish Ministers failed to give proper, adequate and intelligible reasons for their decision, in particular stating that Ministers failed to explain adequately certain aspects of the economic impact of the proposed development. The Judges were of the opinion that decision letter does not contain proper and adequate reasons for reaching a conclusion that is contrary not only to the reporter’s recommendations but also to the provisions of the Strategic Development Plan and Local Plan. In particular, Scottish Ministers have failed to explain why they disagreed with the reporter on a number of critical issues, and why they consider that the provisions of two relatively recent development plans should not be followed.

It was for these and many other reasons that the Judges of the Court of Session decided to quash the decision of Scottish Ministers. PD Stirling says that it now awaits further determination from Scottish Ministers in relation to the planning appeal. Looks like this one will follow previous cases in England and run and run or eventually fall off the rails.